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What To Expect From The Impeachment Inquiry Going Forward


Impeachment hearings continue this week in front of the House Judiciary Committee. The committee is holding a hearing with some legal experts on Wednesday on the nature of impeachment and the standards set out in the Constitution for high crimes and misdemeanors. President Trump said today that he will not be sending an attorney to those hearings, calling the whole thing, quote, "a hoax." As the impeachment process moves forward, we wanted to take a step back and talk with someone who is very familiar with the procedures. Daniel Freeman advised the House Judiciary Committee on not one but four impeachments, three judicial and one presidential - President Clinton's. Daniel Freeman joins us now.



CHANG: So you were counsel and what's called the parliamentarian to the House Judiciary Committee under three separate chairmen from both parties. Just really briefly, tell us, what does a parliamentarian do? And why was this role created in the first place?

FREEMAN: Well, in the Watergate Nixon impeachment, Chairman Rodino, who was the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee at the time, decided that this was going to be highly controversial, and it was going to be very tense. And he wanted to make sure that he had somebody in the room sitting right next to him who knew the rules of the House cold, so he designated somebody on the staff, one of the senior counsels, to become the parliamentarian of the committee. And that person sat literally right next to the chairman during all of the Watergate hearings and the impeachment markup.

And at that time, the chairman decided that he wanted to have that capacity in the future, so that position was cemented in history. And then when the guy who was the parliamentarian during Watergate left, the general counsel called me in and said, as of Monday morning, you're now the parliamentarian of the committee.

CHANG: So I know that it's still relatively early in these current impeachment proceedings. But since you've seen this process before, I'm curious; what has struck you as being different this time around?

FREEMAN: This one is very different. Every impeachment that I worked on involved solely the House Judiciary Committee. In this impeachment, the leadership decided that they were going to have a rule from the House Rules Committee authorizing the inquiry, and they were going to assign it to six separate committees.

CHANG: Right.

FREEMAN: And that's very unusual. And in this week's circumstances, what's going to happen, as I understand it, is that the Select Committee on Intelligence is going to send its report - according to the rule, in consultation with the other committees - to the House Judiciary Committee. And then the judiciary committee will proceed with its activities.

CHANG: The fact that there have been several committees involved on the House side, do you feel like this time around, things have been unfolding in a way that has struck you as unusual?

FREEMAN: Well, as a procedural guy, having it go to several committees struck me as unusual. But this is just a separate way of handling the incoming information, the investigation. During the Clinton impeachment, we had no direct testimony at all. The only witness we had was the special counsel, Ken Starr. And he testified before the House Judiciary Committee, but there was no separate testimony as you saw before the intelligence committee. So that's unusual or different. But the real difficult job and, probably, the most contentious part of the job is crafting the articles of impeachment.

CHANG: Well, Wednesday's hearing will be featuring legal experts looking at the question of, what is an impeachable offense? This is supposed to be - or at least ostensibly supposed to be a legal conversation. But how can it not be a political one?

FREEMAN: Well, the impeachment process is a political process. If you look at - Alexander Hamilton in Federalist Papers No. 65 said that it's a political process, and it's going to be conducted as a political process. So I don't think there's anybody who has spent more than 10 minutes in Washington who doesn't think that this is going to be a political process.

CHANG: Daniel Freeman is a former parliamentarian of the House Judiciary Committee.

Thank you very much for joining us today.

FREEMAN: You're more than welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF PETIT BISCUIT'S "SUNSET LOVER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.