by James A. Wilson
The beat goes on in the impeachment circus but little attention is paid to context as one side screams of new and ever more damning revelations while the other hollers about due process; voters – if we believe polls – are increasingly comfortable with the spectre of removing a sitting president – one who has resurrected many dimensions of the nation – from office in the face of Democratic leaders despairing openly about fielding a candidate who can beat this president in an election. Context?
The grand jury model will supply. Grand juries function much as does the House of Representatives in an impeachment process. Their task is not to determine guilt or innocence, but only whether there is enough evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors to warrant a trial. They do not necessarily feature all of the due process rights of the accused in an actual trial, although they are expected to operate in terms of fair play and Bill of Rights propriety.
For example, prosecutors are just as obligated to offer up evidence that would favor the accused as in an actual trial. A majority of the whole jury must vote for an indictment. In case of congressional impeachment the Constitution clearly states the power to indict or impeach rests with the whole House of Representatives, not the speaker or selected committees, or even a caucus of the majority; yet the speaker has so far resolutely refused even to display evidence to the whole body. Instead leaders leak whatever furthers the leaders’ narrative.
It is absolutely essential that grand jury proceedings be conducted in secret; this is to benefit the accused, not the prosecution. If no formal indictment or impeachment is voted – because evidence of wrongdoing is inadequate and the presumption of innocence must prevail – it would be a gross miscarriage of justice to release material destructive of the innocent party’s reputation. Yet in the case of the President we get leaks virtually every day of testimony damaging to the President without any opportunity to refute or counter it. Case in point, former Ambassador William Taylor recently testified he knew – although he later admits he has only hearsay because he has not talked with Donald Trump; he claims this one told him this and that one told him that and the committee calls this back fence gossip evidence. House leaders trumpet his testimony as convicting evidence of a quid pro quo demand on Ukraine to assist Trump in the 2020 campaign because Taylor got parts of it from sitting Ambassador Gordon Sondland. What the leaders hope we ignore is that Sondland himself contradicted Taylor when he testified. The bottom line is whenever a grand jury inquiry is leaked – especially when the leaks are selective – it has become a trial and without a full court press of due process it becomes a mistrial.
House leaders know perfectly well there is no way the Senate would convict and without a vote of the full house there is no way to get the case into the Senate for trial. What they hope the voters don’t get – and here is my prediction – is they have no intention now or ever of bringing this matter to a vote of the full House.
The way a trial by gossip – or an election by gossip – works is by presenting a narrative that cannot be refuted because the accused is never given an opportunity to refute it. If a legal process will inevitably proceed to the point where the accused gets his day before the jury – the voters – then you short circuit the process before it gets there. In this case – if you are Nancy Pelosi – you leak one damaging but unproven allegation after another until you finally “confess” you don’t have the votes and cancel the investigation. Presidential credibility and character have theoretically been so hopelessly through the trash compactor even AOC could beat Trump in a general election (were she old enough to run) by possessing the one essential virtue of not being the disgraced Donald Trump who never got his day in court.
What should we do?
We should demand a fair process; the sole counterweight to leaking selective bits of information and insidious dishonesty as to mandate full disclosure now. Pious claims of need-for-secrecy from a chair already caught in multiple lies so outrageous even the New York Times calls him out should be mocked. For Americans of faith there should be serious and sustained prayer before and after demands for full revelation.
We should demand a legislated code of conduct – changeable only by new legislation – that precludes such a travesty ever again no matter who runs the House. (If it passes the House first it should survive court challenge.) We should vote in lawmakers who will enact such changes in 2020 because it is in everyone’s interest to bring justice back to Congress, lest a new majority commit a new but identical tyranny with different victims. And again for those of faith, commit prayer before and after demanding.
The biblical Sons of Issachar – descendants of the patriarch of the same name – are depicted in 1 Chronicles 12:32 as people who “understood the signs of the times and knew what Israel should do.” This is to say they were gifted with comprehending the context of their times and its challenges. We are going to need a lot of Sons of Issachar – and be prepared to hear them – if our nation is to weather this typhoon. Therefore…
Last and most important – let each of us repent of the times we have convicted anyone by gossip. Acorns are what grow into oak trees. Repentance releases clarity within the lens of context. And context is important.
James A. Wilson is the author of Living As Ambassadors of Relationships, The Holy Spirit and the End Times, Kingdom in Pursuit, and his first novel, Generation – available at Bounty Books. or at firstname.lastname@example.org