By: Craig Gilbert of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
WASHINGTON - It should come as no surprise that the first Republican voice to be heard at Wednesday’s House Judiciary hearing on impeachment was that of Wisconsin’s 41-year veteran of Congress, Jim Sensenbrenner.
Moments after the Judiciary chair, Democrat Jerry Nadler, began the lengthy hearing, Sensenbrenner interjected to demand a separate ‘“minority day” of hearings for witnesses called by Republicans.
Nadler said the request would be considered.
Sensenbrenner was the first of many Republicans to register their objections to the impeachment process over the course of the hearing, which featured four constitutional scholars debating the meaning of “high crimes and misdemeanors” and whether President Donald Trump has committed impeachable acts.
“I’m a veteran of impeachments. I’ve been named by the House as an impeachment manager in four impeachments: Clinton and three judges. That’s more than anybody else in history,” the Wisconsin Republican said when his regular five-minute turn to speak at the hearing arrived.
Sensenbrenner, a past chairman of the Judiciary Committee and the longest-serving Republican in the House, has been a vocal critic of how Democrats have pursued the impeachment of Trump. He co-wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal last month complaining that the current inquiry “is so fundamentally unfair that justice cannot be served.”
Sensenbrenner was one of the House impeachment managers named by Republicans in the impeachment case against Democrat Bill Clinton in 1998 and 1999.
When his turn came up at Wednesday’s hearing, he assailed Democrats for tying “the country up for three months and going on four now, wrapping everybody in this town around the axle rod. … I think the American public are getting a little bit sick and tired of impeachment, impeachment, impeachment when they know less than year from now they will be able to determine whether Donald Trump stays in office or whether somebody else will get elected.”
Sensenbrenner suggested Trump’s July phone call with the Ukraine president, in which he asked for an investigation of Democrat Joe Biden, constituted less of a “quid pro quo” than when Biden as vice president held up Ukraine aid until that country’s top prosecutor was fired.
Sensenbrenner quoted Biden taking credit in a speech for threating to freeze the aid unless the prosecutor was fired within six hours and then bragging, “Well, (bleep), he got fired.”
Republicans who were in charge of Congress at the time Biden made that comment didn’t launch an impeachment inquiry into Biden, Sensenbrenner said, contrasting that with the Democrats’ inquiry into Trump over the Ukraine phone call.
But Biden’s public comments about the firing of the Ukraine prosecutor were actually made at a talk in early 2018, when he was no longer vice president.
And while Republicans have accused Biden of wanting to fire the Ukraine prosecutor to thwart a corruption investigation into a company tied to his son Hunter, there is little evidence for that. The firing of the prosecutor was widely supported in the international community and stemmed from concerns the prosecutor was too lax on corruption, not too aggressive, according to U.S. and Ukrainian officials.