President Donald Trump and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union Martinez Monsivais / AP file
The White House is on thin ice. The words of the Constitution, the history of prior American impeachments, the adoption in 1974 by the House Judiciary Committee of Article III of impeachment against President Richard Nixon and a 1993 ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court refute the legitimacy of the White House’s battle plan to interfere with impeachment proceedings.
The Constitution, for one, vests the “sole power of impeachment” in the House of Representatives and, in an impeachment proceeding, it has the wide-ranging ability to demand both documents and testimony.
In its 1974 final report in the impeachment of Nixon, the Judiciary Committee described the sweeping breadth of congressional impeachment power to require testimony and documents from the executive branch. For instance, when President James Polk in 1846 declined to provide information to a House committee in a legislative investigation, he “cheerfully admitted” the House’s sweeping power to investigate during an impeachment inquiry, the report stated.
Polk wrote that “the power of the House in the pursuit of this object [impeachment] would penetrate into the most secret recesses of the Executive Departments. It could command the attendance of any and every agent of the Government, and compel them to produce all papers, public or private, official or unofficial and to testify on oath to all facts within their knowledge.”
The text of the Constitution and history will doom Trump’s flailing effort to escape the consequences of his actions. The House will do its duty, likely giving 100 senators a vote that will determine how each will be viewed by history — and his or her constituents in the elections to come.