President Donald Trump has decried the impeachment inquiry as a hoax and a scam run by Democratic “maniacs,” but he now faces a critical choice: whether to legitimize the proceedings by allowing his lawyers to participate or refuse to take part in an inquiry he says is a sham.
The White House has been tight-lipped as it weighs the risks and potential reward of intervening in the House proceedings. House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, the New York Democrat who will oversee the next phase of the impeachment inquiry in hearings that begin next week, told the White House on Friday that it must give a definitive answer on whether it will participate by 5 p.m. on December 6.
Reminding the President of the stakes, Nadler wrote in his Friday letter that the House Intelligence Committee is preparing its report that will describe “‘a months-long effort in which President Trump again sought foreign interference in our elections for his personal and political benefit at the expense of our national interest'” and engaged in “an unprecedented campaign of obstruction in an effort to prevent the Committees from obtaining documentary evidence and testimony.”
That report from the House Intelligence Committee is due as early as next week — a chance for Democrats to make a cogent case against the President after weeks of testimony and document collection.
Nadler has offered the White House the chance to defend the President’s conduct head on. It could attempt to sway public opinion by questioning witnesses, introducing its own witnesses — if approved by the chairman, Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California — and giving a concluding presentation that would offer Americans a succinct argument for Trump’s side.
That opportunity to shape the narrative is especially significant because the country is so divided on the question of impeachment. The latest poll found that 50% of Americans say the President should be impeached or removed from office, a number that remains unchanged from October, despite the weeks-long attempt by Democrats to present an airtight case of presidential wrongdoing.
Beneath those static topline numbers, however, a stunning 61% of women favored impeachment and removal of the President, compared with 40% of men. Presenting a coherent narrative about why Democrats are wrong during the upcoming impeachment proceedings could be critical for Trump if he wants to win back support of some of those women. (In 2016, Hillary Clinton beat Trump among women by 54% to 41%).
Women will compose a majority of the electorate next year, and the 2018 midterm election results showed that he is particularly struggling with women who live in the suburban districts that have been key battlegrounds in swing states and districts.
A coordinated White House strategy could also be more effective than the scattershot approach of Republican members of Congress, some of whom did their best to confuse the public during the Intelligence Committee hearings by raising debunked conspiracy theories and pushing the unfounded allegation that Ukraine had interfered in US elections, rather than Russia.
Trump and his Republican colleagues in the House have complained vociferously about the House Intelligence Committee rules because they were excluded from those hearings. Before the hearings began, Trump tweeted: “It was just explained to me that for next weeks Fake Hearing (trial) in the House, as they interview Never Trumpers and others, I get NO LAWYER & NO DUE PROCESS. It is a Pelosi, Schiff, Scam against the Republican Party and me. This Witch Hunt should not be allowed to proceed!”
In an Oct. 8 letter to House Democratic leaders, the President’s Counsel Pat Cipollone charged that they had designed their inquiry in a way that violates fundamental fairness and constitutionally mandated due process.
“You have denied the President the right to cross-examine witnesses, to call witnesses, to receive transcripts of testimony, to have access to evidence, to have counsel present, and many other basic rights guaranteed to all Americans.”