By the time this column is published, the open hearing of the impeachment inquiry will have begun.
The fact that we are at this juncture is due to people who put our country before their own personal gain.
First there is the whistleblower. If it were not for him sending his report to Adam Schiff and the legal counsel of the National Security Agency, there never would have been an investigation. Forty-six years earlier there was also a “whistleblower” – Associate Director of the FBI Mark Felt – before there were whistleblower laws. He helped reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in their investigation of the scandal known as Watergate. Fortunately for Felt, although there were rumors, his involvement was not disclosed until his death at his request.
Today things are much different even though there are now laws to protect whistleblowers. The whistleblower had to know, based on how Trump and his supporters have conducted themselves, that there was a good chance that he would be attacked and his name leaked. As of the writing of this column there have been reports circulated as to who the individual is. The fact that there are laws that protect whistleblowers seems not to bother House Republicans who have put him on their witness list. Of course, neither White House Chief of Staff Mike Mulvaney nor the president’s “personal lawyer” Rudolph Giuliani are on their list. Both of them, among others, had been told by the White House not to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry.
There are individuals who are still in the government who abided by a subpoena and came to testify behind closed doors expecting that no matter what they say, they will be attacked. Some were told by the White House not to testify but came anyway. Some of them will be testifying during the open hearing. These include William Taylor, acting United States Ambassador to the Ukraine, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, member of the National Security Agency, Fiona Hill, the senior director for Europe and Russia in the National Security Council (NSC), Marie Yovanovich, former United States Ambassador to Ukraine, Gordon Sondland, United States Ambassador to the European Union, George Kent, deputy assistant Secretary of State, and Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine.
For example, Fiona Hill testified: “My entire first year of my tenure at the National Security Council was filled with hateful calls, conspiracy theories, which has started again, frankly, as it’s been announced that I’ve been giving this deposition, accusing me of being a (George) Soros mole in the White House, of colluding with all kinds of enemies of the president, and of various improprieties.” “I received, I just have to tell you, death threats, calls at my home. My neighbors reported somebody coming and hammering on my door.”
Sometimes courageous people suffer short-term effects of their conduct. However, if one looks through the passage of time, these individuals will be judged favorably.
The heroes of Watergate were not the defenders of the president or those who refused to cooperate and stonewalled – but those who suffered the consequences of their conduct. For example, on October 20, 1973, referred to as the Saturday Night Massacre, Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Assistant Attorney General William Ruckelshaus both resigned when asked by President Nixon to fire the special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Unlike former counsel to President Trump, Don McGann, who has refused to testify, John Dean, the counsel to President Nixon testified before the Senate Watergate Committee with earthshattering testimony about the president’s conduct.
Also, during the Watergate committee’s investigation there were Republicans who were willing to examine the facts and go through the process even though the person who was being investigated was a very popular Republican president. The most notable was Senator Howard Baker, the ranking minority leader of the Senate Watergate Committee. He uttered probably the most famous question of the investigation” “What did the president know and when did he know it?”
In contrast, in the recent vote in the House of Representatives, not one Republican voted for the impeachment inquiry even though many of them had already been involved in the private questioning before the vote. In the Clinton impeachment inquiry, 31 Democrats had voted for the inquiry even though Clinton was a Democrat and the polling showed that the majority of the country was against impeachment and Clinton had high poll numbers.
Our country survived Watergate, which was the first time a sitting president resigned in office because he knew that he was going to be impeached. Spiro Agnew, who had been Nixon’s vice-president a few months before Nixon had to resign, had resigned because of his own illegal activity. Therefore, the new president was Gerald Ford who was unelected either president or vice-president. Bill Clinton’s impeachment hearing and vote in the Senate showed that Clinton had engaged in improper conduct, but it did not reach to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors.
In both situations the system worked. The country moved on and, in some respects, became stronger. It was due to people who had the courage to do what was best for the country and not for themselves or their party. Hopefully there will be others besides those who have testified to date who will act in such a manner. The more that the facts are drawn out and that members of Congress are willing to listen no matter what the result, it will increase people’s confidence in our system of government including checks and balances. However, if there are small-minded partisan hacks who care more about winning their next election or other individuals who are more interested in saving testimony for a book deal than testifying, then the country will be hurt by this process.