By Ward Kanowsky
Members of Indivisible East Bay and Livermore Indivisible met with Representative Eric Swalwell (CA-15) and his staff over Monday morning coffee on November 4, 2019 at Inkling’s Coffee & Tea in Pleasanton. Our discussion focused on the impeachment inquiry and where it’s heading. The two Indivisible chapters asked a range of questions and offered input during our hour-long meeting with Swalwell, who sits on the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees – the two committees that will play the most critical roles during the impeachment proceedings.
Even as we met, a lot was going on. Two sets of transcripts from the closed door depositions were released that day, and Rep. Swalwell was keeping tabs on witnesses who were still scheduled for the closed door interviews during the week: John Eisenberg from the National Security Council was already a no-show for the day and Swalwell was skeptical that former National Security Advisor John Bolton would testify on Thursday as scheduled. We asked Swalwell about holding such witnesses in contempt – beyond the obstruction of Congress tool that has been used for past witnesses who have defied the proceedings. He responded that he and his colleagues have been working with Good Government Now, a non-profit organization founded to strengthen congressional subpoena enforcement, to determine if Congress can levy fines of up to $10,000/day on such witnesses, rather than have the Sergeant-at-Arms take them into custody.
The open, public hearings should begin by next week. While Rep. Swalwell said Republicans such as Devin Nunes (CA-22) and John Ratcliffe (TX-4) are likely to pull some “stunts” and try to turn the proceedings “into a circus,” the Democrats’ approach will be to keep the “testimony professional.” In this regard, staff attorneys for the Democratic representatives on the Intelligence Committee will ask most of the questions of the witnesses during the open hearings to provide this professionalism, while also setting out the strongest, prosecutorial case for a trial in the Senate. Swalwell had high praise for committee chair Rep. Adam Schiff (CA-28), whom he called the best person to oversee the hearings, saying that Schiff is “measured and unflappable.” Also, when it comes to public opinion polls, he believes it helps the Democrats when they act with dignity.
With regard to potential articles of impeachment to be determined by the House Judiciary Committee, the focus will be on the conduct of the president, especially where “sharp lines” can be drawn. For example, Swalwell believes a clear connection back to the president has been shown in the whistle-blower complaint alleging that the president used his office to solicit interference from Ukraine in the 2020 election; the president has confessed, and witnesses who listened in on the July 25 call with the head of Ukraine have corroborated the allegations. He called the president’s acts “extortion” and “defense dollars for dirt,” and noted that the subsequent coverup by the White House is obstruction. We asked about the president’s other misdeeds, and he said he sees the ten acts of obstruction laid out in the Mueller report as “prior bad acts” that could be included in the articles, as well as possible violations of campaign finance laws when payments of hush money were made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels.
The Senate hasn’t really felt any pressure yet on the impeachment issue, with many Republican Senators staying silent. Rep. Swalwell sees this as a wise move on their part, but at the same time hopes they will keep an open mind if and when there is a trial. From a strategic standpoint, this is also why he wants to ensure a fair process in the House before passing the case over to the Senate, with the Democrats showing restraint and demonstrating a well-prepared professional approach. He expressed some concern that once the process moves to the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could just call for an immediate yes or no vote on whether to dismiss the articles.
We told Swalwell about steps Indivisible has been taking to support the impeachment process, including:
- Indivisible hubdialer tool – goal is to call 1.1 million voters in key Senate Republican states, tell them what’s at stake in the impeachment inquiry, and then drive calls to the Senate offices. Over 300,000 calls have been made so far.
- Nobody is Above the Law impeachment events – partnering with MoveOn, Stand Up America, and many other groups, to organize rallies across the country on the night before the House votes on articles of impeachment. Over 160 events are registered so far,
Rep. Swalwell liked both these ideas and thought they were effective tools. He asked whether Senators Martha McSally (R-AZ) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) are included in the Hubdialer calls (they are). He also praised the Indivisible organization and said the 2018 midterm blue wave “would not have happened without Indivisible.”
Swalwell acknowledged that since impeachment has taken over the headlines, Democrats need to do a better job of letting people know about all of the other work accomplished in the House. Over 200 bills have been passed, including major legislation around background checks (H.R.8) and equal pay for equal work (H.R.7). The bills now need to be taken up by the Senate and this process has been thwarted by Senator McConnell. Swalwell proposed online campaigns aimed specifically at McConnell, to get word out about bills passed through the House and awaiting action in the Senate – possibly calling them #YourCourtMitch and #WePassedThat. He said this is also an action item where Indivisible could be very helpful. We’ll be looking into it in the future!
If you have questions or want to participate with the CA-15 team, contact Ward on Slack at @ward or by email at email@example.com.
Ward Kanowsky is co-lead, with LeAnn Kanowsky, of the Indivisible East Bay CA-15 Team.
Photo by Mallory De Lauro, Rep. Swalwell’s District Director and Foreign Affairs Adviser.