Editorial: A dark day for the Republic
Last Friday, Senators voted 51-49 to refuse calling more witnesses in the impeachment trial against President Trump — all of those voting against witnesses were Republicans. Sen. Mitch Romney, R-Utah, and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, broke ranks with their party to support all 47 Democrats in their call for testimony from former and current White House officials who had first-hand knowledge of Trump’s culpability and were willing to testify. The refusal to call for witnesses sets the stage for a Republican cover-up of Trump’s misdeeds, and an early acquittal.
Not that Trump was innocent.
Indeed, Republican senators largely agreed that Trump was guilty as charged by House Democrats. They did not dispute the fact that Trump withheld congressionally approved military aid to the Ukraine (in defense of Russian aggression) and that Trump did so with the intent to bribe Ukrainian officials to dig up dirt on his political rival. Nor did they deny that Trump has purposely obstructed justice in the nation’s attempt to discover the facts.
Rather, what the Republican Senate said was that those inappropriate acts did not rise to the level of an impeachable offense. Many also embraced the worst legal argument of his defense, put forward by celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz, that anything done to bolster the electability of the president can’t be illegal because it is inherently in the national interest.
To that point, about 300 law professors and legal historians wrote an open letter to the Senate strongly objecting: “To accept such a view would be to give the president carte blanche to corrupt American electoral democracy.” The letter also explained that the scholarly consensus is that impeachment does not require proof of an indictable crime, and that “abuse of power” is an impeachable offense.
Hopefully, those words serve as adequate warning to the nation’s democracy. Obviously, if the president or his surrogates can get away with any action as long as it’s in the interest of his re-election, we have become a nation of majority power not a nation of laws. If Trump choses to shut down Democratic precincts in the swing states of Florida, Michigan or Wisconsin on election day (say because he thinks they may be rigged) and the Republican Senate stands by him because such a move would be to benefit his election chances, would no crime be committed?
Hopefully even staunch Republicans can see how such actions would corrupt and destroy America’s democracy. Yet, when Republicans across the country cheer the Senate’s action not to hear additional testimony they are championing a dictatorial form of government, and they are giving up on the rule of law.
It is another dark stain on the Republican Party, and on Sen. Mitch McConnell in particular, though not all Republicans across the land are as misguided. Hours before the Senate’s vote to deny new witnesses, several former Republican leaders and Trump White House advisers issued pleas to protect the nation’s democracy:
• Claudine Schneider, a Republican who spent 10 years in the House representing Rhode Island, warned that by barring witnesses from testifying in President Trump’s impeachment trial, Senate Republicans would push the United States “closer than ever to authoritarian one-man rule.”
• John F. Kelly, President Trump’s former chief of staff and secretary of homeland security, said on Friday that this Republican Senate would be known forever as a body that “shirks its responsibilities,” if it wraps up the trial of his former boss without hearing witnesses.
• Several Republicans said that Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, who has been critical of Trump’s move to delay military aid to the Ukraine and use it as a bribe for Trump’s personal benefit, spoke for them when he reasoned that since most already knew of Trump’s guilt, what good was it to gather more testimony if it was a foregone conclusion Senate Republicans would acquit Trump regardless of what more they learned. Such further testimony, he said, would only serve to inflame the partisan fires.
All of which can be boiled down to Senate Republicans putting the president above the law — setting a dangerous precedent for our democracy, and putting the fate of the Republic into the hands of the electorate in the coming election. Heaven help us.
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