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Opinion

Editorial: The impeachment inquiry needs more transparency and a floor vote

California House members aiming to offset loss of influence
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has resisted a floor vote on authorizing an impeachment inquiry.
(Joshua Roberts / Bloomberg)

President Trump can be expected to denounce the House’s impeachment inquiry as a “witch hunt” or a “coup” attempt no matter how fair and transparent the process is. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi still needs to shore up the credibility of the fast-moving investigation by having the entire House vote to authorize it and by insisting that witnesses now speaking to investigators in private testify as soon as possible in public.

When Pelosi announced last month that the House was launching an “official” impeachment inquiry, this page suggested that it would be wise for her to seek the authorization of a majority of the House, as occurred in previous presidential impeachment investigations. But unfortunately, Pelosi has been reluctant to take that step, informing House Democrats Tuesday that there would be no authorization vote — yet.

Political calculation aside, a vote on the House floor is overdue, even though — contrary to what Trump’s White House counsel has suggested — the Constitution doesn’t require it. A formal authorization vote would put the imprimatur of the full House onto the inquiry and lay out a clear path forward, blunting the Republicans’ overwrought criticisms of the process.

As a result of the work of the three House committees leading the inquiry, evidence has emerged suggesting that Trump’s notorious July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — in which Trump urged Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden — was related to a shadow foreign policy being pursued by Trump’s personal lawyer and television apologist Rudy Giuliani.

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Yet the fact that witnesses have testified to the committees behind closed doors has provided Trump and his supporters with another talking point for their claim that the process is rigged. The principal argument for private proceedings is that the committees don‘t want witnesses to be able to alter their stories to conform with other witnesses’ statements — a caution also taken by previous investigations into presidents conducted by special counsels and other independent investigators. But the fact that important portions of testimony have leaked undermines that rationale.

Sooner rather than later, transcripts of the testimony should be released and witnesses should be recalled to testify in public session, where they can be questioned by members from both parties. This inquiry is so vital, it ought to be conducted in the open to the fullest extent possible. The point isn’t to placate an unreasonable and dishonest president, but to assure the American people that the House is exercising its awesome authority responsibly and pursuing the facts, wherever they may lead.


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