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Vigliotti: Points to ponder on impeachment process, acquittal

The impeachment trial of President Donald Trump commenced in the Senate last week when House Democrats, as trial managers, took to the floor to present their case for removal. The president’s legal team responded, and the questioning of both House managers and presidential counsel began. There are a number of important points to consider as the trial unfolds.

First, not everyone on Trump’s legal team is a political supporter of the president. That matters, because it isn’t simply blind loyalty that compels them to argue for acquittal. Rather, there are genuine Constitutional and evidentiary issues at play. If some on the Left can say that the House managers, all of them Democrats, are not motivated by politics, it naturally follows that the Left cannot accuse the politically diverse team defending the president of the same. Likewise, if those on the Left can claim that House Democrats are not motivated by politics, the same courtesy must be extended to Senate Republicans in the trial decisions they reach.

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Second, there is the issue of intent. House managers consistently claimed that Trump’s pausing of military aid to Ukraine was contingent on Ukraine investigating, or announcing, or agreeing to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, and their dealings in Ukraine (a quid pro quo of which the terms keep evolving). This was to help Trump get reelected, they said, by making presidential candidate Joe Biden look bad. But how do they definitively know this is true? They don’t. They are speculating. They are also posturing as if Biden is already the formal Democratic nominee.

Third, as I have argued before, just because Joe Biden is running for president doesn’t mean he is not accountable or open to scrutiny. As House Democrats have unceasingly repeated, no one is above the law — not event the president. That includes people who are running for president as well.

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Fourth, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s word must matter. Zelensky is at the heart of the alleged misconduct. Zelensky has repeatedly stated he felt no pressure from Trump, and that there was no quid pro quo. Given that Zelensky was the other party in the alleged exchange, and, according to many Democrats, a victim, doesn’t it only follow that his word has weight? The answer, to House managers, is no — they have insisted that he was pressured into a quid pro quo despite what he says.

Fifth, process does matter. Process matters because it rests on the morally-based understanding that we are all equal under the law, and the law itself is to be equally applied — otherwise, the law can be manipulated, altered, or ignored in pursuit of unjust ends. It matters because in the United States, we are innocent until proven guilty. The path to proving guilt or innocence must be sound and ethical in order to prove one or the other — and to render a genuine verdict and, if warranted, punishment. It also helps ensure that those who are innocent are not found guilty because of a flawed process, and those who are actually guilty, are not released based on technicalities or the warping of the process itself.

Sixth, there is the dispute over additional witnesses — and this touches on a few related issues as well. House managers cannot claim they have all the evidence they need, and then say they need the Senate to call more witnesses to gather more evidence. House managers have to remember that they, not the Senate, compose the investigative body in the impeachment process. House managers have also argued that subpoenaing desired witnesses like John Bolton would have taken them too much time in the House — but the reality is, it would have added weight to their request now. Should the juridical Senate decide to allow for more witnesses, the Bidens should be called as well, since they are among the foundational weight of the entire impeachment affair. But this is all also why process matters: to make sure everything that possibly can be accounted for, has been. Regardless of time involved, that is why the House should have still been willing to issue subpoenas.

Seventh, language matters. Impeachment is divisive, and again, the process must be thorough and careful in conduction. This includes how things are verbally framed. Measured and considered argument is needed. But, for example, when House managers assert unprecedented behavior on the part of the president in withholding aid, and then the White House counsel provides a list of such historical action under previous presidents, skepticism increases.

Language also matters elsewhere. In the week House managers assert President Trump is corrupt and unfit for office, Americans see him become the first president ever to attend the March for Life, to unveil a peace plan which not only protects Israel but calls for a permanent Palestinian state, and successfully concludes a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico, Americans grow more skeptical of such assertions.

The question remains whether the impeachment articles and supporting arguments made by House managers do indeed rise to the level of impeachment itself, and therefore warrant removal — and whether senators feel additional witnesses are required to determine this.

From a concise view, it is clear that House has not made the case for removal, as they argue that more evidence and more witnesses are needed to prove their case. But this was the House’s responsibility to begin with. There is sufficient evidence from the House’s investigation, however, to acquit President Trump — and the Senate should do so.

Joe Vigliotti, a contributor to The Flip Side and a Taneytown city councilman, writes from Taneytown. His column appears every other Friday. Email him through his website at www.jvigliotti.com.

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