Over the past week, President Trump’s anger at Democrats for launching an impeachment inquiry has shifted focus from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Rep. Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, who is spearheading the investigation.
Trump, who as recently as last week said, somewhat incomprehensibly, that “Nancy Pelosi, as far as I’m concerned, is no longer the speaker of the House,” more recently has fired off multiple tweets attacking Schiff, on Monday suggesting he could be arrested for inaccurately summarizing Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Rep. Adam Schiff illegally made up a FAKE & terrible statement, pretended it to be mine as the most important part of my call to the Ukrainian President, and read it aloud to Congress and the American people. It bore NO relationship to what I said on the call. Arrest for Treason?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2019
Trump was reacting to Schiff’s opening statement at last Thursday’s Intelligence Committee hearing, saying it amounted to putting words into his mouth.
Why isn’t Congressman Adam Schiff being brought up on charges for fraudulently making up a statement and reading it to Congress as if this statement, which was very dishonest and bad for me, was directly made by the President of the United States? This should never be allowed!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 1, 2019
Here is the complete video of Schiff’s opening statement, in which he describes “the essence of what the president communicates” in his call with Zelensky.
It isn’t clear what crime Trump is imputing to Schiff. Members of Congress are given broad immunity for anything they say on the floor of the House or Senate. Republicans called on Schiff specifically to explain a passage in which he paraphrased the substance of Trump’s call with Zelensky, using quotes that were never actually spoken:
“We've been very good to your country. Very good. No other country has done as much as we have. But you know what? I don't see much reciprocity here,” Schiff, interpreting the president’s meaning, said Trump essentially told Zelensky. “I will say that we do a lot for Ukraine. We spend a lot of effort and a lot of time. Much more than the European countries are doing, and they should be helping you more than they are.”
Schiff explained that his statement “was meant to be, at least in part, in parody.”
“The fact that that’s not clear is a separate problem in and of itself,” Schiff explained. “Of course, the president never said, ‘If you don’t understand me I’m going to say it seven more times.’ My point is, that’s the message that the Ukraine president was receiving in not so many words.”
Trump and his press secretaries have frequently explained away his controversial statements as a joke and accused his critics of lacking a sense of humor — most conspicuously, in his public request during the campaign for Russia’s help in locating emails deleted from Hillary Clinton’s account.
Like the summary released by the White House of Trump’s self-described “perfect” call with Zelensky, the debate over Schiff’s characterization of it has broken down along partisan lines.
Trump’s lawyer and most vocal defender, Rudy Giuliani, who has been asked to supply documents to the committee, said Sunday that he would refuse to cooperate with an investigation headed by Schiff.
“I think Adam Schiff should be removed,” he said. “If they remove Adam Schiff, if they put a neutral person in, who hasn’t prejudged the case, if they put someone in, a Democrat who hasn’t expressed an opinion yet — if I had a judge in the case and he had already announced I’m going to impeach, if he already went ahead and did a whole false episode, wouldn’t I move to recuse that judge?”
As a former prosecutor, Giuliani knows that to open an impeachment inquiry — the equivalent of a grand jury investigation — involves at least a presumption of wrongdoing on the part of the target. Otherwise why bother? The role of the judge, or jury, in an impeachment proceeding falls to the Senate, if and when the House passes a resolution of impeachment.
If Giuliani is looking for an example of a legislator who has already made up his mind in advance, he could look to the Senate’s second-ranking Republican, Sen. John Cornyn, who was described by one of his home-state newspapers as “one of Trump’s most outspoken Twitter defenders.”
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