Takeaways from Trump’s Impeachment and Acquittal


On Saturday, Donald Trump’s impeachment trial ended with the former president being acquitted of inciting an insurrection against the United States. Though a strong majority of U.S. senators voted for his guilt (57-43), the vote-count didn’t meet the two-thirds majority required for an impeachment conviction.

Here are some of my takeaways from both the impeachment and the trial:

Finding Trump innocent on procedural grounds was a cop-out

Republican Senator Ben Sasse, who voted to convict Trump, released a statement afterwards that included these remarks:

“But here’s the sad reality: If we were talking about a Democratic president, most Republicans and most Democrats would simply swap sides. Tribalism is a hell of a drug…”

He’s right, of course. If Trump were a Democrat, and everything else had been the same, none of the 50 Republicans in the U.S. Senate would have found any constitutional problem whatsoever with convicting an impeached president whose trial couldn’t logistically begin until after he had left office. And they would be on the right side of that argument.

While I think there are some individuals with relevant expertise, who genuinely believe that there is a constitutional conflict with holding an impeachment trial once the defendant is a private citizen, the facts of the matter are that:

  • the vast majority of constitutional scholars and U.S. historians disagree.
  • there was already precedent for trying an impeached former federal officeholder.
  • Section 3 of Article 1 of the Constitution spells things out pretty clearly: “The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments” (not just the impeachments whose timing was convenient). And contrary to how some have confused the issue (in some cases on purpose), this was never about impeaching a private citizen. Trump was impeached before he left office.

In other words, the procedural position invoked by a large majority of Republican senators is very much a fringe, unqualified view — one that runs counter to a strong constitutional consensus, historical precedent, and a clear reading of the text of the U.S. Constitution.

Furthermore, if the contention of 43 Republicans was that Trump was innocent purely on procedural grounds, what’s their next move, now that he’s been acquitted?

After all, most (if not all) of these individuals conceded, at some point after the January 6th attack, that Trump bore at least a good amount of responsibility for what happened. Are they now going to censure him the way Republican state parties have been censuring the handful of congressional Republicans who voted to impeach or convict Trump? Is that not the least they could do in response to the provocation of a domestic terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol — one that killed people?

Yes, those are rhetorical questions. The GOP isn’t going to do anything else. At this point, Trump may as well change his name to Rollo Tomassi.

The trial was worth having, even though the outcome was preordained

What was the point of holding the trial if there was no chance, under the current political landscape, of a conviction? It’s not an unreasonable question, but it’s not without solid answers.

First, to spell it out once more (since it doesn’t always seem to sink in with people), a U.S. president provoked a murderous act of domestic terrorism on the U.S. Capitol through months of aggressively lying to millions of Americans, as part of an attack on our democracy and electoral institutions, for the purpose of overturning the results of a free and fair election that he unequivocally lost.

Again, if that’s not an impeachable offense, nothing is.

Also again, even many of the Republicans who ultimately voted against impeachment/conviction (including top party leaders like Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy) have stipulated that Trump, in fact, committed these very acts. Their argument is not that Trump didn’t do these things. Instead, they qualified their vote with supposed procedural concerns.

On the other side of the GOP coin, there were enough Republicans who didn’t hide behind these disingenuous arguments to make this president’s impeachment, and trial vote, the most bipartisan in U.S history.

Next, because a whopping two-thirds vote is required in the Senate to convict an impeached official, conviction is always going to be highly unlikely… especially when that official is a U.S. president who enjoys the partisan backing of a major political party (as opposed to, let’s say, a federal judge).

Does that mean a president should never, under any circumstances, face an impeachment trial? Should evidence not be heard? Should there be no fact-finding process? Should there be no audit whatsoever of impeachable conduct?

The point of a trial is to present a case, and then let the “jurors” decide on guilt or innocence. Sure, since we’re talking about an impeachment trial and not a criminal trial, the “jurors” likely aren’t going to be objective… but that’s not a valid reason to forego the process itself. There’s a reason the framers included this mechanism in the Constitution: they saw a legitimate need for holding public servants accountable for particularly abusive conduct, including the option to bar them from serving in public office in the future.

Could they have predicted that Senate jurors wouldn’t take their responsibility seriously? Maybe. But what does that matter? The framers themselves did take it seriously.

In summary, the Senate has the sole power to try all impeachments, the offense in this case was entirely impeachable, and it was the most bipartisan impeachment of a president in U.S. history.

So, of course there should have been a trial.

The Republicans who supported impeachment demonstrated patriotism and courage

The 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach, and the 7 Senate Republicans who voted to convict, enjoyed absolutely no political upside from their votes. There was only a downside — a steep one — and all of them knew that going in.

The backlash, driven by a Republican base that largely still reveres Donald Trump as nothing short of a religious figure, was swift and severe. As mentioned earlier, several of these elected representatives have faced official censures from their state parties, and are already being targeted with primary challenges.

The right-wing media has piled on too, bastardizing these individuals as RINOs, liberals, and even traitors. And it’s not just being done by the regular wackos on the commentary shows and hyper-partisan websites. Everyone subscribed to Fox News’s digital news feed received the story of Trump’s acquittal this way:

No, I’m not joking.

These representatives have seen their approval ratings plummet, and their offices’ switchboards and virtual town-halls light up with over-the-top vitriol and threats. Most of them probably won’t end up serving another term because of their principled decision.

This is their penance for supporting constitutional accountability for the incitement of an insurrection that killed multiple people, and very well could have killed our then-vice president and members of congress.

It’s exactly the reason why so few of their Republican colleagues joined them. According to multiple reports, including accounts from House members, somewhere between 60 and 80 Republicans in the House believed Trump should have been impeached, but all but 10 were too scared for their families and/or political futures to put their name behind the effort. The same was assuredly true of a number of Republican senators.

Much to their credit, those who stood up for what was right are still standing by their votes, and prepared to answer for them electorally.

“If we are willing to ask our young men and women to wear the uniform and sacrifice their lives for the good of the country,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger said in a statement, “how can Members of Congress—the elected officials entrusted by the American people to serve them honorably—be unwilling to sacrifice their careers in order to save the country?”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski told a reporter, “If I can’t say what I believe that our president should stand for, then why should I ask Alaskans to stand with me?”

And of course, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutle felt so strongly in her convictions that she was ready to testify under oath to what Kevin McCarthy had told her about the president effectively rationalizing the insurrection… as it was playing out.

These people deserve our respect and admiration, not scorn, for putting the country and the Constitution before their party and political future.

The Democratic leadership was more interested in impeachment optics than impeachment conviction

There were some subtle indications early on that the Democrats may have been organizing Trump’s second impeachment in a way that wasn’t particularly inviting to Republicans who may have been inclined to sign on to the effort.

Some, like Rep. Chip Roy, a Republican from Texas, complained that while he truly believed Trump’s conduct was impeachable, the articles of impeachment written by the Democrats (without soliciting help from any Republicans) were too narrow in scope, because they were focused almost exclusively on incitement and insurrection.

Ahead of his vote, Rep. Kinzinger’s staff reached out to House Democrats to request seven minutes of time for the congressman to speak out in support of impeachment (a move that could have rallied more Republicans to his side). He figured he’d at least be granted five minutes. Instead, they would only agree to one, which Kinzinger decided wasn’t worth it.

After Trump was impeached, and the Democrats realized that ten Republicans had sided with them on the issue, there was a bipartisan opportunity to ask at least one of the ten to serve as a House manager during the Senate trial. But they didn’t.

At each step, it appeared more and more as if the Democrats didn’t even want Republican support, and instead were trying their best to brand the entire GOP as pro-insurrection, or at best indifferent to what had happened on January 6th, as part of a campaign strategy.

That seemed to change, at least for a couple of hours, on what was supposed to be the last day of the trial (Saturday), when a surprise Senate vote to allow witnesses was passed. This initiative came after Republican Rep. Beutle released a statement drawing attention to her aforementioned conversation with Kevin McCarthy.

At that point, Democrats could have called on McCarthy to testify under oath about the phone call. They could have called on Mike Pence to testify about Trump not contacting him at any point during the attack or in the days following. They could have called on people at the White House that day who supposedly witnessed Trump celebrating the rioting as he watched it on television, and asked them exactly what Trump was doing as events unfolded. This would all seem like very useful information if the goal were conviction.

But apparently, Senate Democrats quickly decided that calling on and questioning witnesses would take too much time, and they were about ready to leave for their scheduled vacation.

“People want to get home for Valentine‘s Day,” Democratic Senator Chris Coons reportedly told House impeachment managers.

This tweet from Politico’s Burgess Everett seemed to concur:

Thus, no witnesses were called, the Dems held the vote, they got their political narrative… and that was that.

The moral of this story…

I think the strongest conclusion that can be drawn from this impeachment experience is that while the framers of the Constitution rightly saw a genuine need for the mechanism of impeachment to hold public officials accountable for extraordinarily bad and unbecoming conduct (like that which led to what we saw on January 6th), that mechanism is no match for the intoxicating effects of partisanship and political careerism.

Also, if you’re a good person who’s thinking of running for high office, and you suspect there might be a situation one day in which you would have to make a politically unpopular decision for the good of the country and the integrity of the Constitution, you probably shouldn’t bother running in the first place. You’ll be thrown under the bus by your peers and constituents in no time flat, and it just won’t be worth it.

God bless America.

 


Note from John: I’ve been writing a weekly non-political newsletter since October, covering topics like art, music, humor, travel, society and culture. I’ve been surprised by, and thankful for, how many people have been signing up for it. If it sounds interesting to you, I’d love for you to subscribe (it’s free).

Order John A. Daly’s novel “Safeguard” today!




Yes, Trump Should Be Impeached and Removed

In late 2019 and early 2020, I wrote numerous columns for this website offering my thoughts on the Trump impeachment hearings and subsequent trial. While I’ve never been a fan of this president, I did not support the Democrats’ decision to pursue impeachment. This was primarily because after reading depositions from multiple witnesses, I wasn’t convinced that our president, even in attempting to extort a foreign power into digging up dirt on one of his political opponents, had committed an impeachable offense that deserved removal.

Here’s how I summed up my view in November of 2019: “Was such an attempt improper? Absolutely. An abuse of power? Undeniably. Illegal and/or impeachable? I wasn’t sure.”

Because I wasn’t sure, and because the Democrats were moving forward with impeachment anyway, I was interested in hearing more from the witnesses. I did my best to keep an open mind throughout the hearings, and felt I represented the nuances of the proceedings quite well in my writing.

Impeachment is a tricky issue to tackle because it’s a subjective political process. There isn’t a strict legal criteria that constitutes an impeachable offense. It’s largely left to the discretion of congress. But by the end of the senate trial, I had come to respect two different views.

The first one was expressed by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) who conceded that Trump had done what he was accused of, that he did abuse the power of the presidency, but that the abuse didn’t rise to the level of removal.

The second came from Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) who agreed that Trump committed the act, that he abused his power, and that the abuse was significant enough to warrant removal.

Frankly, if I had been in a position to have to vote on whether or not to remove the president that day, I’m not sure where I would have come down.

Following yesterday’s insurrection in the U.S. Capitol, however, I believe that President Trump should be impeached, removed, and never be allowed to run for public office again. And as I described above, I’m not someone who takes such measures lightly.

Make no mistake about it. Trump bears a tremendous amount of responsibility for what happened. He incited widespread political outrage for two months, selling millions of his faithful supporters on an endless stream of outrageous lies and conspiracy theories to subvert the results of a free and fair election that he unequivocally lost.

After weeks of failing to overturn the will of 81 million American voters, January 6th — according to Trump — was to be the day of reckoning. It was the date that Trump had set as America’s last chance for all the alleged electoral wrongdoings to be righted. It was the day on which Vice President Mike Pence supposedly had an ethical and patriotic duty to stop the certification of the nation’s electoral votes (a measure that was never going to happen, nor would it have made any difference). It was the last chance for the republic to be saved.

Trump delivered a rambling speech earlier that day in front of the White House, whipping up the crowd with his long list of election lies and calls to “stop the steal.” Thousands in attendance then made their way to the U.S. Capitol, as Trump had directed.

We saw on television what happened next. Protesters became rioters. They knocked over barriers, assaulted police officers, scaled walls, broke windows, and pounded through doors as they entered the Capitol.

Outside, tear gas was used. Inside, proceedings were halted and elected representatives were evacuated for their safety. Offices were vandalized. Secret Service agents blocked doors with furniture, guns drawn to protect trapped staffers. Public servants, some fitted with gas masks, hid behind desks in their offices. Others were ushered out through an underground tunnel.

Pipe bombs were found. Police officers are in the hospital. Five people are dead.

What we saw yesterday was an act of domestic terrorism. And the chaos would have never come to fruition without President Trump’s two-month-long, conspiracy-fueled efforts to convince millions of Americans that our nation’s democracy had in fact been hijacked.

But that wasn’t the end of it, as editors of The Dispatch (who are also calling for impeachment and removal) pointed out this morning. As the violence was still being carried out, Trump continued to fuel the fire:

“Yet even then—even with bloodshed in the halls of the Capitol and Congress itself under attack—the president still stoked rage and division. He tweeted his anger at Vice President Mike Pence for failing to hand him the election. Even when he called for calm and asked rioters to go home, he repeated his false claims about a stolen election. In one of the lowest moments of a very dark day, he told the rioters who stormed the Capitol, ‘We love you.’ ‘You’re very special,’ he said. ‘Law and order for thee, but not for me,’ seems to be the rule for this fundamentally disordered and lawless president.”

President Trump has proven to be a significant danger to this country. As we saw yesterday, the damage he has caused is no longer confined to the abuses of power, bad decisions, and unbecoming conduct we’ve debated over the last four years. It has produced domestic terrorism. Trump is a danger, and our nation deserves what protection we can responsibly and legally give it against any further damage he may cause.

I don’t care that there are only two weeks left in his term. The House should move to impeach him for high crimes and misdemeanors. The Senate should vote to convict and remove, and then use its power under Article 1, Section 3 to keep him from ever holding public office again.

The time to act is now.

Editor’s Note (1/8): The death toll above was updated to reflect the passing Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who died the next day from injuries sustained during the attack.

 


Note from John: I’ve been writing a weekly non-political newsletter since October, covering topics like art, music, humor, travel, society and culture. I’ve been surprised by, and thankful for, how many people have been signing up for it. If it sounds interesting to you, I’d love for you to subscribe (it’s free).

Order John A. Daly’s novel “Safeguard” today!




Should Trump Be Impeached for His Hiring Practices Alone?

This morning, President Trump took to Twitter to lay into his former National Security Advisor, John Bolton:

The upcoming book the president was referring to is “The Room Where It Happened,” a memoir from Bolton’s tenure in the Trump White House, and it has been receiving a ton of early publicity in recent days. The hullabaloo began with a New York Times piece describing leaked information from the manuscript, a copy of which was submitted to the White House late last year (as part of the standard security-review process for past and present administration officials who write books).

In the manuscript, Bolton reportedly describes how President Trump specifically said to him (in August of last year) that he was — and wanted to continue — freezing nearly $400 million in congressionally approved security funding to Ukraine until the country’s officials agreed to investigate the Bidens and other Democrats.

Such an allegation, of course, directly contradicts Trump’s repeated claim that he didn’t withhold those funds for the purpose of pressuring Ukrainian officials to investigate Joe Biden (believed to be Trump’s likely 2020 general-election opponent). This revelation came at a particularly sensitive time for the White House, being that Trump’s impeachment trial is currently underway in the U.S. Senate, with pressure mounting to call Bolton and other administration officials (former and current) to testify under oath about the president’s dealings with Ukraine.

Like clockwork, Trump’s usual defenders were quick to try and discredit Bolton:

But even some Trump-friendly conservatives in the media, like Rich Lowry, whose book Trump himself recently promoted on Twitter, have come to Bolton’s defense. On National Review Online, Lowry wrote:

“The president’s most ardent defenders are already out smearing him as a treacherous liar. But Bolton is an unvarnished truth-teller, to a fault. What he wrote in his book and whatever he’d say in any testimony would obviously be his best version of the facts. As we have said editorially and Andy [McCarthy] has argued consistently, if the White House and its defenders conceded the facts of the Ukraine matter, they’d be in a much stronger position.”

But clearly Trump will be not conceding the facts. Over the months, he has doubled and tripled and quadrupled down on his infamous phone call, with Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenky, being “perfect.” Thus, whenever new information has come forward supporting what a lot of reasonable people already understand happened, the only remaining recourse has been to brand the providers of that information as deep state liars and disgruntled kooks.

It’s a tactic that Trump and his defenders use often and are extremely comfortable with. This is particularly fascinating considering that in rational times, such rhetoric would be widely recognized as a glaring admission of a president’s unfitness for office.

Bolton is of course just the latest in a long line of former administration officials who’ve been attacked and belittled by Trump as being dangerously incompetent, dishonest, or corrupt — typically after committing the cardinal sin of saying something politically unhelpful to the president. In fact, just about everyone who has either been let go from the administration, or resigned out of protest, has had their character and integrity dragged through the dirt by the president.

So, the question has to be asked… Who hired these folks?

The answer, of course, is Trump — the guy who has claimed time after time (and even campaigned on the point) that he only hires “the best people.”

Yet, if you believe the president, he hired Bolton for a prominent senior-aide position at the White House, despite lacking job qualifications, because Bolton “begged” him to.

Steve Bannon and Omarosa also “begged” for their jobs at the executive level of our federal government, according to Trump. And it worked! He hired them.

When Trump brought on General James Mattis as his Secretary of Defense, he was giving Mattis a “second chance,” says the president, who claims his advisors thought it would be mistake. Apparently, the Mattis hire was an act of charity from a man who, soon after, reportedly told Mattis and other top U.S. military brass that they were “losers,” “dopes,” and “babies.”

Remember Trump’s former Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson? He’s “dumb as a rock,” says the president. More specifically, he “didn’t have the mental capacity” for the job, he was “lazy,” and he was “totally ill prepared and ill equipped.” Again, this is according to Trump.

Then there was Jeff Sessions, who Trump nominated (and was confirmed) as our nation’s Attorney General. He “didn’t have a clue,” and “should be ashamed of himself,” says Trump. According to Bob Woodward, Trump even called Sessions “mentally retarded.” As many may recall, Trump also very publicly (and often) derided Sessions during his tenure as A.G. (after Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation).

Don’t forget about Anthony Scaramucci, the White House’s short-lived communications director. Trump says “The Mooch” was “totally incapable” and a “highly unstable nut job.”

There are others on the list, but you probably get the picture.

Like I said, in rational times, a President of the United States hiring so many people who, by his own assertions, were totally incapable of performing their high-level jobs (or even basic human functions in some cases), would be a clear signal to the nation that the leader of the free world has breathtakingly bad, disqualifying judgment .

But we don’t live in rational times. We instead live in a time when it’s actually a political advantage to portray yourself as someone who hires the worst people imaginable, in order to discredit them, once they’re gone, as disgruntled former employees with an axe to grind.

And it works because a good chunk of the country will buy into it…each and every time.




Off the Cuff: The Dems Who Cried Wolf …On Impeachment

Impeaching a president is a serious measure. But if you’ve been listening to the Democrats, you might have a hard time believing that. That’s the topic of today’s Off the Cuff audio commentary.

You can listen to it by clicking on the play (arrow) button below.

 

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GAO: Trump Broke the Law on Ukraine

Back in November, I wrote a pretty extensive column on the House impeachment hearings and whether or not the Democrats had built an effective case for impeaching President Trump. I wasn’t someone who supported the decision to initiate the hearings, but I did find a lot of what we learned from depositions and credible testimony to be quite troubling.

It was pretty obvious that Trump had attempted to extort a foreign power into digging up dirt on one of his political opponents, and that he had used congressionally approved and certified U.S. security funding as his leverage.

That act was very clearly an abuse of presidential power. Whether or not that abuse rose to the level an “impeachable offense” was a matter of opinion. Here’s what I wrote about this in the November column:

The stated bar for impeachment is the commission of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” While this term isn’t defined in the U.S. Constitution, the longtime majority view among constitutional scholars and legal precedent is that it doesn’t necessarily refer to literal crimes, but rather any serious abuse of presidential power. Ultimately, the determination is left up to the U.S. Congress.

Again, something doesn’t have to be illegal to be impeachable.

That reality didn’t sit well with some people in the comment section and elsewhere (coincidentally all Trump fans), who were insistent that impeaching a president over a legal act, no matter how troubling the act, was unjustifiable and an abuse of congressional power.

Purely on the matter of legality, I wasn’t sure if Trump had broken the law, and I made that clear. I was waiting for a credible legal judgment on the matter, rather than mere speculation.

Well, today that judgment came. As it turns out, Trump did break the law. That was the decision finding of the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

GAO determined that the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (at the direction of President Trump) committed an illegal act by withholding military aid to Ukraine. Specifically, the OMB violated a requirement in the 1974 Impoundment Control Act that the White House (and its agencies) disburse funding appropriated by the U.S. Congress as directed by the legislative branch.

The law “does not permit the president to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law,” GAO added. “…The President is not vested with the power to ignore or amend any such duly enacted law.”

Now, will this finding change anyone’s mind in regard to impeachment? Almost certainly not. After all, we live in an era of perpetually moving, politically partisan goalposts.

Reliable Trump defenders (at least those not inclined to blow off GAO’s decision as the latest “deep state” conspiracy) will likely insist that this was just a minor legal infraction, and thus no more worthy of impeachment than a perfectly legal act. We’ll also hear plenty of comparisons to the Obama White House, and how it broke laws too.

Regardless, as contrived as a lot of the Democrats’ efforts on impeachment have been (including that ridiculous pen-signing ceremony the other day), today’s finding is not good news for the Trump administration.