“We’ve Reached Critical Mass”: Rep. Al Green on Pelosi Vow to Impeach Trump for “Dastardly Deeds”

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Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has launched a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump following allegations from an intelligence community whistleblower that Trump sought help from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a July 25 phone call to investigate Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden and his son Hunter. On Tuesday, the Republican-controlled Senate unanimously passed a nonbinding resolution calling for the Trump administration to release the whistleblower complaint to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. We get response and look at next steps with Congressmember Al Green, Democrat from Texas, who in 2017 was the first congressmember to call for President Trump’s impeachment from the floor of the House of Representatives. We also speak with John Nichols, political writer for The Nation and author of the book, “The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders’ Cure for Royalism.”

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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The House of Representatives is launching a formal impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, who becomes just the fourth U.S. president to face a possible impeachment. On Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused Trump of betraying his oath of office, the country’s national security and the integrity of our election system.

SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI: The actions of the Trump presidency revealed the dishonorable fact of the president’s betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections. Therefore, today I’m announcing the House of Representatives moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: For months, Speaker Pelosi had resisted calls by progressive Democrats to back impeachment, but that changed after President Trump publicly admitted he urged the president of Ukraine to open a probe into the dealings of his potential 2020 rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of one of Ukraine’s largest natural gas companies. Trump has also admitted to withholding $391 million in aid to Ukraine.

After Pelosi made the announcement, Trump fired back on Twitter, calling the inquiry, quote, “Witch Hunt garbage.” He spoke to reporters at the U.N. earlier Tuesday and said efforts to impeach him would hurt the Democrats.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They’re going to lose the election, and they figured this is a thing to do. … It was a perfect call. There was no quid pro quo, unlike Biden. There was no nothing. It was a perfect call, a very nice call. And in fact, I thought this was very nice. Ukraine just came out and made a very good statement. It was a very good call. There was no pressure put on them whatsoever.

AMY GOODMAN: The Ukraine scandal came to light after a whistleblower in the intelligence community wrote an internal complaint about Trump’s actions. On Tuesday, the Republican-controlled Senate unanimously passed a nonbinding resolution calling on the Trump administration to release the whistleblower’s complaint.

Meanwhile, the actions of Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani in Ukraine are facing new scrutiny. The Washington Post reports he pursued a shadow agenda on Ukraine, pushing aside key foreign policy officials. Giuliani says he did it at the behest of the State Department.

Impeachment is the formal charging of wrongdoing against a president, and Trump would be just the third president to face impeachment. Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were both impeached; while Richard Nixon faced an impeachment vote amidst the Watergate scandal, he resigned before the impeachment articles against him were filed.

For more, we turn to two guests. Joining us from the Cannon Rotunda on Capitol Hill, Congressmember Al Green, Democrat from Texas. In 2017, he became the first congressmember to call for President Trump’s impeachment from the floor of the House of Representatives. And in Madison, Wisconsin, John Nichols, political writer for The Nation, is joining us. His recent article is headlined “Pelosi Announces Impeachment Inquiry. Now Congress Has to Get It Right.” He’s the author of a number of books, including Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse: A Field Guide to the Most Dangerous People in America and The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders’ Cure for Royalism. He’s working on a book on the future of the Democratic Party.

We welcome you both back to Democracy Now! Congressmember Green, let’s begin with you. Well, you were the first, the first to call for impeachment from the floor of the House. Explain your response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s announcement yesterday. You’ve been pushing for this for quite some time.

REP. AL GREEN: Thank you for having me on. And just as a sidebar, thank you for the news that you deliver. I find your news to be so thorough and so fact-based. I must say, I compliment you.

With reference to the impeachment effort, I believe that yesterday was a vindication for a good many people. This movement did not start with me per se. I did go to the floor, but the people have made this a moment that has to be recognized. In fact, it’s a similar moment in time that can impact the rest of our time. So I’m just grateful that we have now nearly 200 persons who are on board. We need 218 people to impeach. And I think we’ve reached critical mass.

Yesterday was evidence of what happened prior to yesterday. We had been building on this. We initially brought articles before the Congress and received 58 votes; thereafter, 66; and on the third attempt, 95. So this is something that’s been building. But it wouldn’t happen but for the people that we meet in train stations, in airports, in food markets, who are constantly asking what are we going to do. I think yesterday was a response to all of the many people who have continued to press the issue.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Congressman Green, could you lay out for our viewers and listeners what you believe are the main impeachable offenses that President Trump has committed?

REP. AL GREEN: There are many. Obviously, what has just happened recently with the Ukraine, the president calling the president of Ukraine, and in an effort to get him to take a position on Mr. Biden, President Biden — Vice President Biden, if you will, in terms of what his son may have done, in an effort to use this, apparently — I say “apparently” — in the upcoming election, and withholding tax dollars in an effort to get this done, apparently. This is impeachable.

I would also mention the emoluments clause. And articles have been filed with reference to the president benefiting from persons who are staying in his hotels. And that’s much to be said about that. I would also never forget the racism, the bigotry, the xenophobia, the homophobia, the Islamophobia, the fact that the president has infused his bigotry into policy. So, we have the obstruction cases, and I did call for obstruction as an article of impeachment. I have indicated that we need to deal with the racism and the bigotry, as well. So there are many articles that can be brought.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Al Green, I want to turn to a video that President Trump tweeted Tuesday after Pelosi’s announcement. The video shows a number of Democratic congressmembers and senators calling for his impeachment. It features your remarks, followed by Trump’s response.

REP. AL GREEN: If we don’t impeach this president, he will get re-elected.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It’s time to stop this nonsense. They think they’re going to win. Now, did you see the one man? He said, “It’s the only way we’re going to beat him in 2020,” they have to do this. The only way they — well, that’s a compliment, I guess. But think of what he said: It’s the only way they’re going to beat me. And actually, it’s working the other way.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that video was retweeted by Trump, and it was — that was retweeted by Trump, but it was only a selection, a small part of the video. But let me get your response. And also, what about those who are saying right now the American people want you to focus on the issues — healthcare, education, jobs — rather than impeachment? First, the Democrats waited for the Mueller report, and it turns out that what President Trump was being accused of, obstruction of justice — what he was being accused of in regards to colluding with Russians was not true, and now they’ll pursue this to the election. What Trump is saying and a number of others are saying is this will surely mean your demise. Your response, Congressman Green?

REP. AL GREEN: Multiple responses. The first is that the president took my words out of context. I never said that this is the only way we would defeat him. What I indicated was that if we did not honor our duty and responsibility to the Constitution and impeach the president, that he could claim vindication by our inaction. And as a result, he would use that to campaign, and could seek and be re-elected, because he would use the fact that we didn’t impeach him, and say that he was vindicated.

Next point, to those who would contend that this is not a kitchen table issue, I would differ, especially as it relates to the bigotry infused into policy. African Americans, at the kitchen table, talk about how they didn’t get a promotion because of discrimination, how they were not hired because of discrimination. Discrimination is a kitchen table issue for people who are being discriminated against. LGBTQ persons who go to work knowing that if they announce that they have married the love of their life and that person happens to be of the same sex, knowing that they can be fired, for them, that’s a kitchen table issue. So we should not assume that all kitchen table issues are the same. There are additional kitchen table issues that people who are discriminated against are having to deal with.

And finally, I would make this point. 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.

I just have to add this, as well. This journey is not one that we choose to embark upon. It’s one that we have to. And when those members came out, who are in those, what I will call, high-risk districts, and put principle above party, they were a part of what is being called the straw. I called it a moment of truth. I called it a point of no return, because we have reached a point now where we must go forward with impeachment. If we do not, we will have shredded the Constitution and betrayed our trust as members of Congress.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, I’d like to bring in John Nichols, political writer for The Nation. John, I wanted to ask you: This latest situation with the president’s discussion, phone conversation, with the president of Ukraine that’s apparently become a turning point for Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats on the issue of whether to begin an impeachment inquiry, what’s your assessment of this? After all, there are those who say that American presidents are constantly in phone conversations threatening leaders of other countries if they don’t do what the U.S. wants. And also of Trump’s rebuttal about the whole issue of Hunter Biden having been so heavily involved in the Ukraine at the time that Joe Biden was vice president and also attempted to influence the Ukrainian government?

JOHN NICHOLS: That’s a very good question, Juan. Thanks for asking it. And also I’m honored to be on with Congressman Green.

At the heart of your question is the answer, of course. Presidents are often on the phone yelling at other leaders, trying to get what America wants, what the United States wants. That’s not what is at stake here. What is at stake here is the question of whether Donald Trump got on a phone trying to get what he wanted.

And the genius of the American Constitution, which, you know, is — I think even the Founders would tell you, wasn’t perfect. But one of the geniuses of it is the system of checks and balances, and also the clear definition of the role of people in these positions. And one of the things we understand — and Congressman Green referenced the emoluments clause — is that you don’t take the presidency in order to advance your own personal interests, be they economic or, once you are in the office, political. You cannot use the office to undermine or harm your political rivals.

And so, in this case, if the president of the United States, as he suggests, was on a phone call with the newly elected leader of a country, that is really kind of one of the epicenters of global conflict and struggle — if he was on the phone with this leader, and he said, you know, “Hey, I’d really like you to do this investigation of this son of a political rival” — now, acknowledging whatever Hunter Biden may have done and all the concerns about the past — if the president of the United States did that, and if it can be reasonably understood that he did that for political purposes, as he is clearly confirming, I believe, in his statements about this, saying — continually going after Biden, who still is the front-runner in most polls to become his Democratic opponent in 2020, then he has abused his office in the most classic sense.

And we have, again, something that is sort of part and parcel of impeachment. This is why you have the impeachment power. It exists so that presidents of the United States do not assume the position of the presidency and then use it and use the power of the United States government — because when he makes that call, he is speaking for the United States government — to advance their own political position. If they do that, they can be impeached. And in fact, as Congressman Green says, if you don’t impeach in such a circumstance, you virtually assure that this becomes the new normal. And it should not be considered normal for a president to try and use foreign powers to undermine his political rivals.

AMY GOODMAN: I’d like to turn to Democratic Congressmember John Lewis, the civil rights icon, addressing the House on Tuesday.

REP. JOHN LEWIS: We must not wait. Now is the time to act. I have been patient while we tried every other path and used every other tool. We will never find the truth unless we use the power given to the House of Representatives, and the House alone, to begin an official investigation, as dictated by the Constitution. The future of our democracy is at stake. There come a time when you have to be moved by the spirit of history to take action to protect and preserve the integrity of our nation. I believe, I truly believe, the time to begin impeachment proceedings against this president has come. To delay or to do otherwise would betray the foundation of our democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Georgia Congressmember John Lewis on the floor of the House on Tuesday. Congressmember Green, can you lay out what happens next? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that six House committees will be leading this inquiry. Of course, many might say they could be doing other things, like leading the country forward in other ways. But explain exactly how it happens. You’ll have the intelligence chief coming forward. You have President Trump saying he’s releasing the transcript of his phone call with the new president of Ukraine. Explain what the chronology will be from here on in.

REP. AL GREEN: Thank you. Let me first compliment John on his commentary and add one thing. And that is that the president doesn’t have to commit a crime to be impeached. I think this is very important, because many times people will want to see evidence of what we might have to present in court. And impeachment in the House of Representatives does not have the standards that you might have in court. There is no need for proof beyond a reasonable doubt, clear and convincing evidence. There will be no appeal of this. It will be an opportunity for members to weigh in with a vote. And they will cast their votes without announcing why. My hope is that all will do so because their consciences have led them to do the appropriate thing.

With reference to how we will proceed, the various committees can all submit their evidence, if you will, of impeachable offenses. And once this is done, there are no real rules that say that the articles have to be drafted by the Judiciary Committee. The articles can be drafted. And that can happen with a select committee. It can happen with the Judiciary Committee. It can happen with a single person. We have proven that this can occur, because we have filed three times, and each time they were approved by the presiding officer. So all of the articles presented before were in order. Once they are presented to the House, we will then vote. Assuming there are 435 members present, it will take 218 to have a majority, such that we will then send the articles to the Senate — a majority voting to impeach, I might add.

Once the articles get to the Senate, we then have a trial in the Senate. Now, here’s the question that Chief Justice John Roberts has to address: Will he allow the majority leader of the Senate to cause him to preside over a kangaroo court? Will the Honorable John Roberts, chief justice of the United States of America, allow the majority leader of the Senate to simply walk in and say, “Enough of this. Let’s vote to dismiss, and move on”? I would want to believe that his integrity, his honor, his standing in history, his legacy would lead him to believe that there has to be some evidence of a trial, such that people will conclude he did not allow this to become a runaway kangaroo court that embarrassed not only the Senate, but also the Supreme Court.

With reference to what you were asking me about the evidence that may be presented, all of this is to be considered. There is no standard for the evidence that is needed. Once the House concludes that the president has committed an impeachable offense because of his misconduct — misdemeanors are misconduct, offenses that involve misconduct. They may be criminal, but they need not be. Andrew Johnson was impeached in 1868 in Article 10 of misdemeanors. They were called “high misdemeanors.” John has written about this quite eloquently and accurately, I might add.

And with the ability to impeach for high misdemeanors, no crime necessary, no requirement that you have rules of evidence, the House can draft its articles of impeachment based upon the president’s confessions. The president has a way of not only performing what I will call ugly deeds — some would say dastardly deeds — performing these deeds, and then he confesses. He has indicated that he talked to the president. He has indicated that the conversation was about Biden. And we know that he was withholding funds. He did this right after Mr. Mueller gave his testimony on the Hill. He is testing us. He continually tests to see how far we will allow him to go — 

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Green —

REP. AL GREEN: — just as a 3-year-old would test. And we have to, at some point, stand up to him and let him know that the line has been drawn, and you will go no further.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you so much for being with us, Houston Congressmember Al Green, Texas Democrat, and John Nichols, political writer for The Nation, has written a book about impeachment.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, President Trump calls for intensifying tension with Iran. We’ll speak with Vijay Prashad. Then, the British rocker, the British singer-songwriter Billy Bragg on Brexit and what’s happening in the British Parliament as we broadcast. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “Ripple” by the Grateful Dead. The band’s longtime lyricist Robert Hunter died on Tuesday.

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