Talk about Democracy dying in darkness. It’s looking more and more as if the Democrats really are going to try to overturn the 2016 election based on testimony from an unnamed individual they won’t let the Americans see. That’s what we take from a bombshell report that House Democrats are considering masking the whistleblower when he testifies before the impeachment caucus.
The scoop is in the Washington Post, which has made the business about democracy dying in darkness its very slogan. It describes the steps House Democrats are weighing as “extraordinary.” We agree. The idea that some schlepper from the CIA could be brought before Congress with a mask over his head to testify in an effort to bring down a sitting president is gobsmacking.
The idea, according to the Post, is to “prevent President Trump’s congressional allies from exposing the individual.” It attributes that to “three officials familiar with the deliberations,” but the Post won’t disclose their names either. Under consideration, it quotes the three officials as saying, is “having the whistleblower testify from a remote location and obscuring the individual’s appearance and voice.”
“Kafka couldn’t make this up,” we noted when we first touched on the possibility of impeaching a president based on the tidings of an anonymous accuser. That editorial was headlined “Who Is the Whistleblower?” We recognize, we said, that the Sixth Amendment right of confrontation applies only to criminal prosecutions, not politics. Even so, the Sixth is a marker of fairness and due process.
It’s no doubt too much to hope that the Democrats are going to fret about due process. That doesn’t mean due process won’t worry the jurors — meaning senators — who would hear any impeachment. We gained a glimpse of how a principled senator can stand for due process when Susan Collins of Maine spoke of her decision to vote to confirm Justice Kavanaugh.
“Certain fundamental legal principles about due process, the presumption of innocence, and fairness do bear on my thinking, and I cannot abandon them,” she confessed in what we at the time predicted would become a famous sentence. Added she: “We must always remember that it is when passions are most inflamed that fairness is most in jeopardy.”
Just how inflamed things are was underlined in the Washington Post’s dispatch. It reported that efforts to hide the identity of Mr. Trump’s accuser “reflect Democrats’ deepening distrust of their GOP colleagues, whom they see as fully invested in defending a president who has attacked the whistleblower’s credibility and demanded absolute loyalty from Republicans.”
The Democrats can’t stand the idea that anyone is fully invested in defending the President — never mind that a full and vigorous defense is at the heart of due process in America. It’s not just that the Democrats want to keep the accuser secret. They want to keep the Republicans from defending the accused. It seems democracy could die not only in darkness but also in silence.