Tuesday, 4 Aug 2020

Opinion | The Impeachment Will Be Televised

This article is part of David Leonhardt’s newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it each weekday.

Earlier this week, my colleague Nicholas Kristof interviewed Representative Adam Schiff — the Democrat leading the impeachment inquiry — at a public event in New York. Toward the end, Nicholas asked about the inquiry’s apparent lack of transparency so far:

“This is something that you’ve been criticized for on the right. The Wall Street Journal had an editorial today complaining that the hearings are closed. Some Republicans have asked for full transcripts to be made available and have complained that things are being cherry-picked and leaked. And [an audience member] asks, ‘How can we win public opinion if the key testimony for impeachment are private?’”

I raised a version of the same question in my column this week, and so I was glad to hear Schiff’s answer to Nicholas — and, even more so, to see the public letter that Schiff has since released. In both, he explained why the initial stage of the investigation has taken place largely behind closed doors but also indicated that it will eventually include public hearings.

“We’re doing these initial hearings in closed session, and it makes a lot of sense to do that when you’re conducting an investigation because I’m sure the White House would like nothing more than to be able to get their stories straight by hearing what these witnesses have to say,” Schiff said. “And there are good and important investigative reasons not to let one witness know what another witness has said.”

In the letter that Schiff wrote to House colleagues on Wednesday, he explained that he would eventually release transcripts of the interviews now being done. He added a point that I think is even more important: “We also anticipate that at an appropriate point in the investigation, we will be taking witness testimony in public, so that the full Congress and the American people can hear their testimony firsthand.”

Impeachment is an inherently political process, one that public opinion will ultimately decide. Richard Nixon was forced to resign because opinion turned against him, and Bill Clinton kept his job because most voters thought he should.

Leaks of private interviews aren’t going to persuade more people that Trump is unfit for office. Nor are interview transcripts. If any significant number of his supporters — or even people without a strong opinion — are going to turn against him, it’s going to take high-profile public hearings where they can see and hear witnesses explain how he abused the power of the presidency.

Those hearings are evidently coming. The American people are going to hear a lot more about the quid pro quo.

“The Argument” turns 1

“The Argument” podcast is now a year old. To mark the anniversary, we played some listener calls on this week’s show, and Ross Douthat, Michelle Goldberg and I each talked about one issue on which we’ve changed our minds over the years. I explained why my views on economic policy first shifted to the right and have since moved back to the left.

The three of us also talked about the new focus on Elizabeth Warren in the presidential campaign.

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David Leonhardt is a former Washington bureau chief for the Times, and was the founding editor of The Upshot and head of The 2020 Project, on the future of the Times newsroom. He won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, for columns on the financial crisis. @DLeonhardt Facebook

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