To hear Republican politicians and their rabid supporters on social media tell it, the closed-door phase of the process considering impeachment of President Trump was an affront to democracy, the rule of law and everything Americans hold dear.
“Soviet-style,” they railed. “No due process!” “Kangaroo court!” “Sham!”
They charged that Trump was denied his rights when the witnesses were giving depositions in a secure room, not before the full House of Representatives, the public and TV cameras. Of course, public testimony was the next step, but that did not calm their outrage. “Let us in!” they demanded. On Oct. 23, a group of Republican lawmakers made a show of storming the secure room in the Capitol basement where witnesses were interviewed.
The funny thing is, most of those who could have gone into the closed hearings didn’t bother. It was never true that Republicans weren’t allowed to participate. Nearly 50 of them, by virtue of being members of key committees, could have gone to deposition hearings.
Some hard-core Trump supporters among them did faithfully attend, including Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina’s 11th District. Meadows had a big role in questioning Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union. But Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina’s 5th District didn’t take advantage of the access she had as a member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. When the transcripts of most of the depositions were released, they didn’t list her among those present. Instead, she was part of the majority of eligible Republicans who mostly stayed away. Foxx has called the proceedings a “sham.” She supported a motion to censure Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, for what she called his “partisan impeachment agenda.”
But Foxx told a reporter that she skipped most of the closed-door sessions she could have attended because she was busy with other work and had scheduling conflicts. Maybe those Republicans who didn’t bother to go to the depositions knew the truth behind the loud public indignation: House Democrats weren’t doing anything wrong. Impeachment is a political process, not a legal one. The rules of a courtroom trial don’t apply. Even if they did, the early stages when witnesses are being interviewed to see if impeachment is justified are more like grand jury proceedings — which are closed to the public.
The Democrats were playing by the rules when they chose to question witnesses in the early part of the process in private. They said the closed doors would allow witnesses to speak more frankly. Privacy also means those asking questions are less likely to grandstand. In fact, the rules the Democrats were following had been set by Republicans in 2015, when they controlled the House. Under those rules, it’s fine to do the initial interviewing of witnesses in secret. No sham or Soviet conspiracy is involved. It’s the formal impeachment hearing, like the Senate trial that would follow, that has to be public.
Republicans and diehard Trump supporters were full of sound and fury, railing against those early closed-door hearings. Could it be that they find it easier to try to paint the impeachment proceedings themselves as flawed than it is to defend the president against mounting evidence? Stay tuned.