Pelosi Has History and the Constitution at Her BackRoundup
tags: Constitution, political history, impeachment, Nancy Pelosi
Caroline Fredrickson (@crfredrickson) is the author of “The Democracy Fix: How to Win the Fight for Fair Rules, Fair Courts and Fair Elections” and former president of the American Constitution Society.
President Trump and Republicans have insisted that House Democrats take a vote to open a formal impeachment inquiry before engaging in thoroughgoing oversight of the administration’s activities related to Ukraine. This is a political calculation — relying on faulty analysis of the Clinton impeachment — that a formal inquiry will backfire on Democrats.
The Constitution makes no such requirement for conducting an impeachment investigation. Furthermore, it assigns to Congress the important duty of oversight.
Congressional investigations often lead to the development of new laws, but Congress may also address oversight findings through other actions. Some investigations have led Congress to conclude that enacting new laws is not the answer to issues identified in an inquiry. Some congressional oversight proceedings have led to executive branch reforms. Some inquiries into alleged administration corruption have resulted in resignations, referrals, House or Senate resolutions memorializing disapproval of presidential or other administration misconduct — or on occasion the start of impeachment proceedings.
Indeed, congressional history is replete with investigations of alleged White House misconduct that have not involved impeachment. Many of these — during both Republican and Democratic administrations — involved congressional deposition or hearing testimony from top White House aides.
For example, the Senate Judiciary Committee investigated business dealings of President Jimmy Carter’s brother and alleged related White House communications, taking testimony from the national security adviser and the president’s press secretary. A joint House and Senate committee reviewed the role of the Reagan White House in the diversion of Iran arms sales funds to Nicaraguan contras and took testimony from, among others, two national security advisers to the president and the national security adviser to the vice president. Committees in both the House and Senate conducted inquiries into whether the Clinton White House engaged in campaign finance improprieties and took testimony from numerous White House officials (including a chief of staff, a deputy chief of staff, two counsels, two deputy counsels, the chief of staff to the first lady and the national security adviser). Further, the House Oversight Committee investigated inappropriate use of nongovernment email for official business by the George W. Bush White House, taking deposition testimony from two White House political directors.