WASHINGTON — Just a few minutes before being called to vote on the rules of the upcoming, six-hour impeachment debate, U.S. Rep. John Katko had the founding fathers on his mind.
The Camillus Republican’s Wednesday began more than an hour before dawn, he told The Palladium-Times in an interview from his Capitol Hill office. It wouldn’t end until long after the sun went down.
“When you start using impeachment as a purely political tool, that strikes at the heart of Federalist 65,” Katko said, referring to Alexander Hamilton’s 1788 editorial regarding the power of the United States Senate. “These are amorphous terms (being used in the impeachment debate): abuse of power is not a crime, or contempt of Congress when you have them litigating executive privilege.”
Katko announced last week he would not support articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, joining all 196 of his GOP colleagues in opposing the attempt by House of Representative Democrats to oust Trump before Trump’s term expires in 2021. It’s only the third time in United States history the president will be tried before the Senate, as prescribed by the Constitution. According to Katko, however, the prosecutions of Presidents Bill Clinton in 1998 and Andrew Johnson in 1868 possessed a legitimacy he finds lacking in the 2019 version.
“History will judge this investigation very poorly,” Katko said. “Both grounds for impeachment are not criminal in nature and then (Democrats) threw in the kitchen sink to try and support them. That’s an expansive view of impeachment that history will judge harshly.”
Trump stands accused of enlisting foreign aid to benefit his political campaigns and withholding testimony from congressional investigators.
The president has repeatedly denounced the investigation into his dealings with Ukraine and Russia as a “witch hunt” and “hoax” and while Katko said he wouldn’t choose that same language, he came to the same basic conclusion: the process was fatally flawed from the start.
“(U.S. Rep. Adam) Schiff should have known better, he was a federal prosecutor,” said Katko. “You don’t just get the evidence you want to hear, you don’t just listen to one side.”
Katko’s career before politics was spent, like Schiff, as a federal prosecutor. Accordingly, he “snapped into prosecutor mode” when allegations against Trump became a matter of federal inquiry.
“I tried to tune out the emotional arguments and coldly, thoroughly analyze the facts,” Katko said. “As a prosecutor, I had people who I knew had committed serious crimes but you just don’t move forward unless you have the evidence. (Democrats) set out to prove their case the best they can and it was done haphazardly, quickly and not in a balanced manner.”
Katko continued to pile on the “rush job” investigation, noting in the cases of both Clinton and Johnson the presidents were accused of criminal allegations (Johnson for illegally dismissing members of his cabinet; Clinton for perjury and obstruction of justice). The charges against Trump — abuse of power and obstructing a congressional investigation — lack that crucial aspect of criminality.
As the clock ticked Wednesday afternoon toward the evening’s final vote on impeachment articles, the tone around congressional offices was one of frustration.
“The mood among Republicans is, ‘let’s just get this over with,’” Katko said. “We’ve made our position clear as to how we feel about it and hopefully we can just move on and get back to work.”
Before heading across the Rayburn House Office Building for a committee meeting, Katko listed some of the issues he’d rather be focusing on today: Lake Ontario flooding, the opioid epidemic and “some wins in the budget.”
“I’ll stay as plugged in as I can and when I get some free time, I’ll go over to the (House of Representative chambers) because it is history being made and I want to absorb as much of it as I can,” he said.
Katko is up for re-election in 2020, as is his colleague representing Oswego County, U.S. Rep. Anthony Brindisi. The Utica Democrat announced Monday he would vote in favor of advancing articles of impeachment to the Senate.