Cole: The Process House Dems Are Setting Forward Is Not ‘Fair To The People Of The United States’

RANKING MEMBER TOM COLE: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Let me begin by frankly reiterating what you said in terms of keeping this process civil and professional and fair and open. I agree with another sentiment you expressed in that this is a very sad day. It’s a sad day for me personally. I doubt anybody here ran for Congress with the idea that they would ever be involved in an impeachment inquiry. I certainly never thought I would be. I think this is a sad day for the Rules Committee and for the institution of the House of Representatives. 

We’re meeting here today to set forth a process for impeaching a President of the United States. In my view, it’s not a fair process, it’s not an open process, and it’s certainly not been a transparent process. It’s been limited and closed, and, frankly, I think we’re moving toward a preordained result. Over the last month, several House committees have been engaged in what’s been called “a formal impeachment inquiry.” Of course, there’s nothing formal about it other than the Speaker saying so. The House has never voted to conduct such an inquiry and the committees have operated in the dark without formal authorization on what amounts to nothing more that amounts to an expanded fishing expedition. At least today, in my view, the majority is admitting what we all know. That’s that the House was not following an appropriate process for impeachment. I do not think the process we’re setting forward, frankly, with all due respect to my friend, the Chairman, in this resolution is a fair one either. It’s not fair to the President of the United States; it’s not fair to the people of the United States. 

The process laid out in the resolution before us is different from the processes used for both Presidents Nixon in 1974 and President Clinton in 1998. Both Presidents were given substantially more due process and protections than what the resolution gives to President Trump today. In the case of President Clinton, that was a Republican House of Representatives affording a Democratic President of the United States more due process than the current Democratic House is affording the current Republican President. First, frankly, both Presidents Nixon and Clinton were given the right to have counsel present to review documents and materials presented to the committees to recommend witnesses, to cross examine witnesses when appropriate. Counsel for both Presidents were fully participating in the Judiciary Committee hearings and were allowed to make arguments. More importantly, in both cases, the President’s Counsel’s requests for witnesses to testify was accommodated. That’s certainly not been the case thus far in this process. In today’s resolution, there’s no right for President Trump to have counsel in any of the depositions, hearings or inquiries that have been conducted thus far. So, we’re well into the process without the President having been given the right to actually participate in it. The resolution includes nothing that would give him that right going forward. On a matter as serious and solemn as this, we cannot leave important factors like the right of counsel to the whim of a committee chair, which is exactly where it would fall under this resolution. 

Second, in both the Nixon and the Clinton impeachment proceedings, the minority was given the co-equal right to subpoena witnesses and documents. The purpose of this was to ensure that the investigations would be fair, impartial, and bipartisan. Today’s resolution differs from the Nixon and Clinton precedents in a key way. The resolution does not provide for co-equal subpoena power. Instead it grants the minority the right to subpoena witnesses and materials only with the concurrence of the Chair and the requirement that such subpoenas be quote, “deemed necessary to the investigation.” That’s a heck of a situation when you get to decide what is necessary for an investigation. There was no limitation in the Nixon and Clinton impeachment proceedings that were similar. As a simple matter of fairness, it’s important to note that there’s no such limitations on the committee chair. If this is truly a bipartisan process, why then, is the minority subject to such restrictions on its ability to participate while the majority is certainly is not. 

I think the differences between the procedure and the procedure followed in the past are very clear. Today’s resolution fails to give the President the right to due process that Presidents Nixon and Clinton enjoyed. It fails to preserve the right of the minority to fully participate in the proceedings. This resolution also differs from the Nixon and Clinton resolutions in another key way. Both of those previous resolutions were written in a bipartisan manner and with full consultation with the minority. We were not involved in any way in the construction of the resolution that we are considering today. It was dropped on us with a 24-hour notice. This committee has not had a hearing about the procedures and how we should go. We simply are presented with this for it’s fully made out of whole cloth. This resolution, frankly again, is not bipartisan and done with full consultation with the minority. It was written only by Democrats without a pretense of consultation with Republicans. I didn’t even see a copy of this resolution until it was released publicly. 

Mr. Chairman, we can certainly do better than that and better than we’re doing today. When President Nixon and President Clinton were impeached, the process was collaborative one. The minority was allowed to participate fully and equally. The President was given the right to have counsel present and participating. That preserved the rights of the minority, preserved the rights of the President, and ensured that due process was the touchstone for the House. Without due process, and without a fair process that respects minority rights, I do not believe the American people regard this process as legitimate. A legitimate process is one that offers protections for everyone involved. Without those protections, this will be seen as just another partisan exercise — one the majority has been pushing towards since the very first day of the 116th Congress. That’s unfortunate. And I hope we can do better than that, but certainly look forward to the hearing today, and we intend to participate as fully as allowed.