Historian Jeffrey Engel Takes Listener Questions On Impeachment Inquiry on NPR's All Things Considered

Historians in the News
tags: historians, NPR, impeachment


MARTIN: So, first of all, where are we in the process? - if you could just, you know, help us understand, you know, where we are in this whole impeachment process.

ENGEL: You know, if you want to use a baseball analogy, we're about in the second inning. We're still in the investigative stage. We're still in the stage where the House committees are trying to discover if there was a problem and, if so, what the problem was. So, really, we're still in the acquiring information stage at this point.

MARTIN: So let's get into some of the questions from our listeners. Much like last week, people still have a lot of questions about process. So Kevin Wood (ph) in Arizona, for example, asks, what happens if the people with firsthand knowledge - like John Bolton, like Mick Mulvaney, who's the acting White House chief of staff - he's also the head of the Office of Management and Budget - continue to refuse to testify? Can they somehow be compelled to?

ENGEL: The short answer is we don't know. There's a lot of things that the House can do to try to compel people to testify, even going so far as having the sergeant of arms go and arrest them and throw them into the House jail. They could also file lawsuits. They could also file civil suits. But the truth of the matter is if the Justice Department doesn't want to prosecute some of the lawsuits that the House might bring, they don't have to. And so the big picture here is we don't know what's going to happen because this is setting ourselves up for one of the biggest constitutional crises we've ever had.

You know, I like to go back to the - when the founders created the system of government that we have to remind people that the way you learned about it in school is probably wrong in that you probably learned of it as a separation of powers - three powers separated. What you should've been taught is that's a competition of powers, that each branch of the government is supposed to be competing against each other, trying to grasp more power and trying to take more power away from each other.

MARTIN: Sabine Griff (ph) asks, why on Earth is this going behind closed doors again? I think she's referring to the fact that, while this coming week, there will be both public testimonies again, there are still closed-door depositions taking place. Why is that?

ENGEL: You know, this one I think you don't have to worry about because this one is explained by the fact that they are taking these things behind closed doors for two primary reasons. The first is you always get a better interview when you're doing it behind closed doors because you don't have congresspeople grandstanding for the cameras. The second reason is, you do it behind closed doors in a secure environment in case any national security information leaks out. You don't want that to come out in a public forum.

But the key thing to remember is that all the relevant evidence that is discussed in private is going to, ultimately, be discussed in public. It really just gives a way for both sides to think about how they want to frame questions and ask for information.

In fact, let me give you a great example. You know, one of the most critical moments in the Watergate hearings is when we discovered that President Nixon had a secret taping system, an audio taping system - changed the entire dynamic of the entire scandal. Well, we only found that out because a person was asked a question in private session. And then three days later, once the people who were asking the questions knew the answer, they asked that same person the same question in public so that everybody could see him answer the question, even though they had actually discovered the answer in private. So really, it's all about trying to find out how to get the best information and then, subsequently, how to make the best appearance for the public.


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