If a country’s leader hurling false and unfounded criminal accusations against political adversaries and dissidents doesn’t ring a bell, then we are poor students of history. President Trump has charged President Obama with being a felon by illegally wiretapping his telephone. Why does that require or even justify Congressional hearings? If the President has proof, why doesn’t he just reveal it? If there was any truth to the allegation, one would expect the president to furnish the evidence to the FBI, or if believing it was complicit, to local law enforcement. But even they would not investigate unless they received some evidence to support the claim. The 5th Amendment provides:
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury
No prosecutor would go before a grand jury without sufficient evidence to support an indictment. Certainly a simple allegation of criminal conduct would not suffice.
Of course, Congressional committees are not identical to grand juries, but shouldn’t there be some threshold before they take up criminal charges against an individual---particularly when that individual is the former President of the United States? President Trump proclaims that the evidence will come out during the hearings. In the judicial system we labeled those tactics as “fishing expeditions”. If he already knows, why wait?
Suppose the president tweeted that all Democrat senators had taken, bribes, received illegal campaign contributions or some other absurd criminal charge. Would Congressional committees, without more, conduct hearings to find out if the allegations were true or not? In my 65 years in the law I have never seen such an outrageous abuse of power. I was initially shocked when I heard Democrat senators were in favor of the hearings, but now I understand their purpose: either President Trump will be proven to be a liar (the most likely outcome) or it will disclose that he or his staff were (and are) being investigated by the FBI. Whatever the outcome, we cannot let demeaning the former president and the presidency be forgotten along with all of the other lies he has told.