Trump to face lim­its of his power in im­peach­ment hear­ings

The Saline Courier - - NEWS - By Jonathan Lemire As­so­ci­ated Press

NEW YORK — For three years, Don­ald Trump has un­apolo­get­i­cally de­fied the con­ven­tions of the Amer­i­can pres­i­dency. On Wed­nes­day, he comes face to face with the lim­its of his power, con­fronting an im­peach­ment process en­shrined in the Con­sti­tu­tion that will play out in pub­lic and help shape how the pres­i­dent will be viewed by vot­ers next year and in the his­tory books for gen­er­a­tions.

Trump ac­cepted the Repub­li­can nomination, declar­ing that “I alone can fix” the na­tion’s prob­lems. Once elected, he set about re­shap­ing the pres­i­dency, bend­ing and dis­man­tling in­sti­tu­tions sur­round­ing the 230-year-old of­fice.

Now a pa­rade of ca­reer pub­lic ser­vants will raise their hands and swear an oath to the truth, not the pres­i­dency, rep­re­sent­ing an in­te­gral part of the sys­tem of checks and bal­ances en­vi­sioned by the Found­ing Fa­thers.

“Trump can do away with the tra­di­tions and niceties of the of­fice, but he can’t get away from the Con­sti­tu­tion,” said Dou­glas Brink­ley, pres­i­den­tial his­to­rian at Rice Univer­sity. “Dur­ing Water­gate, many peo­ple feared that if a pres­i­dent col­lapsed, Amer­ica is bro­ken. But the les­son of Nixon is that the Con­sti­tu­tion is durable and the coun­try can han­dle it.”

Trump has pushed back vig­or­ously, in­sist­ing he did noth­ing wrong in his deal­ings with Ukraine. Early Wed­nes­day, he quoted his de­fend­ers and lashed out at the first wit­nesses set to tes­tify pub­licly, declar­ing Wil­liam Taylor, the charge d’af­faires in Ukraine, and Ge­orge Kent, a ca­reer diplo­mat, as “NEVER TRUMPERS!” Taylor and Kent worked for Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic ad­min­is­tra­tions and there is no ev­i­dence ei­ther en­gaged in par­ti­san ac­tiv­ity op­pos­ing Trump.

The Democrats will try to make the case that the pres­i­dent tried to ex­tort a for­eign na­tion, Ukraine, to in­ves­ti­gate a po­lit­i­cal ri­val, for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den. But even if the House ul­ti­mately votes to make Trump only the third Amer­i­can pres­i­dent to be im­peached, few ex­pect the Repub­li­can-con­trolled Se­nate to even­tu­ally re­move Trump from of­fice.

“Even if re­elected, it’s a dark mark,” Brink­ley said. “He does not get off scot­free. There is a penalty you pay.”

Trump en­ters the cru­cible of the pub­lic hear­ings largely alone — by his own de­sign.

He has killed the White House daily press briefing, likes to make an­nounce­ments him­self on Twit­ter and prefers to get his mes­sage out dur­ing chaotic joust­ing ses­sions with re­porters in the Oval Of­fice or as he comes and goes to his pres­i­den­tial he­li­copter. He has railed against the lack of sup­port from his staff and Re­pub­li­cans on Capi­tol Hill, in­sist­ing that they stop lim­it­ing their com­plaints to the im­peach­ment process and start de­fend­ing his ac­tions, a re­quest that has unset­tled some Re­pub­li­cans try­ing to get a han­dle on ever-shift­ing ex­pla­na­tions com­ing from the White House.

Although a num­ber of the pres­i­dent’s ad­vis­ers be­lieve that im­peach­ment could be a po­lit­i­cal win­ner for Trump on the cam­paign trail next year, the pres­i­dent has re­acted an­grily to the probe. He de­fends his sum­mer phone call with Ukraine’s leader, which is at the heart of the in­quiry, as “per­fect” while de­rid­ing the im­peach­ment ef­fort as a con­spir­acy among Democrats and the “deep state.”

Some help is on the way. The White House bol­stered its com­mu­ni­ca­tions team by hir­ing for­mer Florida At­tor­ney Gen­eral Pam

Bondi and for­mer Trea­sury spokesman Tony Sayegh. But Bondi and Sayegh may not be of­fi­cially in place be­fore Wed­nes­day’s hear­ings, ow­ing to pa­per­work as­so­ci­ated with en­ter­ing White House em­ploy­ment, ac­cord­ing to a White House of­fi­cial who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss per­son­nel mat­ters.

The Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee will be lin­ing up sup­port­ers to pub­licly de­fend the pres­i­dent, in­clud­ing a Thurs­day con­fer­ence call for re­gional re­porters with pres­i­den­tial son Eric Trump that is aimed at putting pres­sure on vul­ner­a­ble House Democrats. Many of them rep­re­sent dis­tricts that the pres­i­dent won in 2016.

Although Trump teased Tues­day that he will soon re­lease the tran­script of his April phone call with Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy,

White House of­fi­cials are not con­firm­ing that any such re­lease is forth­com­ing. That first call to Ze­len­skiy is widely known to have been largely a con­grat­u­la­tory con­ver­sa­tion after Ze­len­skiy’s elec­tion. It was the rough tran­script of Trump’s second call with Ze­len­skiy, in July, that prompted a whistle­blower’s com­plaint .

Re­leas­ing a tran­script of the first call could be an at­tempt by the White

House to dis­tract from the con­gres­sional hear­ings, though the im­peach­ment in­quiry has moved well be­yond the phone calls into broader at­tempts by the pres­i­dent and his al­lies to prod Ukraine to in­ves­ti­gate Democrats by us­ing U.S. mil­i­tary aid as lever­age.

Trump has his own ver­sion of coun­ter­pro­gram­ming ready to go up against the hear­ings. He is sched­uled to hold a noon meet­ing Wed­nes­day with Turkey’s Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan and hold a joint af­ter­noon news con­fer­ence with the Turk­ish leader. Their meet­ing comes just weeks after Trump’s de­ci­sion to pull most U.S. forces out of Syria led to a vi­o­lent Turk­ish in­va­sion.

In the morn­ing, Trump is ex­pected to watch the im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings from the White House res­i­dence and on a TV just off the Oval Of­fice.

The pres­i­dent’s sup­port­ers, mean­while, have been work­ing to dis­credit the pro­ceed­ings by find­ing fault with the way the process has played out and the cast of wit­nesses who have come for­ward to tes­tify.

“At its core, this is an im­peach­ment push by ca­reer bu­reau­crats to un­der­mine Pres­i­dent Trump’s ‘Amer­ica First’ for­eign pol­icy and po­lit­i­cally minded Democrats who want to kneecap him ahead of the 2020 elec­tion,” said Ja­son Miller, se­nior ad­viser to Trump’s 2016 cam­paign. “If Re­pub­li­cans stick to­gether, Trump will not just sur­vive this, he will de­feat the im­peach­ment hoax and be re-elected. It’s merely the lat­est episode in a pat­tern of Democrats and un­elected bu­reau­crats try­ing to un­der­mine the pres­i­dency.”

The timetable for the im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings is not firm. But a trial in the Se­nate, were it to oc­cur, could stretch un­til the first pres­i­den­tial votes are cast in Fe­bru­ary’s Iowa cau­cus. The fi­nal stakes could rest with the vot­ers next year.

“Trump is now up against the Con­sti­tu­tion, but he’s not the only thing on trial: So are we the peo­ple, as the pream­ble de­scribed us so long ago,” said pres­i­den­tial his­to­rian Jon Meacham of Van­der­bilt Univer­sity. “Im­peach­ment is a po­lit­i­cal, not a le­gal, process, and those with a po­lit­i­cal stake in this pres­i­dency — which is to say, his sup­port­ers at large and in the House and the Se­nate — need to de­cide which is more im­por­tant: the ef­fi­cacy of checks and bal­ances or the con­tin­ued reign of a pres­i­dent who seems to take plea­sure in flouting those checks and bal­ances.”

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