By Ben Cline
Cline represents the 6th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is a Republican from Botetourt County.
During this holiday season, folks across our part of Virginia are preparing to celebrate with friends and family. I know I look forward to celebrating Christmas with my wife and daughters, first in our new home of Fincastle, then with my mother in our hometown of Lexington, and finally with my wife’s parents in Roanoke (with lots of driving on Interstate 81 in-between). But as families across the Sixth District focus on buying gifts, making travel arrangements, and preparing holiday meals, there is another important event happening here in the halls of our Nation’s Capitol that demands attention: the start of formal impeachment hearings against the President in the House Judiciary Committee.
When I was sworn into office this past January, I was honored to receive a seat on the Judiciary Committee. The Committee not only addresses some of the most timely and substantive topics facing the nation, but it is one of the first lines of defense for our Constitution. As one of six Republicans on the Constitution Subcommittee, I understand the importance of preserving this document as the foundation of our Republic and the need to faithfully apply the provisions of the Constitution as intended by the Founders. One of these provisions is the process of presidential impeachment, given to the House in cases of “treason, bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” While the Constitution gives broad latitude to the House to set its own rules for impeachment, past Congresses have understood that if it is to be viewed as legitimate by the American people, the proceeding must be as devoid of politics as possible.
Fortunately, we have a road map given to us by past Congresses for fair and bipartisan impeachment proceedings. The “Rodino Rules,” named for former Judiciary Chairman Peter Rodino and used for both the Nixon and Clinton impeachments, provided for hearings in the Judiciary Committee that respected due process and the rights of the president, required openness and transparency throughout the process, and protected the rights of whichever party was in the minority. Most importantly, the Rodino Rules were adopted by a bipartisan vote of the full House of Representatives.
Unfortunately, these rules have been largely ignored by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Following several months of hearings in the Judiciary Committee regarding the Mueller investigation that amounted to little progress toward impeachment, the Speaker unilaterally declared in August the start of a new impeachment proceeding under the direction of the Intelligence Committee. Because only a handful of Judiciary Committee members sit on the Intelligence Committee, this division has led to the exclusion of most Judiciary Committee members, including myself, from the impeachment investigatory process. While transcripts of the testimony were eventually made public, Judiciary Committee members were not able to question witnesses, watch the witnesses testify, or ensure the accuracy of the transcripts. We learned that Chairman Schiff at times ordered witnesses not to answer Republican questions, the White House counsel was not allowed to be present, and Republicans were not allowed to subpoena their own witnesses for questioning.
Speaker Pelosi has said that impeachment must be “compelling, overwhelming, and bipartisan.” Unfortunately, the rules that were adopted during this impeachment investigation possessed none of these characteristics. Following an outcry of public opposition to the closed-door hearings, and only a week after she declared a full House vote to be little more than a “Republican talking point,” Speaker Pelosi finally held a House vote to justify the partisan process that was already underway and finally hold public hearings. In a first for an impeachment proceeding, the House vote for the rules was not a bipartisan vote. Only Democrats voted to adopt the partisan rules, and in a rare rebuke to the Speaker, some Democrats voted alongside Republicans in opposition.
During two weeks of public hearings by the House Intelligence Committee, Republicans were denied the ability to call witnesses or even ask certain questions. The President’s attorneys were also not permitted to ask questions of witnesses. Finally, Chairman Schiff has forwarded a one-sided report to the Judiciary Committee. His report, which is 300 pages in length, was delivered one day before Judiciary Committee hearings began on Wednesday. Despite several requests, he also has refused to make available the evidence that has been gathered by the Intelligence Committee.
One of the great honors of being assigned to the Judiciary Committee is that two former Representatives from Virginia’s Sixth Congressional District, Reps. Caldwell Butler and Bob Goodlatte, also have served on the Committee. In fact, they each served in Congress during the Nixon and Clinton impeachment processes, respectively. But they enjoyed the Rodino Rules that ensured fairness during the Judiciary Committee’s hearings. Sadly, the Judiciary Committee of Butler and Goodlatte is a committee that no longer exists. I am skeptical that there is any way to repair what has become a fundamentally flawed process. Nevertheless, for the sake of our Constitutional Republic, and for the sake of the citizens who I proudly represent, I remain hopeful that all the facts will be presented in the coming weeks, that the process will be free from bias and partisanship, and that the Committee will produce a fair result that respects the Constitution and the Rule of Law. From my family to yours, merry Christmas and happy holidays.
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