As President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpKey impeachment witnesses to know as public hearings begin Centrist Democrats seize on state election wins to rail against Warren’s agenda Nunes demands Schiff testify behind closed doors in Trump impeachment inquiry MORE continues to counterpunch his way into an impeachment, many Republicans appear conspicuously and ominously silent about the Ukrainian scandal. That would normally spell growing danger for an increasingly isolated president looking at a Senate trial.
Trump, however, may have a curious ally in House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiGOP senator defends calling Pelosi ‘dumb’: ‘What I said was accurate’ Overnight Health Care: CDC links vitamin E oil to vaping illnesses | White House calls Pelosi drug price plan ‘unworkable’ | Dem offers bill for state-based ‘Medicare for All’ Democrats aim to impeach Trump by Christmas MORE. When she held a press conference to announce the impeachment inquiry, some of us expressed doubt that she had dropped her opposition to it. Since then, every move she has made strongly supports suspicions that Pelosi is less of a convert than a collaborator in the House impeachment effort. While Trump aides such as Rudy Giuliani have now caused untold damage to the White House position, Pelosi repeatedly has intervened to steer impeachment efforts into either a wall or, more recently, over a cliff.
For three years, Pelosi has been widely credited with slowing down the impeachment efforts despite many of her fellow Democrats campaigning on an impeachment pledge in 2018. Pelosi has struggled to maintain the appearance of wanting to impeach the president while preventing any meaningful steps toward actual impeachment. She wants Trump mortally wounded but still alive in 2020. Moreover, she understood the Russia investigation was not producing clear criminal or impeachable conduct.
Indeed, earlier this year, I wrote a column asking whether the real scandal was not likely Russian but Ukrainian in its origins. I noted that various Trump figures, along with Democrats including Hunter Biden, were involved in suspect dealings in Ukraine. The investigation by former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerGowdy: I ‘100 percent’ still believe public congressional hearings are ‘a circus’ Comey: Mueller ‘didn’t succeed in his mission because there was inadequate transparency’ Fox News legal analyst says Trump call with Ukraine leader could be ‘more serious’ than what Mueller ‘dragged up’ MORE found no conspiracy or collusion with the Russians. The Justice Department correctly rejected obstruction. Pelosi moved to put impeachment to bed, saying she would not accept one that was not based on articles with “overwhelming and bipartisan” support.
Everything was going according to plan, until Trump called the Ukrainian president. The danger of pretending that you want to impeach Trump is that you may accidentally stumble over a potentially impeachable offense. Moreover, with a whistleblower complaint, Pelosi lost all her control. The Democratic base was simply not going to accept another bait and switch.
So Pelosi was forced to hold her bizarre press conference to announce that an impeachment inquiry would begin in the House, despite other Democrats declaring for weeks that they already were conducting such an inquiry. Despite her recent pledge, she pushed through an impeachment vote with no Republican support, and the country divided right down the middle on the issue. Pelosi then took two unexpected steps.
She reportedly said she wanted to limit any impeachment to Ukraine, not the stuff that she and others claimed was clearly criminal and impeachable for three years. She also removed the investigation from the House Judiciary Committee, which was looking more broadly at Russian matters with special impeachment counsel, and gave it to the House Intelligence Committee to hold hearings behind closed doors. After single handedly slowing impeachment efforts for years, Pelosi now is pushing for an impeachment vote by the end of the year. Why?
The day this story broke, I stated on the air that the greatest threat to Trump would be former national security adviser John Bolton, a disgruntled former aide who was the most likely to have damaging evidence of any quid pro quo. Yet, Democrats have done relatively little to get his testimony. Bolton seemed willing to testify but wanted to be compelled to do so. On Friday, his lawyer even dangled a promise of “relevant” undisclosed evidence. Democrats have subpoenaed various officials but refused to do so with Bolton. They shrugged off his refusal to testify and said they simply had no time to go to court for an order. Why?
The reason appears to be Pelosi. While she reluctantly agreed to allow members to impeach, she wants to submit a clearly narrow anemic impeachment to the Senate by the start of 2020. After moving for years at a glacial pace, she now wants an abbreviated and expedited impeachment process with just a few weeks of evidentiary preparation. Such an impeachment would go forward with a largely undeveloped record with a couple of slapdash articles, along with ample room to acquit Trump.
The term for all of this is planned, or programmed, obsolescence. The term was created by former General Motors head Alfred Sloan Jr. to refer to designing products that suddenly stop functioning and have to be replaced. This was the basis of a huge class action lawsuit against Hewlett Packard over inkjet printers and cartridges allegedly designed to shut down at an undisclosed date. The company settled the case for millions of dollars.
Similarly, the Trump impeachment is beginning to look like something designed to fail, to suddenly stop functioning in the Senate so Trump survives and Democrats can run again on a “lesser of two evils” campaign. The design flaw is found in the artificially narrow foundation of the expected articles on abuse of power. It is not true, as suggested by former acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, that abuse of power cannot be the basis for impeachment because abuse of power is not a crime. Not only can abuse of power be impeachable, but a proven quid pro quo can be such an abuse.
However, there is a reason we have never sought the impeachment of a president on such a narrow ground. The Clinton impeachment was relatively narrow but involved the president lying under oath, a clearly defined criminal act. Abuse of power is stronger in the context of other offenses. The reason is that it is often difficult to distinguish between the problematic statements or conduct of presidents. All politicians are self-dealers, including members of Congress.
To focus on this narrow abuse of power claim as the basis for impeachment, Pelosi maximizes the chances of an acquittal for Trump. By pushing for an impeachment by December, with limited hearings and no compelled testimony, she would achieve her long standing goal to guarantee that Trump will stay in office at the start of the primaries. That is the perfect planned obsolescence product, one designed to fail just in time for the voters to be offered a product “upgrade” in the form of a Democratic presidential candidate and Senate majority.
Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. He also served as the last lead counsel in a Senate impeachment trial and testified as a constitutional expert in the Clinton impeachment hearings. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.