By Josh Ruebner
As Congress returns from recess next week, the House of Representative’s impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s solicitation of a foreign government’s help in digging up dirt on a political opponent will heat up.
It’s possible that other administration officials will find themselves the subjects of related impeachment inquiries as well. Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Attorney General William Barr respectively aided Trump’s pressure campaign against Ukraine, refused to allow State Department employees to be deposed, and refused to investigate the whistleblower’s complaint, leading Washington Post columnist Max Boot to conclude that “all three richly deserve to join Trump in the dock.”
While we’re at it, let’s add another Trump administration official, although for reasons having nothing to do with Ukraine, who also richly deserves to be impeached: US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.
Can the House of Representatives impeach an ambassador? Yes, it can. Although it has never successfully done so, there have been several efforts to impeach ambassadors and consular officials in the past and Friedman would make an excellent precedent for being the first one to be impeached.
Before laying out potential areas for an impeachment inquiry against Friedman, a little constitutional and historical digression is in order.
Article II Section 4 of the constitution provides the House of Representatives with the power to impeach any “civil officer” of the United States for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Officials can be impeached for criminal or non-criminal activities, such as “abuse of the particular powers of government office or a violation of the ‘public trust,’” according to Congressional Research Service.
In 1867, Rep. William Robinson of New York filed a resolution to investigate the actions of two US diplomats who apparently did not seek to get US citizens out of jail in Ireland. The resolution died in committee.
More recently, Rep. Robert Drinan of Massachusetts filed impeachment resolutions in 1975 and 1976 against then-US Ambassador to Iran Richard Helms, the former head spook for the CIA whose illegal actions at the time were uncovered by the Church Commission. Neither resolution made it out of committee.
Lastly, Rep. Larry McDonald of Georgia sponsored two impeachment resolutions against the Carter administration’s US Ambassador to the UN, Andy Young, in 1977 and 1978 because of his assertion that the United States had political prisoners as well as the USSR. McDonald argued that Young was “either more abysmally misinformed than any other American citizen or is callous beyond words.” This latter impeachment resolution was the only one of this lot to get a vote and was soundly defeated.
Incidentally, Young was forced to resign his position in 1979 after meeting with a PLO representative to the UN. The Mossad wiretapped the meeting and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin leaked the transcript to the US media creating a political firestorm, as documented by Victor Ostrovsky and Claire Hoy in their book By Way of Deception: The Making and Unmaking of a Mossad Officer.
Even if the House of Representatives does not impeach Friedman, it can still take the lesser step of censuring him. It took this step in 1896, condemning US Ambassador to the United Kingdom Thomas Bayard for his “offense against diplomatic propriety and an abuse of the privileges of his exalted position” for objecting to US backing of Nicaragua in a border dispute with Great Britain.
Here are three reasons why the House of Representatives should begin an impeachment inquiry into Friedman’s actions and statements as ambassador.
False and misleading statements to Congress. On February 16, 2017, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a nomination hearing for Friedman during which he renounced his previously-held inflammatory positions and his ad hominen attacks against people who support even the most minimal of Palestinian rights, promoting this extraordinary exchange with Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ):
Senator MENENDEZ. And finally, some might think that this is a nomination conversion versus a true process towards atonement for some of the things that may have been said in an ideological war and in an [sic] political context and environment and that they are just for the purposes of achieving the goal of getting your nomination through. What would you say to that, to those who are thinking that as they sit here?
Mr. FRIEDMAN. Senator, I am sitting here under oath, taking that oath seriously. My views are entirely heartfelt.
However, based on Friedman’s subsequent statements and actions, there is cause to investigate whether Friedman lied to Congress under oath. The transcript of his hearing is replete with statements contradicted by his policies as ambassador.
These include statements that he “would be delighted” to see a Palestinian state even though he has worked assiduously in the interests of Israel’s colonization of Palestinian land to prevent this possibility, and that second-class status for Palestinians is an “untenable and immoral construct” even as he continues to cheerlead for Israel’s separate-and-unequal rule over the Palestinian people.
Here is one example of Friedman blatantly lying under oath to a question directed at him by Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE). From the transcript:
Sen. COONS: Let me ask, if I might, just two simple and concrete questions. Do you support or will you advocate for Israeli annexation of the West Bank or of land in the West Bank?
Mr. FRIEDMAN. I will not.
However, in a June 19, 2019 interview he gave to The New York Times, under the headline “U.S. Ambassador Says Israel Has Right to Annex Parts of West Bank,” Friedman argued that Israel “has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.”
These and other examples from Friedman’s nomination hearing should be investigated as part of an impeachment inquiry.
Rejection of implementing regulations for US human rights law. In May 2017, the State Department’s Office of Inspector General released its inspection of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA), noting “potential weaknesses” in its embassies’ vetting of individuals and military units under the Leahy Laws, placing “the bureau’s overseas missions at increased risk of furnishing assistance to units that have committed gross violations of human rights.” NEA concurred with its recommendation to “establish and disseminate guidance” to strengthen Leahy Law vetting.
However, in October 2017, Friedman reportedly rejected these strengthened vetting processes and refused to apply them to Israel. Politico reported that Friedman wrote to his colleagues that he does “not believe we should extend the new [guidelines] to Israel at this time.” Friedman reportedly also incorrectly noted that “Israel is a democracy whose army does not engage in gross violations of human rights” and claimed that “it would be against [U.S.] national interests” to withhold weapons from Israeli military units that commit violations of the Leahy Laws.”
The Leahy Laws are statutory provisions of permanent US law and Friedman may be violating those laws and their implementing regulations by rejecting their applicability to Israel.
Obstructing official congressional business. After Israel denied Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) entry into Occupied Palestinian Territory on an official congressional delegation (CoDel), Friedman approved of the action, noting on August 15, 2019 that “the United States supports and respects the decision of the Government of Israel to deny entry to the Tlaib/Omar Delegation.”
However, Friedman did more than support the decision. He also opined that Members of Congress should only participate in a “balanced visit” of CoDels organized by an AIPAC-affiliated organization and blasted the supposed political motivations of Tlaib and Omar.
Ambassadors are supposed to facilitate the CoDels of all Members of Congress, who are supposed to be given top-level VIP treatment by host country embassies, not pick and choose which Members of Congress are allowed to participate in official governmental business based on their itineraries and the ideological proclivities of the ambassador.
The House of Representatives should subpoena documents from the State Department to determine if Friedman colluded with Israel to scuttle an official CoDel.
These three areas should be sufficient to open an impeachment inquiry into Friedman’s conduct as ambassador, which, if begun, would likely lead to the uncovering of additional reasons why he should be impeached.