During the question and answer session for the Senate impeachment trial, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked House impeachment managers if former President Barack Obama would have had the authority to ask Ukraine to investigate hypothetical corruption surrounding his Republican opponent in 2012, Mitt Romney. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) struggled to answer the question.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts read the question from Cruz and Graham: “In Mr. Schiff’s hypothetical, if President Obama had evidence that Mitt Romney’s son was being paid $1 million per year by a corrupt Russian company and Mitt Romney had acted to benefit that company, would Obama have authority to ask that that potential corruption be investigated?”
Rather than directly answering, Schiff first attacked the hypothetical.
“Well, first of all, the hypothetical is a bit off,” he began. “Uh, because it presumes that, uh, in that hypothetical, that, uh, President Obama was acting corruptly or there was evidence he was acting corruptly with respect to his son.” Schiff clearly meant to say the question presumes that former Vice President Joe Biden was acting corruptly in pressuring Ukraine to fire the prosecutor looking into his son’s company.
“But nonetheless, let’s take your hypothetical on its terms,” he continued. “Would it have been impeachable if Barack Obama had tried to get Medvedev to do an investigation of Mitt Romney whether it was justified or unjustified?”
“The reality is for a president to withhold military aid from an ally or in the hypothetical to withhold it to benefit an adversary, to target their political opponent is wrong and corrupt. Period. End of story. And if you allow a president to rationalize that conduct, rationalize jeopardizing the nation’s security to benefit himself because he believes that his opponent should be investigated by a foreign power, that is impeachable,” he added.
“Now, if you have a legitimate reason to think that any U.S. person has committed an offense, there are legitimate ways to have an investigation conducted. There are legitimate ways to have the Justice Department conduct an investigation,” Schiff claimed. Of course, if Hunter Biden cashed out on his father’s name by taking the lucrative job in Ukraine and if his father was truly motivated to get the Ukrainian prosecutor investigating his son’s job fired in order to protect his son, it would be extremely hard to prove either of these actions directly violated U.S. law. Corruption need not be illegal in order to still be corruption.
Then Schiff moved into an entirely different territory.
“Now, I would suggest to you that for a president to turn to his Justice Department and say, ‘I want you to investigate my political rival’ taints whatever investigation they do. Presidents should not be in the business of asking even their own Justice Department to investigate their rivals. The Justice Department ought to have some independence from the political desires of the president,” he added.
What an odd thing to say, given the history of the Obama Justice Department investigating members of the Donald Trump campaign in 2016 — without notifying Trump about the investigation!
Again refusing to directly answer the hypothetical, Schiff concluded, “But under no circumstances do you go outside of your own legitimate law enforcement process to ask a foreign power to investigate your rival whether you think there’s cause or you don’t think there’s cause.”
Would that condemnation also apply to the Obama DOJ which coordinated with British intelligence in the early stages of the “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation into potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia?
Schiff’s decision to dodge the hypothetical and condemn what he claims Trump did was ironic because while there is no concrete evidence that Trump engaged in a quid pro quo of withholding military aid from Ukraine in exchange for investigations into potential Biden corruption, Joe Biden himself bragged about threatening to withdraw Ukraine funding in exchange for the firing of a prosecutor who was investigating the corrupt Ukrainian gas company Burisma, where his son served on the board.
Joe Biden has claimed that his pressure to get the prosecutor fired had more to do with encouraging Ukraine to crack down on corruption than with protecting his son’s company, but the investigation into Burisma was ended after the prosecutor was fired. Of course, this apparent corruption would not necessarily violate a specific U.S. law, but it would represent an abuse of power on Biden’s part.
"There are legitimate ways to have an investigation conducted…but under no circumstances do you go outside your legitimate law enforcement process to ask a foreign power to investigate your rival," Schiff says responding to question from Graham and Cruz. https://t.co/jKErQcS1Iy pic.twitter.com/qcW19oSKkD
— ABC News (@ABC) January 29, 2020
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.