Pelosi wants Americans to see the trial of Donald Trump

Analysis: Once uncertain about holding an impeachment-related vote on the floor, the House speaker is moving to show evidence to the public.
Image: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in her office at the Capitol on Sept. 27, 2019.
Now it's Pelosi who wants Americans to watch every turn of the trial of President Donald Trump, and Republicans who have abruptly stopped calling for more transparency.Damon Winter / NYT via Redux file

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By Jonathan Allen

WASHINGTON — Speaker Nancy Pelosi's patience has been rewarded.

With the impeachment script fully flipping this week, it's Pelosi who wants Americans to watch every turn of the trial of President Donald Trump, and Republicans who have abruptly stopped calling for more transparency.

"They want transparency like a hole in the head, for crying out loud," said Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J. "Transparency is not going to help them."

The reason for the change: the facts in evidence.

It's a lot easier for even most of the swing-district Democrats to say the president should have to answer for his actions after weeks of testimony in which current and former administration officials have described a wide-ranging effort by the Trump team to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to open an investigation into a political opponent — former Vice President Joe Biden.

The shift led Pelosi and top lieutenants to announce Tuesday that they would move forward with a floor vote this week to formally set the rules for a series of public House Intelligence Committee hearings that are expected to give more attention to what lawmakers have been hearing in private about Trump's use of his power.

"With every new witness we get further detail corroborating the basic story," said Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., a former State Department official who has participated in the hearings in a secure facility deep beneath the Capitol complex. "With every witness it becomes harder to deny the facts and harder to defend the president's conduct."

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That's exactly what Trump is pleading with fellow Republicans to do. Until this week, the unified GOP message revolved around attacking Democrats for holding closed hearings in a secure room usually used for discussions involving classified material.

"Republicans are very unified and energized in our fight on the Impeachment Hoax with the Do Nothing Democrats, and now are starting to go after the Substance even more than the very [unfair] Process because just a casual reading of the Transcript leads EVERYBODY to see that ... the call with the Ukrainian President was a totally appropriate one," Trump wrote on Twitter Wednesday morning.

"As he said, 'No Pressure.' This Impeachment nonsense is just a continuation of the Witch Hunt Hoax, which has been going on since before I even got elected. [Republicans], go with Substance and close it out!" he wrote.

He's had some success in getting Republicans to drop their argument that the hearings should be brought out into the open. But rather than defend his actions, Republicans are now contending, as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has, that any future findings are "fruit from the poisonous tree" because Republicans believe the early process was unfair to Trump. Most will also continue to make McCarthy's case that the president did not engage in a "quid pro quo" — an exchange of one benefit for another — and has not committed any impeachable offenses.

Yet while the range of responses on Trump's behalf is varied — in some cases, Republicans are attacking witnesses, many of whom are career officials in the federal government — GOP lawmakers aren't rushing to cameras to contend that foreign governments should be invited into the American electoral process, that appropriated funds should be withheld for policy or political purposes and that the release of American foreign aid should be predicated on foreign investigations into U.S. citizens.

Rep. Max Rose, D-N.Y., a top target for Republicans in the 2020, said substance is the problem for the president.

Rose said the process argument, carried by McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., wasn't working out because it was a weak one.

"Here’s also Politics 101, as practiced in the JV variant by Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise and the rest of those jokers," he said. "What they do is, if they are scared of the potential facts, if they are scared or wary of the way the way in which this investigation is going in terms of the facts that it is producing, you will proceed to point to process."

Rose, who has been supportive of the impeachment inquiry, said what he's concerned about is "the potential that the president used the apparatus of the state to advance his own self-interest."

Before the Ukraine story broke in September, Pelosi was holding off her liberal flank's demands to move forward quickly on impeachment, and likely would have needed to apply serious muscle to adopt a resolution like the one that is now expected to pass easily on Thursday.

"I think you had a lot of people on the left that were pushing this issue without a clear timeline or a strategy or how we were going to convey this to the American public," said Rep. Lacy Clay, D-Mo. "And as you can see from recent polls we have now gained a majority of Americans who agree with this inquiry, with this impeachment inquiry, and I think the facts will lead us to the truth of what occurred and will more than likely lead to articles of impeachment."

Trump found early help from one Democrat: New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who said Tuesday he would probably vote against the resolution.

But there were strong signs this week that the speaker wouldn't have to worry about the whip count — including the announcement by Rep. Joe Cunningham, who won one of the closest races in the country in 2018 in a South Carolina district long held by Republicans, that he would vote for it.

Pascrell said Pelosi and fellow Democrats are in a much different position than they were in just a couple of months ago.

"We could have never had the vote," he said. "So much has happened, which we predicted could happen, it has happened, and I think it’s moved people."