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What the Democrats Need to Do This Week

For starters: Keep the focus on what Trump said and don't get bogged down in the intricacies of whistleblower law.
September 23, 2019
What the Democrats Need to Do This Week
Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff speaks alongside, Nancy Pelosi, Elijah Cummings, and Judiciary Committee Chair Jerold Nadler. (Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)

Here are few words of advice, unasked for but I hope not unwelcome, to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff—and to anyone else with influence on how Congress might proceed on the Trump-Ukraine matter.

The House Intelligence Committee has a hearing with Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire on Thursday that seems now to be the focal point for the House Democrats. The hearing will understandably focus to some degree on the whistleblower issue. But its core message, the core message of the next three days, has to be: Release the transcript. It’s the presidential conversation that really matters. Pelosi, Schiff, and others need to spend this week explaining the gravity of what Trump seems to have done, not the intricacies of whistleblower law.

If (when?) it becomes clear that Acting DNI Maguire is under orders not to cooperate, we should not then have weeks of diffuse lamenting, complaining, and the filing of various subpoenas and lawsuits. Rather, the speaker should immediately announce a select committee, or charge an existing committee, with the urgent task of discovering the truth. The committee should have a short deadline—say, a month—and should demand documents and summon the witnesses it needs with alacrity.

The speaker should make clear on or before Thursday that the president’s obstructing the ability of Congress to discover the truth in this important matter is itself an impeachable offense. Pelosi could also appeal or present members of the executive branch to put country first and ignore White House requests that they not testify; it would be useful if former senior officials of both parties endorsed the position that testifying on this issue is the right thing to do.

The speaker should try to be bipartisan. She could reach out to Mitt Romney, or Paul Ryan, if he’s willing to rise to the occasion. She might invite a Republican (Will Hurd?) to co-chair the special committee if there is one, and/or ensure there’s a Republican co-counsel of whichever committee it is that has the responsibility to proceed.

This is an important week. It’s a moment for not just Speaker Pelosi and Chairman Schiff, but for all those in positions of civic authority and influence, to rise to the occasion.

William Kristol

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