House Democrats say they have begun impeachment against the President. President Trump’s team says they won’t cooperate until there is a vote to begin impeachment. But the House says they are impeaching the President, not just overseeing the Presidency. It should not be complicated, but the House Democrats are making it complicated and they are going to screw it up for themselves.
Here is House Practice, the manual on House precedent, rules, and procedures that the House of Representatives uses to guide itself. According to the book, “Under the modern practice, an impeachment is normally instituted by the House by the adoption of a resolution calling for a committee investigation of charges against the officer in question. This committee may, after investigation, recommend the dismissal of charges or it may recommend impeachment.”
More specifically, “Resolutions introduced through the hopper that directly call for an impeachment are referred to the Committee on the Judiciary, whereas resolutions merely calling for a committee investigation with a view toward impeachment are referred to the Committee on Rules.”
This all matters because the Speaker had said they the House was not engaged in a formal impeachment process. Then the Speaker announced the the House was “moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry.” She said, “I’m directing our six committees to proceed with their investigations under that umbrella of impeachment inquiry.”
This goes back to precedent. The House has, in the past, voted to begin impeachment and not just had it ordered by the Speaker. The status quo has not changed. But that matters for access to grand jury testimony, etc. In fact, a federal court is having to deal with this very issue.
Under normal circumstances, the distinction might not matter. It does this time because Democrats have asked for the help of the federal courts to obtain grand jury material related to the special counsel’s Russia investigation and speedily secure the cooperation of witnesses. To get it, they have to convince a judge in the coming weeks that they have met the criteria for an impeachment inquiry.
Democrats decided they could just turn a general inquiry into an impeachment inquiry. Frankly, they probably can. But it muddies the water and gives the President an argument that the Democrats are rushing forward to both prevent Democrats from having to cast a vote and also that the Democrats are playing fast and loose with the rules.
The Democrats had wanted to go the route they are going because they wanted to build as much evidence as possible before having a vote. They also did not want Jerry Nadler as the face of it. Unfortunately, they wound up with Adam Schiff who botched it out of the gate with his idiotic opening in the DNI hearing.
The President, by signaling the White House is not going to cooperate, has tied their hands. They can pass Articles of Impeachment without following past precedent, but then that empowers the Senate to move immediately to reject the case.
If the Democrats really want to move forward and give credibility to the situation, they should vote in the House to proceed to an impeachment.