To Impeach or Not to Impeach? Chris Hedges & John Bonifaz Debate What Congress Should Do Next

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House Democrats subpoenaed President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani Monday, seeking documents related to his work in Ukraine. Last week, Guliani admitted on television that he had urged the Ukrainian government to investigate Trump’s political rival and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. This comes as House Democrats continue to build their case for impeaching the president, following a whistleblower complaint focused on a phone call in which Trump asked the Ukranian president to do him a “favor” investigating the actions of Democrats, including Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Meanwhile, Trump is continuing to threaten lawmakers who are pushing impeachment, and publicly admitted he is trying to find out the identity of the anonymous whistleblower, in possible violation of whistleblower protection laws. We host a debate on impeachment with John Bonifaz, co-founder and president of Free Speech for People, one of the organizations demanding Trump’s impeachment, and Chris Hedges, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, award-winning author and activist.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today’s show with the growing impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. House Democrats subpoenaed Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani on Monday, seeking documents related to his work in the Ukraine. Last week, Giuliani admitted on television that he had urged the Ukrainian government to investigate Trump’s political rival Joe Biden.

This comes as House Democrats continue to build their case for impeaching the president, following a whistleblower complaint filed by an intelligence officer who was detailed to work at the White House at one point. The whistleblower complaint focused on a phone call in which Trump asked the Ukrainian president to do him a, quote, “favor” by investigating the actions of Democrats, including Joe Biden and his son Hunter. On Monday, The Wall Street Journal revealed that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was among the administration officials who were on the controversial July 25th phone call.

Meanwhile, evidence is growing that the Trump administration also pressured other nations, including Australia and Italy, to take steps to help Trump politically. The New York Times reports Trump personally pressed Australia’s prime Minister to help Attorney General William Barr with his review of the origins of the Mueller probe. Barr also traveled to Italy last week, where he reportedly pressed Italian officials to help his probe.

AMY GOODMAN: President Trump is continuing to threaten lawmakers pushing impeachment. On Monday, Trump suggested House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff should be arrested for treason.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Adam Schiff made up a phony call, and he read it to Congress, and he read it to the people of the United States. And it’s a disgrace. This whole thing is a disgrace. There’s been tremendous corruption, and we’re seeking it. It’s called drain the swamp.

AMY GOODMAN: Trump also publicly admitted he’s trying to find out the identity of the anonymous whistleblower, in possible violation of whistleblower protection laws.

REPORTER: Mr. President, do you now know who the whistleblower is, sir?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, we’re trying to find out about a whistleblower, when you have a whistleblower that reports things that were incorrect.

AMY GOODMAN: In a series of tweets over the weekend, President Trump accused the unnamed whistleblower of spying on the president, promising, quote, “big consequences.” He also threatened civil war if impeachment proceedings move forward. 2020 presidential hopeful Senator Kamala Harris tweeted Monday, “Look let’s be honest, @realDonaldTrump’s Twitter account should be suspended.”

Well, for more, we host a debate on impeachment. Joining us here in New York City are two guests. John Bonifaz is an attorney and political activist specializing in constitutional law and voting rights. He’s the co-founder and president of Free Speech for People, one of the organizations calling for Trump’s impeachment. John Bonifaz is the co-author, with Ron Fein and Ben Clements, of The Constitution Demands It: The Case for the Impeachment of Donald Trump. Chris Hedges is also with us. He’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, award-winning author and activist, columnist for the news website Truthdig. His latest article is headlined “The Problem with Impeachment.” He’s written numerous books, including, most recently, America: The Farewell Tour.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! John Bonifaz, let’s begin with you. Why do you feel Donald Trump should be impeached?

JOHN BONIFAZ: Donald Trump is a threat to our republic. He defies the Constitution and the rule of law almost on a daily basis. And really, from the moment he took the oath of office, he’s showed this disregard for the Constitution, refusing to divest from his business interests all over the world and directly colliding with the anti-corruption provisions of the Constitution, the foreign and domestic emoluments clauses. But, unfortunately, the impeachable offenses do not stop there. He has been repeatedly abusing his power and abusing the oath of office, and he must face impeachment proceedings.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And yet, the House is currently, in its inquiry, looking basically at one issue, at what happened with the phone call in Ukraine. And, Chris Hedges, you’ve said that the fatal mistake that Trump made is trying to take down a fellow member of the ruling elite. Could you —

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, it reminds me of the Watergate hearings, where the activities that were carried out by the Nixon White House against the Democratic headquarters in Watergate were directed at the elites. All of those activities had been carried out before, including break-ins into Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office, against antiwar activists. But it’s when those activities were targeted at the elite. And I think that’s exactly what we’ve seen, and that’s what’s triggered such a reaction, including from Pelosi, who up until now has been very reluctant to carry out impeachment. But what they’ve done, or what Trump, the Trump White House, has done, is target the favored nominee by the Democratic donor class.

JOHN BONIFAZ: That’s not necessarily an argument to not proceed with impeachment proceedings. It’s an argument to expand the scope of the impeachment inquiry to cover all of his impeachable — Donald Trump’s impeachable offenses, from the obstruction of justice, from giving aid and comfort to white supremacists and neo-Nazis, racist abuses of power, placing children and their families in imprisonment unconstitutionally at the southern border. All of the impeachable offenses need to be covered by these impeachment proceedings, not just the Ukraine scandal.

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, yeah, I agree with that, and I’m not against impeachment. The problem is that — and you use the phrase “rule of law” — from the very moment Trump took office, he was violating the emoluments clause; very clear evidence that he attempted to obstruct justice during the Mueller investigation; inciting violence and racism; using taxes to punish people he considered political opponents, Jeff Bezos, in particular, at Amazon. Yes, it’s all there, but what has been disturbing for me is the shredding of the rule of law, the inability on the part of the ruling elites on both sides of the aisle to stand up for the rule of law, until now.

And that gets to the much deeper issue that there are — essentially, we live in a two-tiered legal system, where poverty has been criminalized. We live in a city where Eric Garner was strangled to death by New York City police for allegedly selling loose cigarettes, which he wasn’t on the day he was killed — he was, in fact, not doing anything — and then Wall Street, which has essentially rewritten the rules to — and so, my worry about impeachment, which I’m not against impeachment, is that people see it as a panacea. I think many in the Democratic Party, in particular in the liberal class, have personalized our problems in the figure of Donald Trump. And, in fact, the malaise runs much deeper. This is what I spent the last two years doing in my book America: The Farewell Tour. It is the rupturing of what the sociologist Émile Durkheim calls the social bonds — that’s where you get the term “anomie” — the disenfranchisement of well over half the country, the inability of them to actualize themselves, and acting out in self-destructive pathologies, whether that’s hate groups, the opioid crisis, gambling, sexual sadism, etc.

And so, go ahead with impeachment, but if we don’t begin to address the underlying malaise and disenfranchisement and rage — and legitimate rage — on the part of the white working class — however much Trump lies — and, of course, he lies like he breathes — the Clintons also lied, in far more damaging ways to the working class, and, in particular, the white working class, than Donald Trump. And we know from polls that right before the election in 2016, you had 55% of those who said they were voting for Trump, it was because they disliked Hillary Clinton, only 44%. So, Trump was kind of weaponized. You know, he was the middle finger to the establishment. He was weaponized against the man. And if we don’t begin to deal with those issues, impeachment itself will rend the fabric of American society further into antagonistic tribes. And we have to acknowledge the fact we are a country awash in weapons, 300 million weapons, you know, mass shootings on the average of one a day. And we almost saw, with Cesar Sayoc, the complete decapitation of the Democratic Party with pipe bombs. That’s the territory we’re headed towards.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to Texas Congressmember Al Green. He’s the first one to have called for impeachment, several years ago. On Monday, he tweeted, “Mr. President, maliciously attacking a whistleblower and promoting civil unrest to avoid impeachment won’t save you. You should have already been impeached for your bigotry, corruption, and disloyalty to our country. #CivilWar2 #ImpeachNow” Democracy Now! spoke to Congressmember Green last week.

REP. AL GREEN: We have a responsibility to the country and to the future. The future is going to be one that will allow a president to assume that there are no guardrails, if we don’t act now. We have to demonstrate that Congress will honor the Constitution and that we have principle that we will place above politics, that we will place the people above our political parties. And I think that if we do this, we will consider democracy and not Democrats; we will consider the republic and not Republicans.

AMY GOODMAN: Houston Congressmember Al Green was speaking just after Nancy Pelosi had announced that the impeachment inquiry was going to go forward, something he has called for for several years. But, John Bonifaz, as a lawyer, can you explain? Now they’re going after Trump for Ukraine and for pressuring the Ukrainian president to investigate his political rival, Joe Biden, and his son Hunter. How does this expand? I mean, we know the same thing happened with Clinton. It started with Whitewater, but it ended up around his relationship with an intern.

JOHN BONIFAZ: Well, I think we have to first look at why Congress has started these impeachment proceedings. The narrative right now among conventional thinkers is it started because of the explosive evidence that emerged from the Ukraine scandal. But, in fact, that’s not really true. For many months, there’s been a people’s movement building, demanding impeachment proceedings along all the impeachable offenses that this president has already committed. And this was the last straw. This evidence coming from this scandal finally pushed Congress, those who were sitting on the fence, including Speaker Pelosi, to do the right thing and start the impeachment inquiry, which is why we should not let up now with this movement. We need to pressure members of Congress to expand the scope to include the very racist abuses of power Congressman Green has talked about, the emoluments violations, the obstruction of justice and so forth. I don’t disagree with Chris that we have a two-tiered judicial system here, but that doesn’t mean we don’t hold this president accountable for his abuses of power that had begun from the moment he took the oath of office.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. John Bonifaz, attorney and political activist, he is for impeachment, has written a book on it. Chris Hedges, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, award-winning author and activist, questioning is impeachment the way to go now. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back with them in a minute, and then we’ll be joined by the mayor of Newark, Ras Baraka. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “You Can Tell the World” by Jessye Norman and the New York Philharmonic. The legendary opera singer died Monday at the age of 74. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, we’re continuing our debate on the impeachment of President Donald Trump with John Bonifaz, attorney and political activist, and Chris Hedges, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, award-winning author and activist. Chris, I wanted to ask you if we could go a little deeper into what’s going on here. You mentioned this whole issue of the potential for even deeper conflict in the United States. But I want to ask you, as someone who has studied these systems at length over many years: Are we reaching the point where capitalist democracy has reached its limits? We’re seeing, in many countries around the world, total paralysis of governments, in Britain. Peru, the president just recently suspended the national assembly; the assembly is refusing to listen to his orders. And here in the United States, we’re seeing a virtual paralysis of our government as a result of this response to an authoritarian dictator. Is it the reality that democracy, given the huge polarization of wealth, has reached its limits in what it can accomplish?

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, I think democracy has been destroyed by global capitalism, that we have the facade of democracy. Lobbyists write our rules. The Supreme Court inverts constitutional rights. The whole idea that unlimited corporate cash is defined by our Supreme Court as the right to petition the government or a form of free speech is an inversion of constitutional rights. The fact that we are the most spied-upon, watched, monitored population in human history — and I covered the Stasi state in East Germany. And I think that that is the far more grave consequence of unfettered or unregulated capitalism, which, as Karl Marx correctly pointed out, is a revolutionary force. So, yes, Juan, I think you hit on a very important point.

And so, the capitalist class, essentially, which has orchestrated this, the largest transference of wealth globally upwards in human history, is determined to beat back even, I would call them, kind of moderate figures, like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, essentially New Deal Democrats, and they will turn to support demagogues like Trump, like Boris Johnson, Orbán, etc., that we are seeing arise, rather than carry out policies that will ameliorate the vast disparity in power and wealth. And there was just — I was reading The New York Times on the way in here, and they were writing that — there was an article about Elizabeth Warren and how the donor class within the Democratic Party is — which, of course, backs Joe Biden, which gets back to the whole reaction, I think, by the Democratic leadership over this issue of Ukraine — that they’ve made it very clear that they will swing to Trump rather than support, in particular, Warren or Sanders.

And so, yes, there is a complete breakdown within the democratic institutions that once made piecemeal and incremental reform possible. And this just goes all the way back to Weimar, or when I covered Yugoslavia, that when there is that societal breakdown, the capitalist class, they may find — they do find a figure like Trump vulgar and repugnant, but they will back him as opposed to, I would even call them, political moderates, like Warren or Sanders, who talk about righting the gross inequality in terms of power and in terms of economics that has taken place.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, John Bonifaz, what about this Trump retweeting the statements of this extremist minister, a Pentecostal minister, from Texas that civil war may be possible if people try to impeach Trump? What about this issue that there are people on the right in America that are demonstrably willing to fight to keep Trump in power?

JOHN BONIFAZ: So, first of all, Harvard law professor John Coates responded yesterday to that tweet, saying that’s a separate, independent ground now for impeachment proceedings, for the president to retweet that kind of statement and try to incite violence. But we also not be thinking somehow that this president has not already done that kind of incitement of violence. He has. The El Paso shooter cited his rhetoric in regards to that terrible mass shooting.

And this president will continue to engage in destructive behavior and abuses of power, regardless of whether or not we are somehow claiming that he should be held accountable during the election. That’s why impeachment needs to move forward, because he’s a direct and serious threat to our republic today. And that’s why the Framers placed the impeachment power in the Constitution.

The other point I would make here is that we cannot cower to these threats of violence by saying that mob rule gets to rule the day. We have to lift up the Constitution and the promise that no one is above the law, not even the president of the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: So, this impeachment proceeding is moving fast. You have at least the plan of the House Intelligence Committee next week to bring in the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who was pushed out, Marie Yovanovitch, and then, on Thursday, Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, who just quit, and Michael Atkinson, the intelligence inspector general, who will testify on Friday. Then, also on Friday, subpoena deadlines for Mike Pompeo, who’s in Italy right now. In October, now this month, Rudy Giuliani also has been subpoenaed. So, the process of how this will work? On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told CNBC the Senate would have no choice but to take up Trump’s impeachment if the House charges the president.

MAJORITY LEADER MITCH McCONNELL: It’s a Senate rule related to impeachment, that would take 67 votes to change, so I would have no choice but to take it up. How long you’re on it is a whole different matter. But I would have no choice but to take it up, based on a Senate rule on impeachment.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Senator Mitch McConnell, Senate majority leader. What does that look like? I mean, just you’ve studied the impeachment process. So, it goes from the House to the Senate. What does a trial look like? John Roberts, the chief justice, would preside over it?

JOHN BONIFAZ: Yes, he would preside, and the Senate would need to hear from the House. There would be House managers who present the articles of impeachment with the evidence to the Senate, and the Senate sits as the jury in this instance.

And I think it’s significant that Senator McConnell has made this statement, because he, of course, is facing a re-election, or potentially not, in the state of Kentucky. And he knows, he sees where the public is moving on this. We’ve already seen a huge spike just in the last week in terms of public support for this impeachment inquiry. CBS News had it 55% of the public supporting this. So, senators, both Republican and Democratic, are going to need to cast their vote on this historic question and decide where they stand. And they will face consequences if they do not uphold the Constitution.

AMY GOODMAN: Chris Hedges, I wanted you to respond to New York Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who told reporters Friday it would be much worse if Congress doesn’t move forward with impeachment proceedings.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: What we’re seeing with these developments from Ukraine are extremely serious. And whether — you know, we can’t ask ourselves about whether we’ve moved too slow or too quickly. We have to ask ourselves what we’re doing right now. … The president has committed several impeachable offenses, he himself. What he has admitted to is already impeachable, regardless of future developments. What he has already admitted to is an impeachable offense, among others. I anticipate and I believe there will be discussion as to whether, when we draft or when the Judiciary examines the question on filing potential articles of impeachment, what those articles will include. … I think we have to hold this president accountable, and we have to protect our democracy. And I believe that we’ll be doing so right now.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was a major force in pushing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to conduct an impeachment inquiry.

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, I’m not against impeachment. The problem is impeachment, divorced from confronting the decay and disintegration of our democratic institutions and the vast social inequality that has fed the rage on the part of the white working class, will potentially make things worse. I mean, I think that, yes, we do have to honor — and we should have, two-and-a-half years ago, begun to honor — the rule of law.

But, you know, there are millions of Trump supporters who look at him as primarily a cult figure, who see in his power an extension of their own power, a way to compensate for their own sense of disempowerment. And it’s very clear that they will react. They already have attempted to react with violence. Ocasio-Cortez herself has been the recipient of death threats. And this violence against her has been stoked by the president.

And so, my big fear is that somehow people think that impeachment is the panacea. Removing Trump — and, you know, Noam Chomsky, probably correctly, points out that Pence will be worse, because he comes out of the community of Christian fascists. I speak as a seminary graduate. They’re heretics. And so, it is very dangerous for those figures who —

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, they’re heretics?

CHRIS HEDGES: Heretics? Jesus didn’t come to drop the — bless the dropping of iron fragmentation bombs across the Middle East or bless the white race above other race or hold up America. I mean, this is heretical. And the failure on the liberal church to call out these people for who they are, and give them religious legitimacy — that’s another show — I think, has been perhaps the greatest failing of the liberal church, which I come out of.

And so, our problems are far more severe. Trump is the product. He is what’s vomited up from a failed democracy, in the same way that I saw figures like Radovan Karadzic or Slobodan Milosevic vomited up from the failed democracy of Yugoslavia, or you can go back to Weimar Nazis. So, we have to begin to address the fundamental root causes that have created the political crisis and the economic crisis, the social and even cultural crisis that we are in. And if we don’t reknit those social bonds, if we don’t confront that crisis, impeachment may very well pour gasoline on the growing antagonisms and violence that is besetting this country.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, John Bonifaz, I wanted to ask you, though — if Nancy Pelosi’s decision to move forward on an impeachment inquiry on this issue of the phone conversation with the Ukrainian — with Ukraine’s president, I feel like I’m in Casablanca: Surprise, there’s gambling at this establishment. Right? I mean, isn’t the ability of presidents of the United States to pressure foreign leaders to do what they want sort of part of the process of how the United States wields power? Or is it just the situation here that the president did it directly himself rather than have one of his minions exert the pressure?

JOHN BONIFAZ: No, the issue is that he solicited foreign interference to help his election campaign, not that he solicited pressure or forced a country to do something that he claims was for the U.S. foreign policy.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, that itself has happened. Didn’t the Reagan administration convince Iran to hold back the release of the — I mean, Ronald Reagan’s people convinced Iran to hold back the release of the Iranian hostages until the president was inaugurated.

JOHN BONIFAZ: There’s no question there’s a history of impeachable offenses being committed by other administrations. But I do want to come back to this idea that impeachment is a panacea. No one in the impeachment movement — and this has been a people’s movement pressuring for impeachment proceedings. No one is suggesting it’s a panacea. What is required is that Congress do its job and hold this president accountable for his abuses of power. But that doesn’t mean we can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.

Free Speech for People has been around for 10 years. We’ve been taking on big money in politics and corruption in government, and we will continue to do that in the fight for our democracy. But we did not believe we could be true to that mandate without also taking on the unprecedented corruption of this presidency.

And I do want to add, you know, because this is a people’s movement, the pressure needs to continue, and will continue, on Congress to expand the scope of its inquiry beyond the Ukraine scandal. On October 13th, there will be a national day of action called by one of our organizational allies, By the People, for marches all across the country. Already a number of marches have been organized on the eve of Congress returning from its recess. People can find out more about that by going to ByThePpl.us and ImpeachNow.org. But this is why we are where we are today, is because people have demanded this, millions of people all over the country, that Congress do its job and uphold the Constitution.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, of course, we’ll continue discussions like these, and I thank you so much for being with us, John Bonifaz, attorney, political activist, co-founder and president of Free Speech for People, one of the organizations calling for Trump’s impeachment. John Bonifaz is co-author of The Constitution Demands It: The Case for the Impeachment of Donald Trump. And Chris Hedges, formerly with The New York Times, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, award-winning author, activist, columnist for the news website Truthdig. His latest article, “The Problem with Impeachment.” He has written numerous books; his last, America: The Farewell Tour.

When we come back, we turn to the water crisis in Newark with Mayor Ras Baraka. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “The Healers” by the late Randy Weston, performing on Democracy Now! in 2012. On Sunday, Lafayette Avenue in Brooklyn, New York, where he lived, was co-named Randy Weston Way.

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