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Politics & Government

Next In The Impeachment Process


Let's turn now to the impeachment inquiry into President Trump's dealings with Ukraine and where it's headed next. House leaders have not confirmed a schedule yet. But heading into the Thanksgiving holiday, it appears that the House Intelligence Committee is close to wrapping up its public hearings. Then the matter will move to the House Judiciary Committee, where lawmakers would decide whether to draft the actual articles of impeachment against the president.

Joining us to talk about all this is Ruth Marcus, deputy editorial page editor for The Washington Post. She covered the 1998 impeachment of President Clinton. She was kind enough to join us here in our studios in Washington, D.C. Welcome.

RUTH MARCUS: Hi. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Also joining us from North Carolina is Michael Gerhardt, professor of jurisprudence at the University of North Carolina law school, where he teaches about constitutional conflicts between presidents and Congress. Professor Gerhardt, thank you so much for joining us as well.

MICHAEL GERHARDT: Thank you for having me as well.

MARTIN: And I'm going to start with you. Does the Constitution mandate how this process is supposed to play out?

GERHARDT: The Constitution sets out a relatively skeletal or thin framework for the impeachment process. We figure out that the Senate can pretty much construct the trial as it sees fit, just as we've seen the House construct its impeachment proceedings as it has seen fit.

MARTIN: So, Ruth Marcus, as we mentioned, you covered the Clinton impeachment in 1998. That's the most recent example that we have. So how did it work then? How did the House move from the inquiry phase to the drafting of the articles of impeachment? I mean, as we know, the Republicans have been raising, you know, vociferous objections to the process, you know, throughout - you know, during - objecting doing during hearings and so forth. Did the reverse happen back then? And how did they move forward then?

MARCUS: So yes, somewhat. Certainly, whether you think the process is fair depends on what side you're on of that process. But I think the biggest difference between the Clinton impeachment and the Trump impeachment or impeachment-to-be has to do with the degree of factual inquiry that the House is engaged in. Back in impeachment, as you may recall, Ken Starr and his prosecutors basically arrived at the House with literally the trucks pulled up to the House with copies of the Starr report. So after months of investigation of President Clinton, they delivered the investigative file to the House. There wasn't the kind of investigative fact-finding that - in this situation because we haven't had a criminal investigation that the House, in this case through the intelligence committee, has had to do itself. So it's a very different set of proceedings.

MARTIN: So, professor Gerhardt, then the next question is, the focus during the open hearings over the past couple of weeks has been on President Trump's dealings with Ukraine and whether he was leveraging, you know, the power of the office - you know, aid, a meeting at the White House - to demand that the Ukrainians open an investigation into a political rival. The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said that that's bribery. That's important because that is one of the named offenses in the Constitution. Does - but does it have to be restricted to that? For example, can the members of the House look at other information which came to light and expand their articles of impeachment beyond that? Or does it have to hew narrowly to that very specific issue?

GERHARDT: It does not have to stick closely to that particular issue. But I also think we're not at the end of the House's impeachment inquiry. The Intelligence Committee may well wrap up its part of it. But eventually, the House Intelligence Committee is going to send over a report and its findings and, I'm sure, transcripts of the hearing to the House Judiciary Committee, which then may not only read that but take into account other things it has learned from its own investigations in the past. And we could have at least a handful of impeachment articles depending upon how the House wants to draft them.

MARTIN: And, Ruth Marcus, how long did all of this take back in 1998 - the drafting of the articles back in 1998? And was there ever any question about whether the House would go forward with drafting these articles?

MARCUS: It took a few weeks. I'm not even remembering precisely how long it took. But I think that the - just as now, there is a question about the number of articles and the scope of the articles. Back then, the House was in different hands, and so while there was a little bit more willingness to cross party lines, there wasn't very much. And so it was as much a fait accompli that President Clinton would be impeached as it is a fait accompli, I believe, that President Trump will be impeached.

MARTIN: So I'm going to ask each of you in the time that we have left to tell me what has struck you about all this so far because we're hearing very different things from the public about whether they're interested in this, whether they too have had their minds made up. And as people who watch this closely, I'm just interested in what you have observed about this - whether you think this has been a useful process, whether you've - this process has served any purpose other than to just make everybody very angry. So, professor, you want to start? Now, Ruth, I'll give you the last word. Professor Gerhardt?

GERHARDT: Sure. The striking consistency of the witnesses that have been testifying so far - they've been reliable, credible, professional, nonpartisan people, all of whom have great experience telling a very similar story about how the president of the United States was deviating - I think you could put it this way - deviating from his usual responsibilities to seek assistance from a foreign power in the next election. That's very striking because the president is trying to focus the fact he's not accountable in any other way than the election, and this particular misconduct that's been charged against him involves his attempt to rig that election. That's what ought to really rivet public attention, and that's what Congress is wrestling with.

MARTIN: Ruth Marcus, final thought?

MARCUS: The Nixon and Clinton impeachments were not held under the timing gun of a looming election. So the ability of the House to do its own investigation, to create the really amazing record of impeachable evidence that it has done so far, to do it in this quick time, to do it in the - confronting the real refusal of the president, unprecedented refusal of the president - he has out-Nixoned Nixon, as it were, in terms of refusing to cooperate in any way with this inquiry - and the amount of evidence that has been arrayed against the president that goes directly to the kinds of high crimes and misdemeanors, specifically bribery, that the framers had in mind when they talked about creating the impeachment remedy, even without testimony that should come from John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, Vice President Pence and others, is really quite remarkable.

MARTIN: That was Ruth Marcus, deputy editorial page editor for The Washington Post. She's the author of "Supreme Ambition: Brett Kavanaugh And The Conservative Takeover," which is due to come out next month. Also with us, Michael Gerhardt, professor of jurisprudence at the University of North Carolina School of Law.

Thank you both so much for joining us, and I hope we'll speak again.

MARCUS: Thanks so much.

GERHARDT: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF COM TRUISE'S "FLIGHTWAVE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.