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What Congress Needs to Do

A roadmap for what the House and Senate can do about the whistleblower report and Ukraine, starting now.
September 22, 2019
What Congress Needs to Do
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 21: U.S. President Donald Trump walks up to speak to the media before departing from the White House on August 21, 2019 in Washington, DC. President Trump spoke on several topics including the U.S. economy and why he canceled his trip to Denmark. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The gates of hell are open night and day;
Smooth the descent, and easy is the way:
But to return, and view the cheerful skies,
In this the task and mighty labor lies.

—Virgil, Aeneid, Book 6 (trans. Dryden)

The president seems to have demanded that a foreign government provide information on a domestic political rival as a condition for foreign policy decisions by the United States. It’s obviously important to discover the whole truth of this possibly impeachable offense.

There is no special counsel or court that can do this, at least not in a timely manner. There is no waiting on a Mueller report or a federal judge.

The ball is in Congress’s court. A fast, focused, and thorough investigation of what happened needs to be Congress’s priority.

Here is what Congress could do:

The House of Representatives should establish a small, competent, select committee to determine the truth of the Ukraine matter. This committee’s investigation should be separate from those rehashing the Mueller report or looking into other Trump administration controversies

The select committee should investigate the Ukraine matter alone, with a view to discovering whether impeachable offense has been committed. (It would be fine if this were a joint select committee of the House and Senate, and that offer should be made to Mitch McConnell.)

The select committee should be given full powers of investigation and instructed to move with expedition. The House should make clear that failure by the administration to cooperate with this committee is itself a potentially impeachable offense.

This committee could hold hearings in private (on classified or sensitive matters) as well as in public. It will have to be ready to sweep broadly through the executive branch in search of information on the assumption of non-cooperation by the Trump White House.

It needs to have a short timetable to complete its work—say, a month?—and the administration needs to be expressly told that non-cooperation and obstruction may well be considered grounds for impeachment.

The committee should of course be bipartisan—but if Republican leadership refuses to cooperate, it must go ahead in any case. Its members should be selected for merit and relevant expertise.

It’s up to the speaker and others to figure out how to make this work. What’s key is that the House separate this matter from others under discussion, because this matter has been the subject of no previous investigation and is of particular gravity, and move quickly.

Hoc opus, hic labor est. This is “the task and mighty labor” that now lies before the United States Congress.

William Kristol

William Kristol is editor-at-large of The Bulwark.