ST. BONAVENTURE, NY – Two former members of Congress met with a small group of St. Bonaventure University students for an open classroom interview Tuesday morning and answered a series of theoretical questions relating to the public impeachment inquiry that begins Wednesday.
Republican J. Phillip Gingrey represented Georgia's 11th District, a suburban area north of Atlanta, from 2003 to 2015, and Democrat Loretta Sanchez represented California's 46th District, Orange County, from 1997 to 2017. Their times in Congress intersected, and they served together on committees including Armed Forces. The two opened the session bantering in friendly fashion with each other and the students. Among the topics of conversation was the fact that each got to take a trip to Antarctica. Gingrey's trip was longer since he went as a member of the congressional science committee. Sanchez remembered taking a hike up a mountain with colleagues during the 24-hour daylight of the Antarctic summer and realizing when they finished at 4 a.m. that breakfast would be served in an hour.
If you were a member of the House Intelligence Committee, what would you be doing to prepare for the inquiry?
Gingrey said that the Republicans' main priority should be to interview the original whistleblower as a witness.
“If I were there Wednesday, I would say ‘Mr. Chairman, we have a list of witnesses that we want to testify from the Republican Perspective. The first one on our list, we don’t have a name, but we want the whistleblower,' " Gingrey said.
Sanchez, on the other hand, is not worried about a possible whistleblower interview. She said that the Democrats' focus should be polishing their side of the story.
“The Democrats are not going to allow the whistleblower to be there,” Sanchez said. “If I were going, I’m getting my timeline together. I’m getting who said what, who's getting called in, and I am stitching it together in conjunction with all the other Democrats. By the time you get to public hearings, it’s a production to convince the American public one way or another.”
Although Gingrey believes that the proceedings have been unjustified, he points out that the Democrats have an impressive strategy.
“The House Democrats were smart in how they went about this by giving the baton to Adam Schiff,” Gingrey said. “Schiff started bringing these witnesses behind triple-locked doors in the basement, so the Democrats already know who their best and most valuable witnesses are. The witnesses that didn’t give them the information that they expected or were hoping for won't be called. “
They agreed that preparation is key since each member of congress has only five minutes.
What if the whistleblower gets called as a witness?
Sanchez doubled down on the Democrats' refusal to bring the whistleblower forward, something that she says will “absolutely not happen”.
“So the Democrats approach to that would be that yes, the whistleblower is the one that blew the whistle over a secondary conversation they heard,” she said. “That doesn’t matter anymore because since then they have had a few people come forward that were actually on the phone call, and have substantiated what the whistleblower said. Even more importantly, their firsthand knowledge has provided more information than the whistleblower even said.”
She summarized her statement by saying the Democrats don’t need the whistleblower because they now have more accurate testimony from other witnesses.
Gingrey believes that the whistleblowers' information could be inaccurate because that person is a secondary source, and he used the term “political game of telephone.”
He said, “Okay Mr. or Mrs. Whistleblower, what did you hear? When did you hear it? And from whom did you get your information?” would make them explain the specifics. Were you in the room taking notes, just watering the plants and overheard the conversation? Or were you actually part of a group tasked to listen in? Or did you hear it from a colleague at a bar? You know really get to ask them some tough questions."
What happens if the articles of impeachment reach the Senate?
Gingrey said, “Let's say the House votes on articles of impeachment, then it goes to the Senate, and they prepare for trial and at that point the polls say that 60 percent of the American citizens want Trump impeached,” Gingrey said. “Now what would the Republican senate do at that point? Are a lot of Republicans going to vote to convict the president? That would be the big question.”
Sanchez said, “I think that if the senators really thought he was corrupt they would turn on him as fast as possible. The answer is that it’s in the public's hands, and the senators hands.”
Both Sanchez and Gingrey agreed that public opinion will be the deciding factor.
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