As Americans prepare for Thanksgiving, the House Judiciary Committee is getting ready for a big event next week. On Dec. 4, its members will hold a hearing on the “constitutional grounds for presidential impeachment.” Donald Trump has been invited to attend (pdf).
Based on the president’s response to the impeachment inquiry thus far, it seems likely he’ll decline the offer and opine on the hearing via Twitter instead. Trump has continually decried the probe into his Ukraine dealings as a sham, and showing up at this hearing, or sending a lawyer, might in his mind only legitimize the inquiry he’s dubbed a witch hunt.
Still, Trump has been offered an opportunity to have his counsel question witnesses about constitutional process and the meaning of “high crimes and misdemeanors” in the impeachment clause. In a statement, judiciary committee chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York acknowledged Trump’s disdain for the inquiry and essentially dared him not to participate. Nadler stated:
At base, the President has a choice to make: he can take this opportunity to be represented in the impeachment hearings, or he can stop complaining about the process. I hope that he chooses to participate in the inquiry, directly or through counsel, as other Presidents have done before him.
Nadler also warned Trump that thwarting the investigation by preventing documents or blocking witnesses will count against him if the House does decide to move forward with articles of impeachment. He reminded the president that attending was “not a right but a privilege” being extended out of the committee’s desire to ensure a fair, informative, constitutionally sound process.
The hearing will examine the framers’ intent regarding the Constitution’s impeachment clause and analyze the “constitutional framework” through which to view the evidence, Nadler explained. This gathering is, in some sense, a public civics lesson, a legal debate illuminating the concept of impeachment generally and how the allegations against Trump fit specifically, if at all.
The intelligence committee is expected to soon file a report laying out all the evidence presented privately and publicly to this point, perhaps even ahead of the upcoming hearing. But Trump might not have the benefit of studying that report before deciding on his participation, as he has been given a deadline of Dec. 1 at 6pm to respond to the invitation.
White House aides are reportedly debating whether to participate in the event. An unnamed source “familiar with the deliberations” told the New York Times that they haven’t reached a decision yet.
But Nadler shouldn’t hold his breath for a yes. It’s a pretty safe bet that the president doesn’t intend to show and that Americans will hear plenty from him anyway. During witness testimony in recent weeks, Trump has tweeted about the impeachment inquiry, inserting himself deeper even as he denounces the process and its participants. If he has something to say about the framers, constitutional law, or anything else, expect him to tweet it.