Impeachment, Part Three - Or, What the Hell was That?
Okay, so that was weird. I mean, not totally unexpected, but still weird.
So the Senate impeachment trial played out pretty much how we all thought it would. We all know that most senators are Republicans, and we knew that a lot of them were going to vote to acquit Trump no matter what they heard. Heck, we even heard one of them say he would not be an impartial juror, even though the Senate trial started with all of them raising their right hands and taking an oath to be just that very thing. (I'm looking at you, Mitch McConnell.) But some of us were still secretly hoping that there would be some Julius Caesar type action. Remember that famous scene where the Roman senators launched their surprise attack and stabbed Caesar all at once? Some of us were hoping that there would be an equivalent scene in our senate, and the senators who have supported Trump in public but hated him in private would turn on him and vote to remove him from office. Sadly, that was not how things went down.
Now that all the dust has settled, there are a few things that I think need explanation, because they were just so damn weird.
1. The Rules
I'm sure you noticed that there was quite a bit of wrangling over whether senators were going to allow new evidence and hear from witnesses who had not testified in front of the House. You may have wondered why that was even a thing. Don't all trials allow evidence, and hear from witnesses? Well, yes, most of them do. If it were a regular criminal or civil trial, then yes, evidence would be considered and witnesses would testify, unless there was a really good reason to exclude that evidence or those witnesses. Those really good reasons are listed in this crazy, wonderful thing called the Federal Rules of Evidence.
But impeachment trials are different. The Senate controls the rules. And the rules about evidence are really vague. They don't give any specific rules about what evidence can be heard, and what should stay out. The Senate is totally in charge of deciding what to hear and what not to hear, according to their political feelings. So they did not have to let in evidence or witnesses that the Democrats wanted. They had the right to say no, and they did.
But darn it, didn't John Roberts, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, preside over the impeachment trial? Why didn't he allow evidence and witnesses? He's a judge, right? Yes. Yes, he is. But in an impeachment trial, the Chief Justice has a really limited role. Any ruling the Chief Justice makes can be immediately challenged by any senator, and overruled by a simple majority vote. So the Chief Justice in an impeachment trial is kinda like the guest soap in your mom's bathroom that's shaped like a mermaid. You're not supposed to use it. It's just for show.
As an aside, though, you should know that things were not as cut and dry with the witnesses as some Republican senators would like us to think. Take John Bolton for example. (He's the guy with the Yosemite Sam mustache.) The House asked John Bolton to testify during the impeachment hearings, and Bolton said hell no. Bolton also said that if the House tried to subpoena him, he would fight them tooth and nail. (A subpoena is a legal command to show up and testify in a court or in front of Congress.) . The House was concerned that if he fought them, it would lead to a battle in the courts, and God only knows how long that would have taken. Maybe months, maybe years. So rather than take part in a long court battle to make Bolton testify, the House moved on with the investigation without him. But the Senate could have totally allowed Bolton to testify once the trial got underway. They just didn't want to. So they didn't.
I say all of this because Lindsey Graham told the press that the Senate was not going to call witnesses who had not testified before the House. Graham told the press that if the House had wanted to hear from John Bolton, for example, they should have subpoenaed him. Graham failed to mention that if the House had subpoenaed Bolton, the resulting court battle may have lasted well past the next election cycle. And that would have made the whole impeachment process toothless.
Which brings me to my next point.
2. Constitutional Dishonesty
Okay, so I know that the Republicans were upset that Trump was impeached. I know that they are going to support him no matter what. It's sad, but I accept that. But there is one thing that they have been saying over and over that is just wrong. They keep saying that Trump should not have been impeached, because he was democratically elected, and only the voters should have the final say in whether or not he stays in office.
The Republicans are a lot of things, but they aren't stupid. I am sure that all of them have read the Constitution, and most of them probably even understood it. (I have my doubts about that "legitimate rape" guy.) So they know that impeachment is a Constitutional remedy that can be used by Congress to remove a president if he has done something bad enough. The Framers didn't want to just leave it up to the voters. They actually thought about it, and this was part of their debates when they were writing the Constitution. And they decided to include impeachment in the Constitution so that the voters wouldn't have to wait until the next election to get rid of a really bad president.
So it is Constitutionally dishonest to say that the House was doing something they should not have done when they impeached Trump. The House was acting totally within their Constitutional rights when they impeached Trump. Republicans who say otherwise are just full of baloney.
I know I harp on this a lot, but Trump really is a threat to our democracy, not because of his political views, but because he believes that he can do whatever he wants. A president is not a king. A president does not govern alone. A president is not the law. In the framework of our democracy, the president is supposed to cooperate with the other two co-equal branches of government, the judiciary and the legislative branches. But Trump doesn't see it that way. He thinks that he should be allowed to do whatever he wants, and if others try to stop him, they are being, "unfair". So far, only the judiciary branch - the courts - have been willing to check Trump's unconstitutional behavior. The courts have been willing to tell Trump that he is not allowed to do some things, because they are unconstitutional. It's a shame that the legislative branch let us down by not voting to remove him. They could have voted to check his bad behavior too, but they just didn't have the nerve. So, like a bad parent who never makes their spoiled kid face any consequences for their bad behavior, Congress is only going to allow Trump's behavior to get worse.
And Alan Dershowitz. Oh, Dershowitz. You were a Harvard law professor, for God's sake. And you have the audacity to say that a president can't be impeached unless he does something criminal? You know that's not true. And you know that you said otherwise when Clinton was being impeached. When Clinton was being impeached, you said that an impeachable offense did not need to be a crime, just a breach of the public trust and a threat to democracy. But suddenly, when the shoe is on the other foot, you change your story. So you may want to drop and roll, Dershowitz. Your pants are on fire.
2. Susan Collins
What the hell, Susan?!! I still haven't forgiven you for confirming Kavanaugh. Now this?
Collins actually went on Fox News to explain why she voted to acquit Trump. She told Martha Mac Callum that she thought Trump had learned his lesson. She thought that the fact that he had been impeached would show him that he should listen to the senators who told him that asking foreign leaders for help in his re-election campaign was a bad idea, and Collins figured Trump would never do that again. Then Mac Callum - a Fox News anchor, mind you - asked Collins if Trump had told her that he had learned his lesson, and had promised never to do anything like that again. Collins said no. She had not spoken to him at all since the impeachment trial started. She admitted that her feelings were "aspirational".
So let me get this straight, Susan. You just hope that Trump learned his lesson? Have you ever heard him talk? Trump has never admitted that his phone call with Zelensky was anything but perfect. The only lessons Trump has learned is that the Senate is spineless, and they will let him get away with anything.
And the American people have learned a couple of lessons too, Susan. They learned that you and your fellow senators will not protect democracy from Trump and his cronies. And they learned that the only way to stop you is to vote you out. Sara Gideon is running for Collins' senate seat. If you, my gentle readers, would like to help unseat Collins, please visit Sara Gideon's website:
3. Mitt Romney
Okay, that was a surprise.
I'm not gonna lie. I don't like Mitt Romney. I think he did despicable things to make his fortune. His whole business consisted of finding companies that weren't doing too well, closing them down, selling all of their property, and laying off all of their workers. That sounds pretty predatory and soulless to me. So I was frankly surprised when Romney said that he voted to convict Trump because of God.
Romney said he is a deeply religious person, and he takes his vows to God very seriously. He swore an oath to God that he would be an impartial juror in the impeachment trial, so he felt like he could not vote to acquit Trump and be true to his promise to God. He said he would be tortured by his conscience if he let Trump off the hook for what he did. So even though a lot of Republicans were pressuring him to go with the flow and acquit Trump, he just couldn't do it.
So it turns out that Romney has a conscience. Who knew?
Seriously, that was a pretty ballsy move. I tip my hat to you, Mitt.
So what happens next? Well, it seems like we're just going to have to slug it out until November. Hopefully then, we can get rid of Trump and work on repairing the damage he's done to our democracy. Hold on tight. It's going to be a bumpy ride.