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Pelosi’s Latest Statement on Impeachment Isn’t Just Wrong, It’s Eerily Similar to Trump Argument


Not for the first time, Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) made some bizarre comments about impeachment. Pelosi on Wednesday said that the House should not open an inquiry into President Donald Trump “unless you’re ready to impeach.”

The absolute inanity of Pelosi’s statement was immediately pounced on by none other than George Conway – spouse of the Trump Administration’s favorite Hatch Act violator. Conway remarked that Pelosi’s statement was “like saying that a grand jury should not be empaneled unless it’s ready to indict and a petit jury is ready to convict.”

The legal community was there to back up Conway’s analogy:

Pelosi’s comments on congressional investigation aren’t just another example of a too-cavalier opinion (like that time when she told WaPo that Trump “isn’t worth” impeaching); the speaker’s directive to Congress misstates the entire process of impeachment.

Although colloquially, many people incorrectly use “impeach” to refer to removal from office following a conviction, it would be nice if the person literally in charge of impeachment spoke more precisely about it. First, Congress investigates. Then, if warranted, the House drafts Articles of Impeachment – which operate much in the same way an indictment works in a criminal case. The House then votes on those articles, and if a majority of representatives are in favor, the president is officially impeached.

The matter heads next to the U.S. Senate, which acts as a sort of jury (although the proceeding lacks many of the formalities of a criminal trial).  At the conclusion of the impeachment hearings, the Senate votes on conviction – and, when necessary, on the appropriate remedy (censure, removal, etc).

Pelosi’s erroneous premise – that Congress cannot or should not investigate until it is ready to impeach – is not only illogical. It’s also eerily similar to what Trump is arguing in his appeal of the congressional subpoena issued to finance firm, Mazars USA.

In Trump’s appellate brief, he attempts to discredit Congress’ authority to demand financial information on grounds that the subpoenas weren’t issued as part of impeachment proceedings. That argument has already been flatly rejected by at least one federal judge, who said that it was, “simply not fathomable” that Congress lacked authority to investigate a president outside the context of impeachment.

So why is Nancy Pelosi reiterating Trump’s losing arguments? Law&Crime spoke with CNN legal analyst, attorney and impeachment expert Ross Garber. Garber offered an explanation as to why Pelosi has been saying things that “don’t make sense”:

All of Pelosi’s comments about impeachment can be explained by her calculation that an impeachment process is politically harmful to Democrats, and specifically those in the House. She doesn’t want to go as far as saying that the facts outlined in the Mueller Report don’t warrant impeachment, so she is instead saying things that don’t make sense.

Indeed, Pelosi’s expertise is in navigating politics, not trials. And impeachment is a political process, not a criminal one. The numbers required for impeachment and conviction ensure that the process isn’t likely to oust a president who is merely unpopular; supermajorities aren’t easy to come by, and they stand guard against arbitrary or capricious actions.

Pelosi knows well that she’s steering the Democratic ship through waters that are both uncharted and treacherous; she and many of her colleagues answer to constituents who will see anything less than Trump’s removal from office as an unforgivable failure. As Garber put it, “Pelosi wants to bob and weave until the subject fully changes to the 2020 election.”

[Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos