Californians In The Spotlight

Richard Rubin
Attorney Richard Rubin has taught at the University of San Francisco, Berkeley and Golden Gate University, is a regular columnist for the Marin Independent Journal and was Chair of the California Commonwealth Club Board of Governors, 2017-2019.

America’s most popular fun game –Whack a Mole—continues with still more candidates lining up to take a swing at whichever opponents survive enroute to the illusive Democratic nomination which only one person will be able to claim.

Poised to enter the race is Michael Bloomberg the former New York City Mayor and perhaps the wealthiest man to ever run for the office after Nelson Rockefeller, GOP Pres. Gerald Ford’s Vice President, who sought his party’s nomination three times in the 1960s without success.

Former Massachusetts Governor, Deval Patrick, has also thrown his hat in the ring. How many more contestants are needed before the voters are satisfied they have enough choices?

While eyes are drawn once more to this quasi-elimination derby which will have its fifth running on Nov. 20th when 10 candidates square off in Atlanta, what two Californians are doing and saying -neither one a candidate –could be more consequential.

At center stage is Rep Adam Schiff, (Los Angeles) the business-like Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, which will have much to do with this  president’s ultimate fate. 

The other is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (San Francisco) who has the constitutional duty of bringing impeachment charges eventually to the full body for its vote.

Watching all this with a combination of both pleasure and what must be growing apprehension is the man who bested all sixteen of his rivals in 2016 that succumbed one-by-one to Pres. Donald Trump’s implausible allure like so many sheep going to the slaughter.

Though he was able to dispatch his most formidable opponents with seeming ease, President Trump now has more to worry about involving a couple of Californians who are not trying to get his job but are taking a wrecking ball to his still very promising prospects of reelection.

Chairman Schiff, the unflappable former prosecutor with the awesome responsibility of conducting the historic impeachment proceedings, has put together a strategy that so far is making mincemeat of the opposition.

Schiff has been thrust into a spotlight which most lawmakers can only dream about that will define his reputation ever after. If he and his equally zealous committee colleagues falter, Trump’s defenders will be sure to pounce. 

Schiff is proving to be a no-nonsense gavel wielder quick to bring it down on over-matched Trump defenders calling them repeatedly “out of order” which is his prerogative. Opponents have made no effort to disguise their principal intention to disrupt order.

The meticulous preparation by Schiff’s committee before these public hearings is on full display. So far it has been no contest.

The line-up of witnesses, all former or current foreign service officers with impeccable credentials, are telling the same story of a president who has gone rogue with actions involving Ukraine that run directly counter to the policies his State Department was mandated to carry out.

Many of these top-level diplomats including several ambassadors have toiled for decades in both Democratic and Republican Administrations with no interest in partisan politics.

Taking a page from the procedures which were so effective in the impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon, Schiff delegated the bulk of the interrogation duties to highly trained counsel rather than committee members who are prone to engage in showboating.

Measured and skillful questioning of witnesses by the Democrat’s lead Counsel, Daniel Goldman, suggests he was an excellent pick.

A Stanford Law graduate, Goldman cut his prosecutorial teeth from 2007-2017 for the Southern District of New York where he was the Number Two Chief in the organized crime unit. His victims included the Genovese crime family and Russian mobsters.

Meanwhile his counterpart, minority Counsel Steve Castor, was given the hapless task of attacking the credibility of individuals whose service to the nation puts them beyond reproach. Many have agreed to take the stand knowing their careers could be on the line.

Though somewhat devoid of real drama their accounts of what has happened painted a darkening picture of presidential misconduct unprecedented in the nation’s history.

The star witness for the prosecution last week was Marie I. Yovanovitch, ousted as U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine whose reputation Trump has personally smeared in what is now a fully exposed, badly botched, most likely impeachable offense when he requested the Ukrainian president to get dirt on former Vice President, Joseph R. Biden, a leading rival.

Putting personal ambition ahead of national security Trump went to extraordinary lengths to have her removed including the direct intervention of his personal lawyer Rudolph Guliliani apparently with the tacit consent of her immediate boss, Sec. of State, Mike Pompeo. 

It was made clear that failure to comply with his request could result in the withholding of millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine in its ongoing war with Russia which had been previously pledged and appropriated by Congress.

Speaker Pelosi has flat out labeled this “bribery”– one of the specific offenses stipulated in the Constitution as a basis for impeachment and removal from office. Legal scholars have interpreted the Founder’s meaning of the term to broadly apply to any “corrupt abuse of power to obtain personal benefit.”

Trump’s defenders have fallen back on the flimsy argument that since the aid was finally released no crime was committed. This has little teeth since under federal law the mere attempt to solicit a bribe constitutes a crime.

Schiff and committee counsel have made clear from the outset that the impeachment process is not a criminal proceeding. That would have to take place in a court of law. 

Were this so the contents of the infamous July 25th phone conversation between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelinskiy encouraging his intervention in an American election which numerous witnesses have attested to under oath and which Trump has himself corroborated might make this an open and shut case.

GOP committee members were showing extra care in their questioning to not further impugn Yovanovitch’s reputation, instead aiming most of their salvos at the Democrats’ unwillingness to disclose the identity of the anonymous “whistleblower” who triggered the impeachment process.

Not much reason to hear from the whistleblower after first-party corroboration of the overheard phone cellphone call from Trump to Gordon Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, inquiring whether Zelinsky had “agreed to conduct the investigation into Biden?” 

Sondland who went on record earlier denying such collusion is scheduled to testify this week.

Rep. Devin Nunes (Tulare) the ranking committee Republican in what may have been the most inane comment of all about the treatment of Yovanovitch called her removal “an employment disagreement.”

House Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield dismissed her testimony as “hearsay….at best second hand information.”

If the idea was to reduce this tawdry episode to an innocent diplomatic misunderstanding, Trump’s pathological penchant for tweeting wrecked the strategy.

Seeing his paper-thing defenses crumbling, Trump apparently felt it necessary to reinsert himself in a manner which can only hearten impeachment proponents.

As Yovanovitch was testifying the president offered some of his own, “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad,” 

Immediately spotting the opening Schiff interrupted the questioning  reporting to incredulous GOP members and a rapt national TV audience what Trump had just tweeted.

Then turning to the somewhat shaken ex-Ambassador, Schiff calmly asked,  “And now the president in real time is attacking you. What effect do you think that has on other witnesses’ willingness to come forward and expose wrongdoing?”

 Yovanovitch responded:  “Well it is very intimidating. I can’t speak to what the president is trying to do, but I think the effect is to be intimidating.”

Add witness intimidation to the growing list of offenses which will come under the heading abuse of power, the main article of impeachment which snared both presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.

At the rate they are going Schiff and company may be on pace to have things wrapped up well before the turkeys come out of the oven. 

If so, as we go into the heart of the primary season Trump could enter it with a slightly modified title: impeached incumbent.

The presidential candidates would prefer that the impeachment exercise be viewed as a sideshow. Schiff, Pelosi and their allies are seeing to it that it remains the main event. Stay tuned.

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