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Impeachment Day? House Votes on Charging Trump with Abuse of Power & Obstruction of Justice

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As thousands of protesters rally to impeach President Trump in cities across the country ahead of a vote today on impeachment by the full Democrat-controlled House, we hold a roundtable discussion with Rep. Al Green of Texas, who became the first member of Congress to call for impeachment from the floor of the House of Representatives in 2017; Dahlia Lithwick, senior legal correspondent and Supreme Court reporter for Slate, host of the “Amicus” podcast; and Mark Green, co-author of “Fake President: Decoding Trump’s Gaslighting, Corruption, and General Bullsh*t.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue our discussion about the historic vote that’s expected today on two articles of impeachment against President Trump, articles accusing Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. After a six-hour debate on the floor, the Democratic-controlled House is expected to vote for the impeachment, which would mark only the third time in U.S. history a president has been impeached. Should the House approve either of the articles of impeachment, the Republican-controlled Senate will hold a trial with all 100 senators acting as jurors. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he’s not neutral on whether Trump should be removed from office, has rejected Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s calls for White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton to testify, along with others.

We continue our conversation with Texas Democratic Congressmember Al Green, the first congressmember to go to the House floor to call for Trump’s impeachment, what, two years ago. Also, with us in New York, Dahlia Lithwick, senior legal correspondent at Slate and Supreme Court reporter, particularly interesting — she also runs the Amicus podcast — because of the person who will be presiding over that Senate trial. Her latest article, “Two Small Articles of Impeachment Are Pathetic but Necessary.” Mark Green also with us, co-author of Fake President: Decoding Trump’s Gaslighting, Corruption, and General B.S. He wrote it with Ralph Nader.

So, this is very interesting. We can call this the Green show — Congressmember Al Green and Mark Green. But, Mark Green, Congressmember Green has been calling for Trump to be impeached for years, for many different reasons. You and Ralph Nader also say Trump should be impeached for many more reasons than what’s happening today.

MARK GREEN: I’m glad to be here with my father, Al Green. And on a big day, there’s no one better to be here with than you, Amy.

A year ago, Ralph and I started this book, because while every person, every president, may fib or lie at some point, we’ve never had a person, or president, who lies most of the time. I mean, we need a new word. I love my dog, I love my spouse, but they’re not equal. We need a word like, I don’t know, “Trumpaganda,” disinformation, from Lenin to Putin. Everything he says is motivated, not by reason, fact, science, but by vanity, money. And so, his ego is so poisoning his mind that he makes judgments all the time, in his interest, but not our interest.

So, I would have preferred — but it’s not my call — another article or two on unprecedented lying, on provoking bigotry and violence. I mean, the things he has said about members of Congress, like the so-called Squad, could lead some nut with a gun to do bad things. But we, Ralph and I, think, of course, he’s a lawfully selected president — thank you, antiquated Electoral College — but he’s an illegitimate — he’s a fake president, because he lacks the stability, the honesty, the integrity to make decisions as the Constitution intended. We might as well expect a surgeon to be an opera singer.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Dahlia Lithwick into this conversation. Are you surprised what Congressmember Al Green just said about maybe he will be impeached again, as well?

DAHLIA LITHWICK: No, I’m not surprised. I think professor Laurence Tribe from Harvard made a similar point a few weeks ago, essentially said there is absolutely no constitutional reason that, for instance, as things come out with regard to the tax returns, or if Don McGahn is forced to testify or John Bolton is forced to testify — those are all subjects that are in the courts right now — if things were to come forward in the spring, there is no reason that you couldn’t bring further articles of impeachment.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Al Green, I know you have to go to the floor. Maybe you can describe the scene of today. Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, has called all congressmembers to the floor at 9 a.m. But do you foresee this, and are you being told to stop talking about this, impeachment after impeachment of the current president?

REP. AL GREEN: Impeachment should be used sparingly, and it should be used judiciously. But it also is something that is the sword of Damocles as it relates to a president. It hangs there to let the president know that there are boundaries and that if you exceed the boundaries, if you go beyond them, that you cannot do it with impunity, you cannot do it with any degree of immunity. We are there — “we” meaning the members of Congress. We are the watchpersons, if you will. And we will not let you stray.

I do believe that any professor of law who has said that the president can be impeached multiple times is absolutely correct. Multiple times only if the Senate doesn’t convict and remove. If the Senate convicts and removes, then he won’t be there to be impeached. But it is not logical to conclude that you can only impeach once, and therefore you have now lost the opportunity to do it again. This would allow the president to become a monarch, because there would be no boundaries. Impeachment is all we have. It literally is all we have for a sitting president, given Justice Department protocols. So, my point to you and others is, if we love our country, then we have to do what we must to protect it.

With reference to today, this day is a day that calls for a certain degree of solemnity, a lot of reflection. And in my opinion, it calls for a certain amount of courage. I know that there are people who assume that this is an easy vote, but it’s not, because when we cast this vote, we are saying that we have a person who should not continue to hold office and that we should now take a step that the Framers of the Constitution gave us as somewhat of a last resort. There’s another resort, but this is something that requires immediate attention. And I think that it’s a serious vote. And I’m proud of those who will have the courage to stand and take the position that the president should be removed from office.

To my dear brother Green, who was on, I would say this as it relates to your comments about the bigotry: I concur with you. This has harmed society in ways that we cannot imagine. There is some harm that is going to be irreparable, in my opinion. It will — it may be repaired, but it won’t be repaired in the immediate future, some of the harm that’s been done, because I’ve seen the behavior of some of the Trump followers, those who are committed to him regardless. I’ve seen their behavior. I know what they’re capable of, and I’m very much afraid for what will happen to some people. It’s irreparable in the sense if someone is hurt, as was the case with the woman in Charlottesville after persons were walking the streets screaming “Jews will not replace us! Blood and soil!” A woman lost her life. That’s irreparable. You’ll never get that life back. Others have lost their lives. We won’t get those lives back. So, the harm is irreparable as it relates to some people.

And finally this: Those who tolerate bigotry perpetuate it. If you tolerate hate, you’re in the business of perpetuating hate. We must not allow the hate that emanates from the White House to continue. The president is not alone there, by the way. He has a chief operating officer there with him who helps him to perpetrate, promulgate and foster this hate upon this country. But when we take him from the White House, the president, take him lawfully by way of impeachment — and I hope that we will — then we’ll remove some of the other persons who are the supporting cast in this drama of hate and harm that’s being fostered upon our country.

I love my country. That’s the only reason I’m doing it. There are no other reasons. This is not something that will go away once I leave Congress. This is more than a vote for me. It’s about my country and how much I love it.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you for being with us, Congressmember Al Green, the first to call for President Trump’s impeachment — 

REP. AL GREEN: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: — when the Senate — when the House, House speaker, said that this was off the table, and you never stopped until now. As you head off to the House floor right now, we’re continuing our discussion with Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Green. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell faces calls to recuse himself from Trump’s impeachment trial, after McConnell said last week he was, quote, “taking my cues from the White House.” This is McConnell speaking on Fox News.

MAJORITY LEADER MITCH McCONNELL: Everything I do during this, I’m coordinating with the White House counsel. There will be no difference between the president’s position and our position as to how to handle this.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s senator and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promising Fox News that he is — well, he has said he is not impartial, because he says this is a political trial, and he doesn’t have to be an impartial juror. Does Mitch McConnell’s promise violate Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution? Should he recuse himself, Dahlia Lithwick? And explain what that is.

DAHLIA LITHWICK: I mean, it’s interesting. There has been a whole lot of talk. It wasn’t just Mitch McConnell. Lindsey Graham also explicitly said, “I have no intention of being fair.” So, they’re both saying, “This is a purely political process. I have no — this is not a judicial process. I have no responsibility to treat it like a legal event.” It’s not just that it violates the Constitution; it also violates the oath that they swear. This is a specific oath that they swear as relates to impeachment, that they will be impartial jurors. So I think there’s been a lot of attention paid to the fact that they are announcing in advance of the vote they have no intention of adhering to the oath that they will swear. And it’s hard to imagine a juror in any other legal proceeding saying, like, “No, I’m not going to be impartial. I’m going to — I’m in the tank for the president.”

AMY GOODMAN: He says he’s going to coordinate totally, McConnell says. And this goes to this issue of this violation of the Constitution with the White House.

DAHLIA LITHWICK: Yeah, no, he’s been very clear he’s taking his orders from White House counsel. They have no daylight, he says, between the White House’s defense strategy and what he plans to do. And we’re really seeing it concretely in his refusal to take — to allow Chuck Schumer to call witnesses. He’s simply saying there’s no space for witnesses. There’s going to be no evidence. There’s going to be no witnesses. It’s literally a kangaroo court. This is the definition.

AMY GOODMAN: And when Clinton was going to be impeached, he clearly said there should be witnesses. This was Mitch McConnell.

DAHLIA LITHWICK: Not only did he say it at that time, but the 1999 agreement between the majority and minority in the Senate provided for the things that Schumer is asking for. All Chuck Schumer has requested is the same exact protocol that we saw for the Clinton impeachment.

AMY GOODMAN: Mark Green?

MARK GREEN: You know, Amy, this show and others like it are often called being truth to power. Trump and McConnell and all of them are power to truth. It’s not that they were doing anything lawful or that’s right. They have the muscle to do it. Watch McConnell with the Garland nomination. And in our book, Fake President, we have a whole long chapter on the rule of lawlessness by Trump. This is not just a one-off. From when he wouldn’t allow black people to be tenants in his real estate company through the shutting down of the foundation, for example, the shutting down of Trump University, he’s a serial corrupt person. And that’s why if you have someone who constantly makes mistakes, who constantly uses conspiracy theories, who’s constantly lying, and then refuses to ever apologize, but always triple, quadruple down, you end up with a president like we have today. He brought this on himself. So, Ralph Nader and I didn’t write this book; Trump wrote it. We just held up a mirror, explaining why he should be impeached and convicted.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s talk about the trial. Dahlia, you’ve been covering the Supreme Court forever. Chief Justice John Roberts, talk about the role he will play here.

DAHLIA LITHWICK: This is one of those situations where we have a lot more norms than rules. The only thing we know is that he will be the presiding officer. The Framers deliberately took that job away from the vice president. So, presumably, there is some basis from which the Framers wanted there to be an independent judicial check. If it was purely ceremonial, which is what we hear sometimes, they wouldn’t have put in John Roberts instead of the vice president.

We don’t know what that presiding looks like. We know that it is very much the case that Bill Rehnquist, when he presided over the Clinton impeachment as the chief justice, was very proud to say, “I did nothing, and I did it very well.” So it is certainly the case that some chief justices can really sort of fade back into the hedges and do nothing. That’s the question.

AMY GOODMAN: Could he decide — could the chief justice, John Roberts, decide whether there would be witnesses allowed?

DAHLIA LITHWICK: The current rule, as I understand it — and this is being fought out in con law land to the nth degree, but as I understand —

AMY GOODMAN: When you say “con law,” you mean constitutional as opposed to —

DAHLIA LITHWICK: Constitutional law, all the — yes, not the ex-cons. These are the current cons. But they, I think, are fighting it out to determine whether, as a formal matter, John Roberts could make rulings that force — you know, to subpoena witnesses if Mitch McConnell says he won’t do it. My understanding is, any decision he makes can be overruled by a simple majority in the Senate. So it’s not clear that if, you know, in a standoff between Mitch McConnell and John Roberts, John Roberts can win. I do think, however, if John Roberts makes the decision, “No, I want to hear from witnesses,” then Mitch McConnell is going to have to explain why he’s defying the chief justice. So, I think if John Roberts wants to assert himself in a profound way and say, “I’m not going to oversee a sham trial in the Senate,” he can make it very, very, very difficult for Mitch McConnell.

AMY GOODMAN: This also comes as the Supreme Court is ruling on no less than, what, three cases involving Trump’s personal finances?

DAHLIA LITHWICK: Yeah. I mean, they’ve just granted certiorari, agreed to hear the three tax cases. So that’s going to happen in April. There’s also, as I said, I think, very good reason to believe that the Don McGahn, John Bolton cases, wherein they’re refusing to testify, under the most elaborate and implausible theory of privilege that anyone has ever heard — all of these cases are teed up.

And I would also add, Amy, that this term, separate from impeachment, the Supreme Court is going to hear DACA. They’re hearing Title VII. They’re hearing an abortion case, a gun case. This is one of the biggest terms John Roberts has ever overseen. All of these cases will come down in June of an election year, and in addition to that, a circus in the Senate. John Roberts hates being on page A1 of the newspaper. This is his worst nightmare.

AMY GOODMAN: Mark Green?

MARK GREEN: Well, you mentioned both, of course, Roberts in the trial and Laurence Tribe. Larry came up with a really good idea two months ago, which is now getting —

AMY GOODMAN: This is the Harvard Law professor.

MARK GREEN: Yeah, I’m sorry — which is getting traction. That is, of course, the House has sole power to decide the rules and the reality of impeachment. And then, usually, of course — it’s only happened three times — they send the impeachment articles over to the Senate. There’s no rule for that. And so, why would you violate presumption, although it’s not a rule? Well, if Mitch McConnell has said, in effect, “I’m rigging the trial. We’re not going to be fair. We’re just going to put our thumb on it, and that’s that,” why should the House cooperate with a fake trial for a fake president?

And so, Pelosi could, today, vote to impeach and then not send over the articles. Because then Donald Trump says he wants to be exonerated. Well, all the evidence convicts him. But now he cannot be fake — pretend-exonerated by the Senate. And he’ll have the worst of both worlds: the reality of impeachment because of a life of and a presidency of crime, without any hope of a historical exoneration. I think that’s a good idea. Not my call, you may have noticed.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Dahlia Lithwick, the Greens, Congressmember Al Green and Mark Green, saying there should be more articles of impeachment? Ralph Nader called for this on Monday, as well.

DAHLIA LITHWICK: Yeah. And I think that we’ve talked a lot about the racism and the sort of Andrew Johnson precedent of just being a demagogue who foments racism. But another piece that we haven’t talked about is the corruption, the Emoluments Clause violations, the self-enrichment, all the ways in which we know that — for instance, the inauguration was just a money-making vehicle — all the ways in which the self-dealing, right? We’re now hearing about Ukrainians giving money to Rudy Giuliani, Ukrainians giving money to super PACs. None of that is on the table as it currently stands. And I think there’s a lot of people who think that in addition to bringing an article of impeachment around these issues of racism and demagoguery, there really should have been an article of impeachment around issues of grift and of self-dealing and corruption, the likes of which we have never, ever seen from a president.

AMY GOODMAN: And why is that critical to get those articles in there? Some might say, “But he got impeached.” Isn’t that enough, Mark Green?

MARK GREEN: Getting impeached, for someone who’s so corrupt, is satisfactory, but it’s not excellent. One-fourth of his days as president, he spent on a Trump property. He used to get at his hotels $120,000 a year from political groups. He got $5.1 million. In fact, Zelensky, in that famous conversation, said, “Oh, Mr. Trump, I’ve stayed at your hotel.” We know that’s happening. If there are — not 20, but a few more, like emoluments and coaxing violence and obstruction of justice, where Mr. Mueller showed 10 instances of where he tried to fix the cases, you could argue that future presidents will say, “OK, I’m never going to collude with Ukraine again to get the Bidens,” or something like it, “but I can make money.” No president has ever had anything like the self-interest and self-dealing making mergers and making money than policy before.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, speaking of the presidency, Mark, before we go, I wanted to ask you a question about your own history with the Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg. You ran against him in that fateful year of 2001, right? It was Primary Day, September 11, 2001, that Primary Day that was called off because of the terror attacks at the World Trade Center. But ultimately, of course, Bloomberg would win. He was a lifelong Democrat. He changed his affiliation to Republican for the race, narrowly won the general election with 50% of the vote to your 48%. Bloomberg won with a self-financed campaign, outspending you five to one, with $73 million of his own money. Well, I recently got a chance to catch up with Mike Bloomberg in Madrid, Spain, at the U.N. climate summit. We thought he was holding a news conference, would answer questions, but as soon as he spoke, he was surrounded by security and taken out. We were very surprised by this. So I followed him out to ask him a question.

AMY GOODMAN: Mayor Bloomberg, will you be taking questions from the press? … If you could just answer a question? We all packed in there to ask you questions.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Careful. You’re going to trip.

AMY GOODMAN: But the U.N. has said that economic and climate inequality is driving protests around the world. You’re a billionaire running for president. You’ve spent tens of millions more dollars than the other presidential candidates. Will that be your strategy to win the presidency?

KEVIN SHEEKEY: We’re here to talk about climate this week.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was my question, and Mike Bloomberg didn’t answer it, though I repeatedly asked it. Your response?

MARK GREEN: That was so Amy of you. Well, he did trip me up. Look —

AMY GOODMAN: He actually did say one thing to me. He said, “Don’t trip.”

MARK GREEN: Oh, right. I heard that. Look, I feel personally responsible for Mike Bloomberg’s presidential candidacy. That is, in 2001, I’m 15 points ahead, and my pollster says, “Mark, good news and bad news. I’ve never lost with a candidate 15 points ahead, but, then, we’ve never been opposed by a candidate who’s spending a million dollars a day.” And so Mike wins narrowly. And I think the lesson he got was he bought it fair and square. “Hey, if I did it for the executive office called mayor, why not the executive office called president?”

The problem now is it’s up to the Democrats and the media to call him out. That is, he’s going to want to sit in a studio in New York for six months just making ads, like $1 billion worth. He wants a cocoon of a candidacy, like he showed with you. Doesn’t want to be interviewed by anybody or too many people. He doesn’t want to shake hands with people. He never looks anybody in the eye. He’s always like this. He’s not — he’s very smart.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, he spent something like a quarter of a billion dollars in his three mayoral races. At the time, it was more than any public official in U.S. history.

MARK GREEN: And then, he was a pauper: He only was worth $5 billion, which I’m nearing, I’m getting closer to. He’s now worth $50 billion. And so, we’ve never seen a $1 billion, or more, primary contest. But because he’s awful on stop-and-frisk, millions of young men of color were harassed. Millions. So, an apology on the eve of an election doesn’t really do much. And he’s against the living wage. And he sort of broke the law by running for a third term by buying a change in the law. So, a person who’s used to buying things like this is an anomaly in a Democratic primary. And he’s already bought himself more popularity than Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker. So, no one can prove that he can’t win or that he will win, and it’s up to primary Democrats to vote their beliefs or the ads.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’ll see what happens. He also has said that he won’t release his finances until, I believe, after the Iowa primaries. I want to thank you, Mark Green, for being with us, and Dahlia Lithwick, a senior editor at Slate. Mark Green co-wrote a new book with Ralph Nader called Fake President: Decoding Trump’s Gaslighting, Corruption, and General B.S.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, major immigrant rights victories in New York and New Jersey. Stay with us.

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