Washington – Rep. Jim Himes, who hoped to be distinguished by his leadership of the centrist “New Democrats,” is now better known for his role in the fierce partisan war over the likely impeachment of President Donald Trump.
“The disappointing thing is that I didn’t go to Congress to investigate the president,” Himes said in a recent interview. “But the president’s behavior has led us here.”
While most of his House colleagues were on break, Himes has spent most of the last two weeks – except for several days when he was on an official trip to Pakistan — traveling from his Fairfield County based 4th District to Washington D.C., where he and fellow Democrats are trying to conduct an impeachment inquiry of Trump.
Himes is a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee, a panel that is at the center of the impeachment inquiry initiated by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., last month.
“The disappointing thing is that I didn’t go to Congress to investigate the president. But the president’s behavior has led us here.”
Rep. Jim Himes
While the intelligence panel has for two years been investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election, its oversight role of intelligence activities – including foreign spying and disinformation campaigns – took on a much weightier role after disclosures last month that a CIA analyst had filed a complaint about a phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
That complaint from the anonymous whistleblower indicated Trump had asked Zelensky to investigate the president’s main political rival, Joseph Biden, and the former vice president’s son, Hunter.
Meanwhile, the United States was holding up nearly $400 million in military aid that Ukraine needed to combat Russian forces.
To Pelosi, and most of Connecticut’s congressional delegation who had resisted initiating impeachment proceedings, this was too much.
But Himes, privy to information culled from his long-time work on the intelligence committee, had for months backed the impeachment inquiry.
A frequent guest on CNN, CBS, MSNBC and other networks, Himes is often tapped to give analysis – and the Democratic view — of the dizzying array of events that have provoked angry reactions from the White House since Pelosi announced the impeachment inquiry.
Himes, for instance, said the emergence of a second whistleblower, who backed up the charges of the CIA analyst who made the complaint, suggested that the walls around Trump were beginning to crumble.
“People around the President, professional (people) who are in the Oval Office, who are in the Situation Room, are watching what is happening and are finally saying ‘My God, this cannot happen anymore and they are coming forward,” Himes said recently on CBS “Face the Nation.”
Like many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, Himes has taken to Twitter to express views on the impeachment inquiry process.
He did so after the president told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House he saw nothing wrong in asking a foreign government to investigate his political rival and would do it again with Ukraine, and even ask China to do so as well.
“The president is trying to distract us from his crimes… by committing more public crimes,” Himes tweeted.
While Himes has been one of the harshest critics of the president’s behavior, Trump has focused much of his ire on the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.
Trump has said “Liddle’ Adam Schiff,” should be impeached, resign and even prosecuted for treason because he gave a dramatic interpretation of the president’s conversation with Zelensky at a hearing, a phone call Trump repeatedly calls “perfect.”
Trump has also lashed out at the whistleblower, calling him a liar who should be unmasked.
Himes said the need to keep the whistleblower’s identity secret, especially since Trump has suggested he is a spy, “poses an investigative challenge.” But he said it’s not necessary for the whistleblower to testify publicly, since his complaint has been backed up by other sources, including the White House itself in the release of a partial transcript of Trump’s phone call with Zelensky.
“While it would be helpful for the whistleblower to testify publicly, the facts are not really in dispute,” Himes said.
Like most Democrats, Himes has made protection of the whistleblower a priority in the inquiry.
“People need to know that when they raise their hands they won’t be threatened,” he said.
On Friday, lawyers for the anonymous CIA officer asked lawmakers if the whistleblower could submit testimony in writing.
White House stonewalling
As part of a scorched-earth response to the impeachment inquiry, Trump’s lawyers informed congressional investigators that the president will not cooperate with the inquiry, saying to do so would be unconstitutional.
Himes and his Democratic colleagues hoped to interview a number of administration witnesses behind closed doors. With the notable exceptions of Kurt Volker, Trump’s former special envoy to Ukraine and Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who was recalled from her post by Trump, many who’ve been asked to testify behind closed doors by the Intelligence Committee and two other House panels in charge of the impeachment inquiry have not shown up, prohibited by the White House from testifying or turning over documents.
“At the end of the day, it puts the president in greater jeopardy,” Himes said of the White House’s strategy. “Obstruction of Congress is impeachable.”
“The Republican strategy here is to deny facts that are obvious,” he added.
The White House seemed to ease its hard-line policy on Friday. Gordon Sondland, the American ambassador to the European Union, has agreed to comply with a House subpoena and testify next week. He was prepared to testify on Tuesday, but the Trump administration directed him not to.
“At the end of the day, it puts the president in greater jeopardy. Obstruction of Congress is impeachable.”
Rep. Jim Himes
Congressional Republicans, especially in the U.S. House, continue to support the president and repeat his accusations that it’s the Bidens, not Trump, who should be under investigation. GOP lawmakers also say House Democrats like Himes are on a witch hunt aimed at invalidating the 2016 election.
While Democrats have been frustrated in their attempts to seek all the testimony and information they need, resorting to the issuing of subpoena and subpoena threats, damaging information has been unearthed, including revelations the White House uses a secret server to store the president’s calls to foreign leaders and greater details of the relationship Trump and his allies had with Ukraine. In addition, two men who were helping Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, find dirt on Biden, have been arrested on charges of funneling foreign money to the campaigns of American politicians.
Still, Himes believes the focus of the impeachment inquiry should be narrow and remain on the president’s actions concerning Ukraine.
“Obstruction of Congress and campaign finance violations are not as compelling as the gangster-like behavior of the president,” he said.
The House can vote on a number of articles of impeachment when Pelosi decides the inquiry is finished.
Himes said Pelosi “could put up a lot of them,” or limit the charges.
“I just don’t know,” he said.
Republicans have accused Schiff and the other Democratic chairmen of the House committees involved in the impeachment inquiry of behaving in a dictatorial fashion.
They have asked Democrats to delay plans to issue subpoenas to the White House and allow Republicans to debate and vote on whether to take action.
Republicans also have complained that Pelosi did not hold a vote on a resolution to begin the impeachment inquiry.
In the impeachment inquiries of former Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, the minority party on the investigating committee were granted the power to subpoena — something the minority party does not normally have.
If the GOP can force Pelosi to hold an impeachment inquiry resolution, it is more likely to win the chance to subpoena its own witnesses.
Himes brushed off these Republican complaints, and said Pelosi does not have to hold a vote on an impeachment inquiry resolution.
“They have a fundamental misunderstanding,” he said of his Republican colleagues. “They have equal time to interview witnesses.”
Himes also said the trial in the GOP-led Senate that will be held if the U.S. House votes out articles of impeachment would allow Republicans to seek out any additional information they feel they need.
Himes could not predict how long the impeachment inquiry will last. He said there is a lot of information “still out there” for congressional investigators, and the need to subpoena witnesses “may slow things down.”
“But I think we’re going to move fast,” he said. “I think the Speaker wants to get it done quickly.”