Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) backed down Monday by announcing that the House would hold a vote Thursday on whether or not to authorize a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
Pelosi’s decision was likely a reflection of the fact that her secretive, sham impeachment process — run in Adam Schiff’s basement, as Trump put it — was a political disaster. But she was also running out of legal options, and had painted herself into a corner.
The question of whether the House can begin an impeachment inquiry into the president without a formal vote to authorize one is complicated. Judge Beryl Howell, who presided over the grand jury impaneled by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, ruled last Friday that the House Judiciary Committee could gain access to normally-secret grand jury testimony partly because Pelosi had declared the House was officially launching an impeachment inquiry.
Normally, such testimony would not be made available, except as part of a judicial proceeding. Judge Howell held that an impeachment inquiry was a judicial proceeding — and held, further, that there was no need for the House to hold a formal vote to launch one. Though it had done so in prior impeachments involving a president, it had often begun its investigations before such votes, and it had not held similar authorization votes in impeaching judges.
The Department of Justice appealed Howell’s ruling on Monday. One of its arguments in doing so was that the House Judiciary Committee no longer needed Mueller’s evidence, because Pelosi had “announced that the House impeachment inquiry will focus narrowly on the whistleblower complaint and issues surrounding Ukraine.” Moreover, that inquiry is being led by the House Intelligence Committee, not the House Judiciary Committee.
As Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe — who has demanded Trump’s impeachment since before the president took office — noted in June, it was a “gamble” to ask the courts to compel the release of Mueller’s grand jury testimony. The only way to guarantee that the grand jury testimony would be released to the House would be to hold a vote authorizing an impeachment inquiry.
No doubt Pelosi’s vote will cite the Mueller and Ukraine cases. Thus the president will face an impeachment inquiry that alleges he obstructed justice to cover up his imagined collusion with Russia — while also colluding with Russia’s enemy, Ukraine, to smear a likely political opponent.
Both charges are absurd. But Democrats never had a chance of booting Trump from office. The fact that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) had 50 Republicans co-sponsor a resolution opposing the House procedures confirms that.
What Pelosi and her party want most, evidently, is to produce as much dirt on Trump as possible. That is why they leaked bits of testimony from what they claimed, at the same time, was a “grand jury” proceeding (where leaks are forbidden).
The Ukraine well ran dry the moment the White House released the transcript of Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s president. The Mueller grand jury testimony became important again: it was back to Square One.
But Pelosi had boxed herself into a corner. Mueller found no collusion, so the only faint hope for impeachment was Ukraine. But Democrats had told the courts Mueller was the reason they needed the grand jury testimony. They won with Howell, a judge appointed by President Barack Obama; their chances looked slimmer going forward.
So Pelosi had no legal options but to hold a vote authorizing an impeachment inquiry. Eventually, politics ran into the law.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.