Senate Republicans acquit Trump
The Senate brought the third impeachment trial in U.S. history to a swift conclusion this week, acquitting President Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress after voting earlier to preclude witness testimony and new evidence. The dramatic votes saw all 47 Democrats vote to convict on both charges, but one Republican, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, broke ranks with his party to convict Trump on abuse of power. “The president,” Romney said in a speech delivered from the Senate floor, “is guilty of an appalling abuse of the public trust.” Romney called Trump’s attempt to pressure Ukraine to investigate Democrats before the 2020 election “a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security interests, and our fundamental values.”
Trump’s acquittal was all but assured by an earlier Senate vote (51–49) to bar witnesses, with Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Romney the only Republicans to join Democrats in supporting new testimony and evidence. Several Republican senators, including Marco Rubio (Fla.), Rob Portman (Ohio), and Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), conceded that Trump’s actions in freezing $391 million in military aid to pressure Ukraine to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden were “wrong and inappropriate” but did not warrant a prolonged and divisive trial and new testimony. There’s “no need,” Alexander said, “for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven.”
The vote to bar witnesses came as The New York Times reported that John Bolton, the president’s ousted national security adviser, claims in an unpublished book that Trump ordered him to aid his Ukraine pressure campaign as far back as May—two months before the July 25 phone call in which Trump asked Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky “to do us a favor, though.” Bolton said Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani was at the meeting, along with White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who repeatedly said during the trial that no quid pro quo existed.
What the editorials said
Senate Republicans abandoned their duty to act as “the ultimate guard against a dangerous president,” said The New York Times. Faced with a choice of upholding their oaths to “support and defend the Constitution,” they instead cynically voted to forgo testimony from the very people with “the most direct knowledge of the actions that led to impeachment.” By doing so, they tacitly pledged fealty “to a would-be autocrat” and “the most corrupt president in modern times,” and emboldened him to cheat again in the 2020 election.
Lamar Alexander got “it right,” said NationalReview.com. Yes, House managers did prove that Trump tried to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, but the president’s actions, while “improper,” do not meet the high threshold for removing him from office and barring him from 2020 election ballots. “It would rip the country apart,” Alexander said, “pouring gasoline on the fire of cultural divisions that already exist.” We couldn’t agree more. Let the voters decide.
What the columnists said
The Republican Party’s capitulation to Trump is now complete, said Peter Wehner in TheAtlantic.com. By choosing to defend him “at all costs” and thus avoid the risk of personal attacks and primary challenges, Republicans have “become fully complicit” in the “corrupt enterprise” that is the Trump presidency. It’s sad to see once principled people choose servility to a cruel, indecent, and lawless man who’s transformed the GOP’s brand into “angry ethnic populism.”
In laying the intellectual foundation for acquittal, Trump’s defense lawyer Alan Dershowitz made a “legally laughable argument,” said Maya Wiley in NBCNews.com. The former Harvard professor said that so long as a president doesn’t commit a crime—and he believes that his own re-election is “in the public interest”—then any use of presidential power he takes to retain his office is not an impeachable offense. This stunning argument—which would make the Founding Fathers “gasp”—should terrify Americans, as it essentially turns a president into a king who can justify any act that helps keep him in power.
House Democrats guaranteed that Trump would be acquitted, said Matt Mackowiak in WashingtonExaminer.com. Instead of mounting a thorough and deliberate investigation of Trump’s actions, they “played partisan games from the very beginning,” taking depositions in secret and leaking the most damaging morsels. They refused the president counsel or the ability to compel witnesses, and rushed a floor vote after only three months, “the fastest impeachment in modern history.” By making the process hyperpartisan, Democrats “doomed it to failure.”
It is now clear is that the impeachment process, as the Founders envisioned it, is broken, said Ezra Klein in Vox.com. They hoped that Congress would overcome partisan affiliation and oust a rogue president to protect its own power as an equal branch of government. That is, in fact, what happened in 1973, when outraged Republicans helped force Richard Nixon from the White House. But in 2020, “loyalty to Trump is what defines a Republican.” The Constitution “has no answer” for a president whose fortunes are so closely aligned with those of “his congressional allies” as to be inseparable.
“Washington is bracing for what an unshackled Trump might do next,” said Gabriel Sherman in VanityFair.com. Having survived both impeachment and Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, an emboldened president is already telling Republicans that it’s “payback time” for his enemies, including Bolton, Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler, and Romney. White House lawyers are actively trying to suppress publication of Bolton’s book, and a source said the president wants his former NSA criminally investigated for mishandling classified information. Trump is undoubtedly “about to get a lot more dangerous,” said Greg Sargent in The Washington Post. With his Senate acquittal, he “now knows he’ll face zero consequences” for using “the machinery of government” to win a second term. Asked by journalists if he’d learned his lesson, Trump insisted he had done absolutely nothing wrong in leaning on Zelensky. “It was a perfect call,” the president said.
Cover illustration by Fred Harper.
Cover photos from AP (2), Getty ■