Late last night, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) announced that he will be voting against calling new witnesses in President Trump’s impeachment trial. Alexander’s decision will serve as the deciding vote on this matter, effectively assuring Trump’s acquittal (perhaps as early as later today).
This is of course a big political victory for the president, the icing on the cake being that his former national security advisor John Bolton (among others tied to the administration) will not be called on to testify under oath.
Bolton’s testimony had been seen as a potential game-changer for Democrats, following the revelation (from Bolton’s upcoming book) that Trump had allegedly told Bolton that he had frozen Ukraine’s security funding to pressure the country’s officials into investigating the Bidens and other Democrats.
This arrangement, of course, was the Democrats’ basis for impeachment — an act (long denied by Trump and his defenders) amounting to a serious abuse of presidential power, in their view.
Alexander (who will soon be retiring from the Senate) qualified his decision this morning in a public statement. And what he had to say was far more nuanced than a lot of political observers were probably expecting.
In direct contradiction to the arguments put forth by President Trump, his legal team, and his Republican backers in Congress, the media, and elsewhere, Alexander acknowledged that Trump did exactly what the Democrats have been accusing him of.
Alexander stated that “there is no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven…”
He added, “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.’”
In summary of his position on Trump’s conduct, Alexander stated, “It was inappropriate for the president to ask a foreign leader to investigate his political opponent and to withhold United States aid to encourage that investigation. When elected officials inappropriately interfere with such investigations, it undermines the principle of equal justice under the law.”
Alexander’s position is that the Democrats have presented an accurate picture of what Trump did, and thus additional witnesses testifying to the same occurrence aren’t needed — basically overkill and a waste of time.
Yet, Alexander also intends on voting to acquit President Trump. Why? The senator explains that, in his view, what the president did was “inappropriate,” but didn’t “meet the United States Constitution’s high bar for an impeachable offense.”
Alexander added, “The question then is not whether the president did it, but whether the United States Senate or the American people should decide what to do about what he did. I believe that the Constitution provides that the people should make that decision in the presidential election that begins in Iowa on Monday.”
Alexander also stated his concerns in regard to societal ramifications and political precedent:
“The framers believed that there should never, ever be a partisan impeachment. That is why the Constitution requires a 2/3 vote of the Senate for conviction. Yet not one House Republican voted for these articles. If this shallow, hurried and wholly partisan impeachment were to succeed, it would rip the country apart, pouring gasoline on the fire of cultural divisions that already exist. It would create the weapon of perpetual impeachment to be used against future presidents whenever the House of Representatives is of a different political party.”
One could of course argue with the senator’s categorization of the impeachment case as “shallow,” being that he is openly conceding the Democrats’ version of events to be accurate, and that the president’s actions were “inappropriate” and undermined “the principle of equal justice under the law.”
Still, Alexander’s position seems to be a mostly fair one. Unlike many of his Republican counterparts, he chose not to embarrass himself and his office by insisting that the president had done nothing wrong. He chose not to diminish his character by denying what very clearly happened. And because what is ultimately deemed an “impeachable offense” (worthy of removing a sitting president) is left up to the discretion of Congress, his acquittal stance is also defensible.
But this does beg a question — a question in regard to precedent.
If a president is exonerated, along partisan lines, for an act as serious as holding up congressionally approved defense funding to a desperate foreign ally, to pressure that ally into digging up political dirt on his likely opponent in the coming election, how much further will he be willing to go the next time?
It’s worth remembering that Trump’s Ukraine caper began right after he had been vindicated on Russian collusion allegations, the aftermath of a politically grueling two-year long investigation that resulted in the convictions of multiple Trump associates, and the exposing of internally foiled attempts by Trump to obstruct the process. One would think that the president would have been careful not to set himself up for brand new charges of corruption (especially with the opposition party looking for any excuse to impeach him).
But he went the opposite route. His inclination was to engage in what John Bolton metaphorically referred to as a “drug deal,” with Ukraine. And with Trump’s forthcoming exoneration from that scheme, in chorus with the president’s narcissistic tendencies and the Republican party’s unwavering loyalty, one can only imagine what’s next on the horizon.