On my Wednesday radio show, I spoke with Beltway reporters and pundits from across the spectrum of outlets and points of view: Jonathan Allen of NBC News, Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post, Chris Cillizza of CNN, Eliana Johnson of the Washington Free Beacon and Jim Geraghty of the National Review. To each, I posed the key question: Do the House Democrats run the risk of turning their impeachment "inquiry" into a kangaroo court by so obviously and repeatedly bending or breaking with the precedents of impeachments past? All agreed it is a risk, though each evaluated the risk differently.
Americans generally are far from being as attentive to national politics - even impeachment proceedings - than Beltway reporters and pundits. But Beltway reporters and pundits are every bit the same depth-of-deranged sports fans as the rest of the country, so we analogized the risk using sports. Nothing so upsets a sports fan than a game blown by the officials because of a bad or missed call or the misapplication of a rule. There's no more infamous incident of this than the gold-medal game in men's basketball during the 1972 Olympics, during which the referees seemed hellbent on the Soviets beating the Americans. The list is actually endless, and "worst moments in officiating lists" abound. Worse than blown calls are rigged games (which the '72 Olympics may have been, and which the 1919 World Series definitely was). When the "fix is in," everyone leaves angry at the refs and the league.
Similarly, the fix appears in with the House's so-called impeachment inquiry. Hashtags are no longer as powerful as they once were, but President Donald Trump might want to try out #KangarooCourtImpeachment, because the House "inquiry" is just that: a kangaroo court.
White House Counsel Pat Cipollone laid out the argument for concluding as much on Tuesday. Cipollone's entire letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and the relevant Democratic committee chairs in the House should be read in its entirety, but three key passages stand out:
First, Cipollone argues that "precedent for the rights to cross-examine witnesses, call witnesses, and present evidence dates back nearly 150 years. Yet the Committees have decided to deny the President these elementary rights and protections that form the basis of the American justice system and are protected by the Constitution."
Next: "In addition, the House has not provided the Committees' Ranking Members with the authority to issue subpoenas. The right of the minority to issue subpoenas subject to the same rules as the majority - has been the standard, bipartisan practice in all recent resolutions authorizing presidential impeachment inquiries."
Finally, the White House counsel adds: "It is transparent that you have resorted to such unprecedented and unconstitutional procedures because you know that a fair process would expose the lack of any basis for your inquiry."
These are arguments that Democrats and their media supporters will dispute, but they are anchored in the recent past and the impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon. That Democrats are abandoning these precedents - and the deeply embedded ideals of due process for the accused - is a terrible strategic mistake by Pelosi and her party.
Cipollone's arguments are powerful because they are indisputably true. Repetition will drive these stakes deep into the American consciousness. And after the failed attempt to "get Trump" via the Mueller inquiry (and a laugh at people who don't believe the special counsel's probe is understood that way), fair-minded Americans will indeed note and refuse to forget that Democrats cheated when they could not persuade.
Secret hearings, witness tampering, refusal of basic and long-standing rights such as the minority party's right to summon witnesses add up to a rush job, a con job and a collapse of the Democrats' faith in their own assertions. U.S. Attorney John Durham and Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz's investigations into the origins of the Russia probe may further deepen suspicion of the Democrats' pretend impeachment. Trump could hardly ask for more incompetent opponents than Pelosi, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y. They have time to correct their ill-conceived rush to judgment, but not much.