Norm Eisen Says He Drafted 10 Articles Of Impeachment A Month Before Inquiry

Jul 27, 2020
Originally published on July 27, 2020 6:13 pm

When Democrats took back the House of Representatives in 2018, the Judiciary Committee hired Norm Eisen to be special counsel.

He'd been a White House ethics czar and a U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic during the Obama administration. And when he showed up to work for Congress, he started preparing for the possibility that the House might impeach President Trump.

Less than a year later, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced an official impeachment inquiry.

Eisen's new book, A Case for the American People: The United States v. Donald J. Trump, describes this moment in time through the House vote to impeach Trump and the Senate trial, which ended in acquittal.

And the book reveals that Eisen had drafted 10 articles of impeachment a month before Pelosi's announcement.

"The speaker is a pretty savvy monitor of everything that goes on in Congress. So, I don't think it will come as a surprise to her," Eisen told NPR.

Interview Highlights

On why he cast such a wide net

President Trump's misconduct is so broad, and his whole pattern of misconduct, the collusion in the [Robert] Mueller report, the obstruction of justice that the special counsel found, the hush money payments, which are illegal campaign finance, and so much more. We've never seen anything like it in American history. So, we needed to start with a very broad base to work our way through to the articles that we thought could make it through the House. And that's just what we did.

On whether impeachment might have gone differently if a broader list of offenses had been presented

Having lived on the Hill for a year, I do think impeachment would have gone differently. I don't think there would have been an impeachment if we had insisted on all 10 of those articles, however meritorious I may feel they are. Politics is the art of the possible. And Chairman [Jerrold] Nadler of the Judiciary Committee, who I worked for; Chairman [Adam] Schiff of the Intelligence Committee, who is a leader on all these matters; and Speaker Pelosi ultimately were able to come together around a set of articles that unified the caucus and that we were able to get through.

On the idea of a possible quid pro quo happening not just beyond U.S. borders but also within the U.S.

Even before we knew about the pandemic, I think everyone in the room got a chill [during Stanford Law School professor Pamela Karlan's testimony] because she had so expertly put her finger on the quid pro quo transactional nature of President Trump's way of doing business. And his handling of COVID — it has all the same features of the Ukraine scandal or the Russia scandal before that. The retaliation against whistleblowers. And above all, this radical selfishness — it's all about Trump. We've never had a president like that.

On whether there is anything he wishes the Democrats had done differently to achieve a more bipartisan outcome

The vote in the House actually was bipartisan because Justin Amash, not a Democrat, supported the impeachment. [He's a] lifelong conservative and Republican who had to leave his party because he spoke out against Trump. And then in the Senate, for the first time in American history, you had a president who had a member of his party cross the aisle, Mitt Romney, to vote against a president of his own party in an impeachment trial. Now, it's true, we saw more polarization around this impeachment than we did in, say, the [Richard] Nixon one or even the [Bill] Clinton one. I never imagined that only Romney among them would be willing to do the right thing. And you know what makes it even more shocking? Lamar Alexander said the House proved its quid pro quo. And Sen. Ben Sasse said, many of us agree with Lamar. And yet they still weren't willing to call it an impeachable offense. Shame. Shame. ...

I do not believe that this constellation of Republicans could have been persuaded. No matter what. That being said, I'm very self-critical in the book. And I do talk about the mistakes that I made along the way. And I made plenty. So, yes, there are plenty of errors along the way. No, there was nothing we could have done, no matter how profound the offense. ...

We saw scandal with the Russian bounties, total Republican silence — near total Republican silence. The president's intentional misconduct on COVID has led to the deaths — you can't blame every death but certainly his baubles have led to the deaths — of tens of thousands of Americans. They've done nothing.

On whether the president has felt more empowered to take some steps because he got through impeachment

Since the beginning of his career, he knows exactly how to surf the bubble of the law, how to go to the edge of the law. He started with an alleged racial discrimination case in his properties at the very beginning of his career. And he understands what he's doing. It is a pattern — that is one of the fundamental points I make in the book. And I describe what's going to happen next. And it's not pretty because we're seeing him now turn, once again, his predations to the coming election. So, no, it was the right thing to sound the alarm. It did not embolden him.

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

When Democrats took back the House in 2018, the judiciary committee hired Norm Eisen to be special counsel. He had been a White House ethics czar and a U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic during the Obama administration. When he showed up to work for Congress, he started preparing for the possibility that the House might impeach President Trump. And less than a year later, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NANCY PELOSI: Today I'm announcing the House of Representatives moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Norm Eisen's new book reveals that a month before Pelosi made that statement, Eisen had already drafted 10 articles of impeachment. They included things like the hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels and violations of the Emoluments Clause by failing to divest from Trump businesses. Ultimately, only two articles of impeachment made it to the House floor. Eisen's book is called "A Case For The American People." And I asked him whether he thinks the impeachment process might have gone differently if that broad list of offenses had been presented to the American people rather than just the two articles related to Ukraine.

NORM EISEN: Ari, having lived on the Hill for a year, I do think impeachment would have gone differently. I don't think there would have been an impeachment if we had insisted on all 10 of those articles. However meritorious I may feel they are, politics is the art of the possible. And Chairman Nadler of the judiciary committee, who I worked for, Chairman Schiff of the intelligence committee, who was a leader on all these matters, and Speaker Pelosi ultimately were able to come together around a set of articles that unified the caucus and that we were able to get through. This was only the third impeachment trial of a president in American history, so it's remarkable that we even got those two. I will tell you that those two articles are a microcosm of all 10 of the impeachment articles that we drafted. They have features of all 10. And in a significant victory for the chairman, he did get the caucus to agree that he could include the pattern - that Chairman Nadler could include the pattern of Trump's abuse of power in Article I and the pattern of Trump's obstruction in Article II, so the two articles we got contain multitudes.

SHAPIRO: There is one bit of testimony that you identify as having been eerily prescient. It came from Stanford Law professor Pamela Karlan. And she said, imagine that you live in a state hit by a natural disaster.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAMELA KARLAN: What would you think if you lived there and your governor asked for a meeting with the president to discuss getting disaster aid that Congress has provided for? What would you think if that president said, I would like you to do us a favor?

SHAPIRO: And months later, President Trump did something similar with COVID-19 relief, telling reporters in March that he had directed the vice president not to return calls from governors of Michigan and Washington because he wanted those governors to be more appreciative. How do you put that in the context of the impeachment process that you lived through?

EISEN: Before we knew about the pandemic, I think everyone in the room got a chill because she had so expertly put her finger on the quid pro quo transactional nature of President Trump's way of doing business. And his handling of COVID, it has all the same features of the Ukraine scandal or the Russia scandal before that, the retaliation against whistleblowers and, above all, this radical selfishness. It's all about Trump. We've never had a president like that.

SHAPIRO: The biggest criticism of the entire process was that it was partisan. And ultimately, the Senate did not even vote to hear from witnesses, let alone convict the president. In hindsight, is there anything you wish the Democrats had done differently to achieve a more bipartisan outcome?

EISEN: Well, if you'll permit me a friendly amendment to the question, the vote in the House actually was bipartisan because Justin Amash, not a Democrat, supported the impeachment - a lifelong conservative and Republican who had to leave his party because he spoke out against Trump. And then in the Senate for the first time in American history, Ari, you had a president who had a member of his party cross the aisle, Mitt Romney - and I write a lot about my conversations with Sen. Romney in the book, none of which have ever been reported. He crossed the aisle to vote against a president of his own party in an impeachment trial.

Now, it's true we saw more polarization around this impeachment than we did in, say, the Nixon one or even the Clinton one. I never imagined that only Romney among them would be willing to do the right thing. And you know what makes it even more shocking? Lamar Alexander said the House proved its quid pro quo. And Sen. Ben Sasse said, many of us agree with Lamar. And yet they still weren't willing to call it an impeachable offense. Shame. Shame.

SHAPIRO: So that's your criticism of the Republicans. Is there anything you think Democrats could or should have done differently to win more of them over?

EISEN: Well, (laughter) I do not believe that this constellation of Republicans could have been persuaded no matter what. That being said, I'm very self-critical in the book. And I do talk about the mistakes that I made along the way, and I made plenty. So yes, there are plenty of errors along the way. No, there was nothing we could have done, no matter how profound the offense. My God, Ari, we saw scandal with the Russian bounties; total Republican silence - near total Republican silence. The president's intentional misconduct on COVID has led to the deaths - you can't blame every death. But certainly, his bobbles have led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans. They've done nothing.

SHAPIRO: And you don't think the president felt more empowered to take some of those steps because he got through impeachment, survived, and thought, well, what else are they going to throw at me?

EISEN: No. I do not believe he was empowered. He's been behaving this way consistently since the beginning of his career. He knows exactly how to surf the bubble of the law, how to go to the edge of the law. He understands what he's doing. It is a pattern. That is one of the fundamental points I make in the book. And I describe what's going to happen next. And it's not pretty because we're seeing him now turn, once again, his predations to the coming election. So no, it was the right thing to sound the alarm. It did not embolden him.

SHAPIRO: Ambassador Norm Eisen was special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee. And his new book is "A Case For The American People: The United States v. Donald J. Trump."

Thank you very much.

EISEN: Thank you, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.