Whether a public official works from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. or New Castle's city hall, there are limits to that position's power.
That's the thinking of U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D-PA) in regard to next week's U.S. House of Representatives impeachment inquiry into President Donald J. Trump, who in a July phone call pressed Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to "look into" former Vice President Joe Biden. Details of the call have been released by a whistleblower and are the basis of the Democrat-led House's inquiry into Trump as an abuse of executive power.
"I think it is always wrong to have someone interfere in an election," Casey said Friday after completing a roundtable discussion on healthcare at Adagio Health in New Castle. "It's always wrong for any politician in the United States of America — from a public official in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania, to the president. It is always 100 percent wrong for them to use the power of government — in this case, the power of the presidency — to investigate a political opponent."
This is just the fourth time an impeachment investigation has been opened against an American president. In Congress, members have taken partisan lines with Democrats pouncing on the opportunity to finally open an investigation against Trump, while Republicans members of the House — like Butler U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly (R-16), whose district includes northwestern Pennsylvania and Lawrence County — have referred to the process as unfair and a "sham."
Trump has called the inquiry a joke, a hoax and "the single greatest witch hunt in American history." On the phone call — a rough transcript has been released — Trump asked Zelenskiy "do us a favor" and work with lawyer Rudy Guliani and U.S. Attorney General William Barr to investigate Biden, one of the Democratic frontrunners in the 2020 election. Days before the call, Trump froze $400 million in aid to Ukraine.
"To even begin the inquiry, it's a high bar," Casey said. "You have to have something very serious. When you have a phone call that demonstrates the president seeking interference in an election — a future election, meaning 2020 —number one. Number two is conditioning military support on that president taking certain actions."
Next week, televised public hearings will be given to the full House of Representatives, which will then decide on charging Trump with one, multiple or no articles of impeachment. This process could wrap up as early as December. The process — if there are impeachment articles filed — would then move to the GOP-majority Senate, which acts as the jury.
Casey and other senators could then sit and contemplate the House evidence as well as possible new evidence for as long as eight hours a day and six days a week.
"We would have to weigh all of that evidence," Casey said, "and make, frankly, a different determination than the House because as a House member, you can vote for impeachment, which would almost be the equivalent to a grand-jury indictment. The decision about whether to indict someone — in this case we call impeachment — I think is a different decision than to say guilty or not guilty."
When asked about the public perception that could arise by legislators working solely on an impeachment process for weeks instead of passing laws, Casey said nobody goes to Congress to spend their time on impeachment proceedings.
"There are times in our history where the Congress believed that you have to take action," Casey said. "I believe in this instance, in my judgment, based upon the evidence I've seen so far, the president ... his conduct on that phone call was an abuse of power. You have to make a decision — not only as a member of Congress but as a citizen — you have to make a decision if that conduct is actionable. Is that conduct something that should trigger an inquiry or not? I don't think there's any question that you have to when an executive engages in that kind of conduct, you have to ask yourself do you want the executive to continue to do that?"