“The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
— Article II, Section 4, U.S. Constitution
The sham of an impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate told us nothing new about President Donald Trump’s transgressions regarding Ukraine. But it, and the impeachment inquiry before, revealed volumes about American politics and the actual state of our union, which has little to do with the president’s annual speech.
At 4 p.m. Wednesday, the Senate is scheduled to vote on two articles of impeachment that charge President Donald Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The Republican majority will vote to acquit. And they will do it despite knowing full well the president is guilty.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, said as much Friday in explaining his key vote against a motion to call witnesses: “There is no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven,” he said.
What has been proven is that Donald J. Trump pressured Ukraine’s leader to attempt to dig up dirt on a political rival in the hopes it would help him in the coming presidential election and that he held up promised aid to that country as incentive to follow through.
Allow Senator Alexander to explain: “There is no need for more evidence to prove that the president asked Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter; he said this on television on October 3, 2019, and during his July 25, 2019, telephone call with the president of Ukraine. There is no need for more evidence to conclude that the president withheld United States aid, at least in part, to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens; the House managers have proved this with what they call a ‘mountain of overwhelming evidence.’”
But so what? says Senator Alexander and a growing cadre of Republicans, some of whom previously proclaimed “there was no quid pro quo!” They now collectively claim that the actions were inappropriate — even “shameful and wrong,” according to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaskan Republican — but not impeachable.
What else could they say? The evidence is there, but they don’t want to treat it with any gravity, because it would hurt their guy. And they don’t have to. That’s because this whole thing, this so-called “trial,” is ultimately a political process and not a legal one. The Senate decides how it will play out and what the standards are for acquittal or conviction.
But make no mistake, the president’s actions were criminal.
Donald Trump bribed another country to interfere in a U.S. election, an act punishable by up to 15 years in prison under the federal bribery statute. By participating in the bribery scheme, and enlisting the help of others in it, he also committed honest services fraud (punishable by up to 20 years in prison) and likely criminal conspiracy (up to five years).
Even if you don’t buy that, the simple act of directing the withholding of funds that were appropriated to the Department of Defense for security assistance to Ukraine “for a policy reason,” as the Government Accountability Office found, is a violation of the Impoundment Control Act — a 1974 law that was passed “in response to President Nixon’s executive overreach,” according to the House Committee on the Budget. Breaking that law may not carry prison penalties, but it’s still an offense, one with terrible optics considering the act’s origin story.
And still, Donald Trump will be acquitted. And somehow that’s fair, in this system of ours.
The U.S. House of Representatives, which is controlled by Democrats, could have initiated an impeachment inquiry into this particular president for any number of reasons (see: emoluments clause, hush money campaign finance violations, mishandling of classified information, fomenting violence, making false statements to deceive the public and so on). And they would have been in the right to do so, as they were here. But it was always going to be a political move.
None of the lawmakers in Congress, on either side (all of whom swore to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States”) are as concerned about the law as they are their own power — either retaining or regaining it.
And so, they give us theater and throw the onus back on the people to lead in November.