How about having unelected panels oversee U.S. impeachments?

How about having unelected panels oversee U.S. impeachments? November 23, 2019

U.S. immigration policy is not the only thing broken in our government.

impeachment trump giulliani nonpartisan
The fate of Rudy Giulliani as impeachment proceeds? Political cartoon by Ann Telnaes, Nov. 7, 2019, The Washington Post.

So is separation of church and state, for another.

But this post is about yet another fractured and thus faulty element of American governance: the impeachment process enshrined in the constitution.

Notable to this nonreligious blog is that the impeachment process, as we have seen in congressional hearings in the past couple of weeks, staggers under the same burden as supernatural religious faith: both are rendered corrupt if truth is denied.

The hearings this week and last by the U.S. House Intelligence Committee into allegations of bribery, abuse of power, and obstructions of justice and Congress, irrefutably proved at least three degrees of presidential misconduct:

  • President Donald Trump withheld congressionally approved and critical military aid and personal access in an attempt to extort from the president of the Ukraine an investigation of Joe Biden, who at the time this subterfuge began was expected to be Trump’s most potent Democratic challenger in the 2020 presidential election. Impeachment-hearing witnesses thoroughly debunked each defensive explanation for the president’s actions by the president or his GOP allies in Congress.
  • The president obstructed justice and Congress by ordering all government witnesses the House committee sought to question not to cooperate with the impeachment investigation. He also refused to allow any relevant documents, government-wide, to be provided to the committee, even though Congress has full, constitutionally prescribed power to oversee the executive branch.
  • The president abused his power by using multiple levers of executive and other governmental authority and capability to try and force the Ukrainian president to do the bogus investigations he required. A “shadow” group of Trump operatives led by unofficial advisor Rudy Giulliani orchestrated this campaign outside official U.S. government foreign-policy channels to obtain the self-serving investigations.

It was clear from day one of the hearings that Republican members of the House committee had pre-ordained attitudes: they would refuse to accept any credible evidence implicating the president.

This is the key aspect of the “broken” nature of the constitutionally prescribed impeachment process.

Congressional Democrats and Republicans have built-in conflicts of interest in a process that undermines a fair and balanced presentation and consideration of charges.

The reason is that the main concern of congressional lawmakers on both sides of the aisle is likely to be more about how the impeachment process might affect their re-election than how to advance the process with integrity and an open, unbiased mindset.

So, we end up, as we did in the past two weeks, with a series of very credible and upstanding witnesses unleasing a damning litany of facts and personal recollections that left little doubt that the president had clearly done everything the Democrats were accusing him of.

Even the committee’s Republicans couldn’t debunk the factual evidence, so they descended into crude attacks on witnesses credibility, whines about the “unfairness” of the Democrat-majority-led process, claims of “secret meetings” (although Republican members had the same access and ability to question witnesses as Democrats did), and a drumbeat of such catchphrases from the past as “witch hunt,” “sham hearings” and “never-Trumpers,” to slime the proceedings with a sludge of inauthenticity.

But a reasonable synthesis of all the testimonies is clear.

Certainly, the Republican charge that the Democrats have been obsessive in trying to impeach the president from the start of his presidency is probably fair, but that does nothing to undercut the undeniable facts laid out in hearings that condemn the president’s behavior.

This is the problematic nexus. There is clear evidence of impeachable offenses to any reasonable assessment, but if the committee Republicans (and their Senate colleagues later) simply refuse to acknowledge them or their underlying veracity, justice can be denied.

For purely political, not factual, reasons.

So, I fear the end game will be this: the House, with no Republicans joining, will vote to pass articles of impeachment against the president. But once it goes to the Senate, which unlike the House is controlled by the GOP, Republican senators will simply choose to vote no to any articles of impeachment no matter how damning the evidence might be. Just as they have done in the House.

End of story.

Then, the next president of either party will be elected with the full knowledge he or she can do pretty much anything they want with immunity, including bribery and extortion of foreign leaders for their own personal or political goals.

Unless they don’t have a majority of at least one of the two halves of Congress.

How is this just or right?

As a regular American voter — a Democrat, but that’s irrelevant here — it seems that for a process so important to American governance — like holding murderers to account — we need to take it out of the hands of political partisans.

How about, instead of elected representatives and senators overseeing the process and, in the Senate, actually acting as “jurors” in the final denouemment of impeachment, we create an alternative structure similar to that of courts.

Why can’t we have a nonpartisan, professional impeachment panel appointed for a specified number of years (as nonpartisan staff are compiled throughout government) that oversees any impeachments.

The members of one nonpartisan panel would determine if accusations against a sitting president are credible and serious, deciding whether the House should appropriately hold hearings. A second panel (perhaps selected anew for each impeachment) would serve as the final jurors in any Senate trial to decide whether the case is made for or against a president or other elected official (currently, a two-thirds “super majority” vote is required in the Senate to convinct, which automatically disadvantages the minority).

Unelected panels would remove partisan politics from final determinations in two key aspects of impeachment: whether the initial impeachment process should proceed, and whether the defendant should be convicted. If anyone in the recent hearings displayed the integrity and gravitas we need to ensure fairness in this process, it was only the witnesses who are unelected, nonpartisan career officials from America’s impressive government bureaucracy. Not GOP congressional lawmakers at the moment.

Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers, reportedly proposed a non-lethal impeachment process to remove “obnoxious” chief executives, to exclude the time-honored traditional solution of assassination.

It’s hard to think of the House Republican response to the current impeachment as anything but “obnoxious” and partisan.

There’s got to be a more honorable way to do this, even if it requires a Constitutional amendment. These self-serving pols have shown we simply can’t trust them to protect America at their own expense.

Cartoon/Ann Telnaes, Washington Post/MarketWatch

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