On Trump’s impeachment inquiry: A conversation with UTEP professor and political analyst

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On Trump’s impeachment inquiry: A conversation with UTEP professor and political analyst

Bryan Mena, Entertainment Editor

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The Prospector’s Entertainment Editor Bryan Mena sat down for an interview with Todd Curry to discuss the ongoing impeachment inquiry of U.S. President Donald J. Trump. Curry is a political analyst and an associate professor at UTEP’s political science department. 

For Curry’s full interview and more background on the current impeachment process, tune into The Prospector’s first podcast episode.  

Mena: In July, Trump froze $400 million in monetary aid for Ukraine, prior to his phone call with current Ukrainian president, Volodymyr ZelenskyThenon July 25, Trump spoke with Zelensky, where he tried to revive the whole Biden-Burisma issueOn one hand, we have $400 million in frozen aid and on the other hand, we have Trump seemingly pressuring Zelensky. Many proponents of the impeachment inquiry say that this is a quid pro quo. Can you explain what that is, and is this an example of that? Also, considering thathe Ukrainians did not know that the aid was frozen until month after the phone call, according to the New York Times.  

Curry: A quid pro quo is using pressure, in a political sense, to have an ally or even an opponent, do something that you want them to do. It’s “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.” In terms of this, Trump will give the $400 million, i(Zelensky) does this thing he wants, which is to have Biden’s son investigated. Does that look like a quid pro quo? Does that look like an elected official attempting to use their advantage to investigate a political opponent? That’s what it looks like. (However,) I’m not convinced that’s what that actually is. Especially since it seems that the Ukrainian officials didn’t actually know that the money was being withheld at the time of the phone call. The language of the phone call’s transcript that the Trump administration eventually released, certainly makes it appear that he was offering an advantage to the current Ukrainian president if he cooperated. Then we can jump forward to just last week when Trump basically said, I want you all to investigate my political rivals. But if you just look at the phone call in isolation, I don’t think it’s problematic. I think it’s a political leader attempting to negotiate with another political leader, which is exactly what we expect them to do. But if you look at the longer timeline, if you look at the conglomeration of everything that’s occurred, it’s easy to understand why Democrats see this as the most ripe opportunity to go forward with impeachment over the entire timeline of many questionable things that the Trump administration has done. It’s very easy to see why this is the one thing that (Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives) Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats in Congress are choosing as their launching point for the impeachment investigation. 

Mena: You mentioned private citizens, which is also another good segue into my next question. Apparently, Kurt Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine, coordinated meetings with Rudy Giuliani, a private citizen, with top aides as Zelensky so Giuliani could get “dirt on Biden according to Politico. Also, in a tweet, Trump stated that it is his obligation to investigate corruption. Trump also recently called publicly for China to investigate the Bidens as well. So, my question is, is this valid? Can Trump investigate alleged corruption by collaborating with other nations? 

Curry: Yes, the president is charged, at least to a degree, with keeping corruption generally out of government. But we have to remember that the president, no matter who the individual is, is the chief law enforcement officer of the United States. They are the one charged with enforcing the law. To that end, investigations are very much part of the president’s purview. That’s why the FBI and the CIA exist, to investigate possible crimes. Can the president collaborate with other governments to investigate other crimes? Absolutely. Evidence of possible crimes overseas are most likely going to be more easily collected by the countries in which they were committed in, as opposed to having our agents actually do the investigation overseas. Now, none of that is the political problem. The political problem is that the individuals whom are being investigated, are political and possible electoral rivals of the president. That’s where you get the separation of; is the president just doing his job to investigate crimes and attempt to prosecute crimes? Or is the president using his title and his position to advance his campaign at the harm of challengers? That is where you get into a political issue. Every presidential administration investigates crimes and uses other countries to help do that, that’s just tradition. But using it to investigate political rivals, is much more of a questionable tactic. 

Mena: All of this just kind of blew up Aug. 12 when the first whistleblower filed a complaint with the inspector general of the intelligence community. That’s also when Democrats started to realize that they can allege quid pro quo. In an oped for The Washington Post, seven House Democrats alleged that the transcript itself revealed an impeachable offense. Do you think there’s enough information to impeacTrump? Considering the phone call, the withholding of funds, the coordinated meetings with Giuliani? 

Curry: Impeachment is a political process and an impeachable offense is whatever a majority in the House of Representatives decides is. There’s no sort of legal standard. Do I think that the house of representatives will actively bring charges of impeachment against the president? Yes, they have the votes. That seems to be the trajectory. The real question is, whether the senate will vote to convict and what the trial in the senate will look like. It seems to be true, at least at this point, that if the house was to choose to bring charges against the president, the senate would act on those charges and hold a trial. The question is how that vote would go down. How would the eventual trial would play out? There are currently 53 Republicans. You need 66 to convict on charges of impeachment. That means you would have to have a large number of Republicans shift over with the 47 or so DemocratsI don’t see there being a large enough number to actually do that. Now, I certainly think it’ll be above a majority. I don’t think attacking Mitt Romney was the wisest course of action, because Romney will take a number of votes with him. I don’t think it’ll be a number that will surpass 66, but then again, if we jumped back to having this conversation while Watergate was going on, I would have made the exact same claim that I don’t think that there’s enough of a majority in the senate to convict Richard Nixon. Turns out, things came out where the writing on the wall became very clear. That’s why Nixon ended up resigning. There’s a lot of politics that get to play out and the public is really what’s going to put the pressure on these Republicans, not so much any sort of facts or information that comes out. 

Mena: I always notice Republicans defending Trump. I also wonder if they’re actually defending the party because, if you have a president of the Republican Party that gets impeached, it would really damage the party, right? I make my conjecture that Republicans are simply protecting the party, they’re doing what’s best for the party, but not necessarily for Trump. Can you comment on that? 

Curry: If we look at the Republicans after Nixon resigned during the Watergate investigation, the Republican Party was punished for a significant number of years by the American electorate. We would have to go all the way back to 1994 until the Republicans got a majority in the House of Representatives, almost 20 years. Republicans have a memory of what that looks like, they know what that looks like. I think to this end, they are at least right now defending the party brand, much more so than defending Trump. Outside of Lindsey Graham, I think everyone in the Senate that is Republican is defending the party more so than defending the individual. There may come, just as it did in Watergate, where the party sheds the individual. If you buy any of this talk that has been going on in Washington over the past four years, even when Trump started to run, he’s not a popular individual within the party, despite the fact that he’s the leader of the party. You still have to support the leader of your party up until the point that it’s more costly to continue supporting the leader of your party. We could see going forward that Republicans eventually turn their back on the leader of the party, and the exact rhetoricI can guaranteewe would hear in that circumstance would be its time to protect the party. It’s the same sort of rhetoric we’re hearing now, is they’re trying to protect the party by protecting Trump. There could be a tipping point that comes in which the rhetoric will stay the same, but they’ll jettison Trump from the Republican Party. 

Mena: Obviously, battleground states play a huge role in this. Let me go on to my next question. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senator Kamala Harris and several other figures have said that they actually don’t want to have to impeach Trump, that it would be bad for the country. Even Trump himself said that it would just be bad for the country. Why is that? Why would it be bad for the country to impeach a sitting president? 

Curry: Well, there’s one really good reason why it woulbe bad. We’ve never done it. The Constitution certainly allows for the impeachment of a sitting president. It’s very clear, Article One, Section Two spells out how it’s to be done. But it’s never happened. We’ve had charges of impeachment brought against presidents, but the trial in the Senate has never chosen to move forward oactually removing a sitting president. It would be bad in terms of that precedent, but bad” is circumstantial here. It would throw politics into an area of unpredictability. And I think that’s what scares politicians very much. They want to be able to predict what’s going to happen, consistency is very important for them. It’s how they win elections. If you throw politics into an upheaval sort ocrisis, that puts everyone’s seat into flux. I think this is a unique circumstance. There is certainly a degree of partisan politics being played out through this, but also the charges are up just on really different scale. I mean, we can go back to Bill Clinton and look what the charges were brought against him and it was lying under oath about a sexual affair. That scales different from colluding with other international leaders to benefit you against political rivals. There’s a very different scale that we’re playing on here. While it would be unprecedented action, while it would throw our political system into an upheaval. The crimes that are alleged are on a monumentally different scale than other impeachment charges that have been brought against sitting presidents. 

Mena: We’ll just have to see. Very recently, Trump has asserted that his administration will not cooperate with the impeachment inquiryKnowing that, what’s next? 

Curry: If the President has ordered individuals to not comply with a legal Congressional inquiry, that in and of itself is an impeachable offense. It’s something all your listeners will know the phrase for, it’s obstruction of justice. It is tinkering with an actual legal investigation. That is an impeachable offense itself. What will happen to the individuals that refuse to comply with subpoenas? Seems very clear. They’ll be held in contempt of Congress, a felony, which 

is not good. I think it is a very bad gambit to play with how specific the Constitution is on these issues. I think Trump, or at least Trump’s advisors, are naively assuming that the courts will choose to play a role in this process. The federal courts will play absolutely no role in this process, they will choose not to. There is very clear Supreme Court precedence on this issue. In the early 1980s, a judge was impeached and brought suit into federal court and the Supreme Court was like “Nope, impeachment is very clearly only Congress’s prerogative. They can run it however they want, and we won’t touch it. The only federal judicial official that will play a role in this entire thing is chief justice Roberts, who would preside over the senate trial of the president. I think it’s a dangerous gambit because it’s both sides attempting to basically fight a very clearly spelled out process. Congress has the authority to investigate, that’s one of their main powers; they also have the authority to subpoena individuals. When individuals don’t comply with those subpoenas, they can be held in contempt of Congress like that. That’s just reality. For some individuals, that could be significantly damning. What we’re talking about is actual individuals who are employed by the White House being asked to not comply with congressional investigations. That is what makes it an interesting fight, because that makes it not the Republicans versus the Democrats. That makes it the presidency versus Congress. That’s very much a different power because I can very easily see Republicans in Congress getting very upset with a presidential administration refusing to comply with legally issued subpoenas. Failing to do so not only hurts Democrats, but if no one complies, it also hurts the institution of Congress. The next time there’s a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, they wish to issue a subpoena, we’ve now set precedent that you can just ignore it. I think it’s a very bad gambit. I think Congress will eventually stand up and enforce their right to do this and if the administration still holds out with a refusal to comply, that in and of itself is an impeachable offense. I don’t see, logically, where this gambit is going, if only to draw out the process. I think that’s what the President is hoping here, or at least what the president’s advisors are hoping. For the process to get to the point where the process itself is seen as unpopular. 

The Prospector podcast’s first episode covers the president’s ongoing impeachment inquiry, to listen to the full interview and more, tune in here.

Bryan Mena may be reached at [email protected]. 

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