Ken Starr, former independent counsel leading up to the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton, told Fox News that the Democrats are already writing the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, and they will likely echo the articles against former President Richard Nixon.
“There will be articles of impeachment. I think we’ve known that. It was just confirmed today,” he said during the hearings involving U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland. “Substantively what we’ve heard from the chairman [Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.)] just now, is it’s over. We now know — this is his position — we now know that the president in fact committed the crime of bribery.”
“That’s litigable, but I think the articles of impeachment are being drawn up — if they haven’t already been drawn up,” Starr said.
Starr was referring to remarks Schiff made after Sondland’s opening statement. Schiff insisted that Trump’s actions “to help his reelection campaign was a basic quid pro quo. It was the conditioning of official acts for something of great value to the president. These political investigations — it goes right to the heart of the issue of bribery as well as other potential high crimes or misdemeanors.”
The Democrat claimed that Sondland’s testimony showed “that knowledge of this scheme was pervasive. … And so this I think only goes to underscore just how significant the president’s obstruction of this investigation has been.”
“The chairman began with essentially pulling out the articles of impeachment against president Nixon, figuratively speaking,” Starr explained. “Then Ambassador Sondland spoke … about his lack of access to records to help him.”
“We already have one article of impeachment and the third article of impeachment in the Richard Nixon situation is very clear, it’s very succinct, it’s very well-done,” Starr added. “That just got drawn up today, thanks to Ambassador Sondland saying … he was, I thought, quite bitter and almost impassioned with respect to ‘I have been stymied.'”
Okay, Ken Starr did NOT say Trump is guilty of bribery. He said this was Chairman Schiff's position. "This is [Schiff's] position." pic.twitter.com/Wib90WW53t
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) November 20, 2019
In other words, Democrats are likely to impeach Trump for obstruction of justice in preventing Sondland from accessing certain records. Yet, as Schiff’s remarks revealed, this depends on the alleged underlying violation — “bribery.”
Starr was not endorsing the Democrats’ impeachment against Trump, but he was explaining how Democrats will weaponize Sondland’s testimony — despite the fact that Sondland himself admitted that he had no evidence to prove the alleged quid pro quo “other than my own presumption.”
“No one on this planet told you that Donald Trump was tying aid to investigations, yes or no?” Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) asked Sondland.
“Yes,” the ambassador admitted.
“So you really have no testimony today that ties President Trump to a scheme to withhold aid from Ukraine in exchange for these investigations?”
“Other than my own presumption,” the ambassador replied.
“Which is nothing,” Turner argued. “Hearsay is when I testify what someone else told me. Do you know what made-up testimony is? Made-up testimony is when I just presume it.”
“I mean, you’re just assuming all of these things and then you’re giving them the evidence that they’re running out and doing press conferences and CNN’s headline is saying that you’re saying the president of the United States should be impeached because he tied aid to investigations and you don’t know that, correct?”
Laughing, Sondland replied, “I never said the president of the United States should be impeached.”
Turner said the ambassador has “left people with the confusing impression that you’re giving testimony that you did not.”
🚨🚨🚨 STORY OF THE SONDLAND HEARING 🚨🚨🚨
Courtesy of @RepMikeTurner ➡️
Q: No one else on this planet told you that Donald Trump was tying aid to these investigations, is that correct?
A: Yes. pic.twitter.com/GqV6vwZ0a1
— Rep Andy Biggs (@RepAndyBiggsAZ) November 20, 2019
When Schiff tried to steer Sondland toward endorsing the quid pro quo narrative, the ambassador refused to play along.
Big fat FAIL by Adam Schiff here.
Watch as Ambassador Sondland repeatedly corrects him and makes it clear that President Trump did not want a quid pro quo. pic.twitter.com/SB2AbjJ53O
— Trump War Room – Text WOKE to 88022 (@TrumpWarRoom) November 20, 2019
This severely undercuts Schiff’s argument on impeachment. In fact, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) presented a more compelling explanation of events that does not include a quid pro quo.
Trump, who is extremely skeptical of foreign aid, wanted to make sure that the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, was truly committed to fighting corruption in one of the most corrupt places on Earth. So he held up the funding until he could be convinced Zelensky was “the real deal.” He also asked Zelensky to investigate potential corruption involving Hunter Biden and the 2016 election. During this time, Zelensky did not know the aid had been withheld, but he interacted with many members of the administration, who convinced Trump that the Ukraine president was indeed “the real deal.” So Trump released the aid, even though Zelensky did not publicly announce either investigation.
No matter how plausible Jordan’s version of events is, Democrats find themselves in a bind. Having publicly begun an impeachment effort, they cannot embrace Jordan’s narrative. Instead, they have to cling to Sondland’s presumption.
While Schiff and co. will attempt to follow the Nixon impeachment playbook, their case is far flimsier — and more partisan — than the case against Nixon. Republicans joined Democrats in 1974, voting to open the impeachment inquiry. This year, no Republican joined Democrats in the Trump impeachment vote — and two Democrats voted against it.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.