As impeachment inquiry goes to Judiciary Committee, the only Virginian on the panel calls the process ‘patently unfair’

By: - December 4, 2019 12:01 am

President Donald J. Trump waves after disembarking Marine One at Joint Base Andrews, Md. Monday, December 2, 2019, and walks to board Air Force One for his trip to London. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

It might’ve been his Thanksgiving-themed quip about the impeachment report being a “half-baked bird.” Maybe it was his movie analogy, suggesting Democrats have reached the “Empire Strikes Back” phase of their efforts to oust President Donald Trump, but the rebels will win in the end.

Whatever it was that Rep. Ben Cline, a Republican from Western Virginia’s 6th District, said on Fox News this week, it earned him a fan in the White House.

Thank you to Congressman Ben @Cline4Virginia for the Great remarks this morning on the illegitimate Impeachment Hoax,” Trump tweeted Monday.  “He understands the Do Nothing Democrats very well.”

The impeachment inquiry will enter a new phase Wednesday by moving to the House Judiciary Committee, which is expected to draw up articles of impeachment based on the House Intelligence Committee’s report on the Trump administration’s efforts to pressure Ukraine into investigating Democratic rival Joe Biden.

U.S. Rep. Ben Cline, R-6th. (U.S. Congress)

Cline, a lawyer and former state delegate who was elected to Congress last year, is the only Virginian on the 41-person Judiciary Committee.

In a brief phone interview Tuesday, Cline said he can’t judge whether the president did anything wrong because the process has been “irredeemably biased” by “slanted testimony” and Republicans being blocked from full participation in the process.

“Because these rules are patently unfair, it makes it much more difficult to evaluate the evidence that is being presented,” Cline said.

Trump has sought to block members of his administration from testifying before Congress, and the president’s lawyers have said they will not participate in Wednesday’s hearing.

Democrats have reacted to the GOP’s attacks on the process with astonishment, saying Republicans are trying to avoid dealing with the inquiry’s findings altogether.

“Reminder: the central facts uncovered by this investigation about the President’s abuses of power have not been contested by Republicans or witness testimony,” Rep. Don Beyer, a Democrat from Northern Virginia’s 8th District, said on Twitter Tuesday as he encouraged followers to read the report for themselves.

Asked for his thoughts on the White House’s own summary of a phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — in which Trump told Zelensky he’d like a “favor” before referencing a possible investigation into the Biden family’s activities in Ukraine — Cline said “the story is much larger than a single transcript.”

“And we have been attempting to get a fair presentation of that story and the evidence surrounding that story,” Cline said. “All Americans deserve a fair process moving forward. I feel that given how far we are down this road, the process is irredeemably flawed. And so we should move on to the issues that are important to this country and to the American people.”

None of the other three Virginia Republicans in Congress — Reps. Denver Riggleman, R-5th; Rob Wittman, R-1st; and Morgan Griffith, R-9th — appear to be breaking from the unified GOP opposition to the impeachment proceedings.

“What is clear to me is that Democrats have delivered their verdict before allowing a fair trial,” Riggleman said in a statement last week.

All seven Virginia Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives have said they support the impeachment inquiry.

“I think it’s been clearly established that the president used his office for his personal gain and to find dirt on a future political opponent and to withhold aid from an ally who needed that aid,” Rep. Elaine Luria, a Democrat from the Virginia Beach-anchored 2nd District said in an interview on CNN last month.

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Graham Moomaw
Graham Moomaw

A veteran Virginia politics reporter, Graham grew up in Hillsville and Lynchburg, graduating from James Madison University and earning a master's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Before joining the Mercury in 2019, he spent six years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, most of that time covering the governor's office, the General Assembly and state politics. He also covered city hall and politics at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville. Contact him at [email protected]