Showing posts with label impeachment. Show all posts
Showing posts with label impeachment. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Republican’s Failure to Convict President Trump will Haunt the Party

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can't practice any other virtue consistently.”
-Maya Angelou


The Republican Party had a choice to make and I hoped the party that abolished slavery and enabled the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, overriding a Democrat filibuster, would again rise to the occasion and do the right thing for their country.

Even though I support the Democratic party, I am one of their harshest critics. In fact, I have been critical of the way the Democrats behaved during the most of Trump years and said on numerous occasions that their constant hysteria and crying wolf were detrimental to winning over a majority of voters.

It was wrong for Democrats to publicly call for the President's head, days after he won the 2016 election. Democrats were misguided in the amount of time and taxpayer money they wasted on investigating every aspect of the President’s public and private life in a bid to remove him from office through any means possible.

Also, I did not agree with the Democrat’s first impeachment of President Trump, for his call with the Ukrainian President. On the call Mr. Trump clumsily tried to pressure President Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden’s son. What Mr. Trump did was wrong and reprehensible, but did not rise to the level of impeachment. President Zelensky himself stated that he never felt pressure from Mr. Trump, or his administration, to investigate Hunter Biden. Further, the absence of any evidence pointing to a broader conspiracy or direct orders from the President to members of his administration, is the reason Democrats failed to convince a majority of voters. 

Impeachment should not be used frivolously or as a tool for political vengeance. In this instance a whistleblower had come forward to alert Congress of the President’s inappropriate behaviour. So, one can argue that the checks and balances worked, making a partisan impeachment, unnecessary. It is also fair to ask that if the media and elected leaders had not been so fully consumed and distracted by the impeachment trial last January, would we have paid more attention to the coronavirus pandemic that was just starting?

In Trump’s defense, conservatives argue that the mainstream media has shown an open bias and complete lack of objectivity when covering Mr. Trump and his administration. A Harvard study concluded that the media set “a new standard for unfavorable press coverage of a president.”

Another double standard that is cited by conservatives is the fact that the media does not devote the same time and attention calling out Democrats like Rep. Maxine Waters, who urged people to seek out and harass Trump staffers. Or liberal protestors who menacingly confronted Republican lawmakers that voted to confirm Justice Kavanaugh. They also point out that there was no outcry when Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer publicly threatened Justices Gorsuch and Kavanagh over their views on abortion. Republican Senator Ben Sasse summed up this double standard saying; “Think about it: "If a Republican threatened Justice Sotomayor or Justice Ginsburg, it would be the biggest story not just in Washington but all across America.” 

To be clear, I am not defending Mr. Trump and have always said that he is a reprehensible conman and unprincipled charlatan. The point is that finding a president distasteful and his views vile does not mean we get to hold him to a different standard. We must never have a set of standards for people we like, and a different one for those we disdain. The health of our democracy relies on a doctrine of fairness and equal treatment for all.

Just as I will call out the mainstream media for their lack of fairness and Democrats for bad behavior, I refuse to absolve Mr. Trump’s reckless abdication of duty, leading up to and after the election. The facts in this case are strong.

For months Mr. Trump made it clear that he would refuse to accept the election results if he lost. As early as June last year he claimed that the election was going to be rigged and he tweeted: “RIGGED 2020 ELECTION: MILLIONS OF MAIL-IN BALLOTS WILL BE PRINTED BY FOREIGN COUNTRIES, AND OTHERS. IT WILL BE THE SCANDAL OF OUR TIMES!” and proceeded to use the word “rigged” more than 75 times in tweets between May and October. Based on this evidence alone it is hard to refute that the president was clearly laying the groundwork for his lies in the event that he lost the election.

After it became clear that he had lost, the President was within his rights to legally challenge the election results. In 2000, Mr. Gore refused to concede to Mr. Bush until December 13, after there had been a full recounting of votes in Florida and after weeks of legal battles.

Trump’s lawyers filed a record 62 lawsuits contesting the results, of which 61 were dismissed. Their lawsuits were thrown out for lack of evidence because Trump’s team based their allegations on a single person's account and offered no corroborating evidence. In other instances suits were dismissed for ‘lack of standing’. These dismissals were universal and came from 86 different judges, both Democratic and Republican-appointed, and included scathing rebukes from at least nine federal judges appointed by Trump.

Whether you agree with Mr. Trump’s legal challenges or think them frivolous, we cannot deny the president due process. However, what the former president does not have the right to do, and it amounts to abuse of office and dereliction of duty, is to perpetuate lies about the election being stolen and claiming widespread voter fraud, without offering a shred of evidence.

Trump and his legal team also spent weeks making false statements and spreading conspiracy theories on various media channels and in press briefings. The president’s statements were clearly designed to inflame passions. He repeatedly called on supporters to fight and refuse to give up. Not only did he urge them to “fight” but even told them when and where to show up, tweeting on December 19: “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th,” “Be there, will be wild!

The president cannot feign ignorance about the consequences of his rhetoric prior to the Capital riots. Leading up to January 6, there had been instances of armed protestors surrounding the homes of elected officials. Georgia’s Secretary of State, a Republican, received death threats, with people texting him saying that he deserved to face a firing squad. Numerous Republican officials also warned Mr. Trump that his rhetoric was dangerous and would lead to real violence, but he chose to ignore them and continued to fan the flames.

Not only did president Trump refuse to tone down his rhetoric but he proceeded to violate federal and state election laws by attempting to pressure Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Secretary of State, begging him to overturn the election results by finding him 11,870 votes.

Democratic impeachment managers did a good job making their case but one thing I didn’t agree with is that the evidence showed that president Trump directly incited a ransacking of the Capitol. He did however, direct an angry mob to march towards the Capitol building and encouraged them to put pressure on the Senate and the Vice President to overturn the election results.

Trump’s subsequent silence and refusal to take action after the assault was underway, and it was clear that lives were in danger, showed that he was willing to let the violence continue in a bid to up the ante. We know that desperate calls from lawmakers in his own party, urging the president to call off his supporters, fell on deaf ears. At one point, Mr. Trump told House minority leader Kevin McCarthy that rioters seemed more upset about the election than he was. Hours later, when he reluctantly issued a public statement, after being forced by advisors and family members, he still ended the day with a tweet praising the rioters and sending them love.

Some years ago, I explained why the party of Lincoln had come to reside in Donald Trump’s trousers. When the party started to welcome conspiracy theorists and extremists into their ranks, with the naïve belief they could control these forces, they began a process that lead to a hostile takeover by Mr. Trump and now by acquitting him they have sealed the fate of the Grand Old Party.

However, we must not forget the ten Republican congresswomen and men who voted to impeach despite grave personal and political risk. They have been censured by their party and are getting death threats. Seven Republican Senators also followed their conscience and put country before party. No Democrats have ever voted to convict a president from their own party.

So, while this may feel like a victory for president Trump it is not, because seventeen brave women and men made it clear that Mr. Trump no longer has an absolute hold on their party.

 

Saturday, November 23, 2019

To Impeach or Not to Impeach: What does it all mean?

 
Adam Schiff presiding over the impeachment hearings (Image: thedailywake.com)
“You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.” 
Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Article 2, section IV of the US Constitution states that “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.”

It is worth clarifying the process and implications of impeachment before we dive into a discussion of the current proceedings. For starters, if a President is impeached it does not mean that he or she has to vacate the office. Bill Clinton was impeached and served out his full term. Removal from office is a separate process that requires a trial in the Senate. It is presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, with Senators serving as jurors.

In the House, Democrats currently hold 235 seats and need 218 votes to reach the majority required to proceed with articles of impeachment against President Trump. If the House proceeds to impeach, the Senate will conduct a trial and vote on whether to remove the President from office. Given that Democrats do not hold a majority in the Senate, they would need twenty Republicans and two independent senators to join them to remove Mr. Trump from office.

Additionally, removal from office does not bar Mr. Trump from running again in 2020. The Senate would need a further vote under Article I, Section 3 of the constitution to determine if the offence is severe enough to prevent the President from ever holding public office again.

Now let’s get to the matter of the impeachment itself. Beyond bribery and treason, which are clear cut, I believe the founders purposely left the words “high crimes and misdemeanors” vague so as to ensure that this mechanism would not be used frivolously or in a partisan manner. This is why removal from office requires a detailed investigation by the House and then a further trial in the Senate, with a super majority needed to remove a President from office. It is rare for one party to hold the necessary seats in both chambers at the same time; thus it requires an offence so egregious that it brings unity across party lines to remove a democratically elected official from the highest office in the country.

Another point worth noting is that impeachment is not a legal process. While similar terminology is used, this is a political process. There is no burden to prove that the President broke laws in the same way you would need to in a courtroom. Impeachment is driven by the legislature deeming that the actions of the President constitute an egregious abuse of power.

Given that only two Presidents have been impeached, the first in 1868, and none ever removed from office there is little by way of a roadmap for this process. Nixon resigned before Congress could vote to impeach him. Interestingly, in the case of Bill Clinton the House appointed a special prosecutor to investigate his crimes and did not conduct public hearings. The vote by the House judiciary committee to move forward with a full impeachment inquiry against President Clinton was along party lines with every Democrat opposing it.

The special prosecutor’s investigation into President Clinton dragged on for four years, by the end of it public opinion turned in the favour of the President even though there was evidence that he had lied under oath and obstructed justice. This is why President Clinton was acquitted by the Senate with ten and five Republican Senator's, respectively, joining every Democrat to acquit him on each of the charges. At the time polls showed that the majority of the country was against removing the President from office with 57% approving the Senate's decision to keep him in office and two thirds stating that the contentious impeachment process had been harmful for the country.

Of course, we live in very different times from when President Clinton was impeached and President Nixon resigned. In 2019, the country is probably about as divided as it was leading up to the civil war, and credibility among lawmakers is in short supply on both sides of the aisle. Trust in government and in public officials is at its lowest ebb since reaching a peak in the 1970’s.

On one side you have Republicans who seem to have not only abandoned their most cherished Conservative philosophies of small government, but also no longer seem to believe that the person holding the highest office in the land should be honest, decent or act with decorum. Republicans like Paul Ryan, John McCain and Jeff Flake, who were willing to stand up to the President and hold him accountable in private and when necessary in public, have either resigned or are no longer living. Even lawmakers like Senator Graham who openly lambasted candidate Trump during the primaries have turned into allies. So what accounts for this loyalty? If you look at Trump’s record he has delivered on issues that align with their political interests, from corporate tax cuts and dismantling regulations to appointing conservative justices, including two to the Supreme Court. With the Presidents’ base holding firm and in the absence of a smoking gun, they are making a political calculation to support the President and will continue to do so until public opinion overwhelmingly swings against him.

On the other side you have Democrats who have been publicly calling for the President's head since his shock victory in 2016. They have spent the best part of three years investigating every aspect of the President’s public and private life, from scrutinising his charities and foreign business interests to trying to expose his tax returns. First they were hopeful that the trial of Paul Manafort would sink Mr. Trump. Then they proclaimed that Michael Cohen’s testimony moves the Needle' to Trump WH”. When nothing worked they put their hopes in the Mueller report landing the final blow and swaying public opinion in favour of impeachment. Adam Schiff, Chairman of the House Intel Committee, leading the investigations into the President publicly stated at the time that there was "ample evidence" of collusion in plain sight, "and that is true." The very real danger for Democrats is that because they have been crying wolf for so long, their case for impeachment, even if it is a strong one, will be viewed as nothing more than partisan overreach, or worse a move to placate an angry and frustrated base ahead of a crucial election.

This is the reason Speaker Pelosi waited so long to officially move forward with an impeachment inquiry even though a majority of Democrats had been calling for it for over a year. The Ukraine whistleblower story led to the first marked shift in public opinion, with a slim overall majority (52%) supporting an impeachment inquiry. This shift was entirely due to Independents. The lessons of dragging out an impeachment investigation also weigh on Speaker Pelosi because it allowed President Clinton to leave office with a 65% approval rating, the second highest of any President after FDR. This is the reason she urged Democrats to move from closed door to public hearings and has vowed publicly not let the impeachment circus drag on too far into next year.

The other issue that Speaker Pelosi astutely understands is that nobody, including Trump supporters, denies that the President routinely lies, demeans people, behaves erratically and possesses none of the qualities of a role model. In fact, 70% of Americans agree that President Trump’s request to a foreign leader to investigate his political rival was wrong. There is no debate on this fact. However, not everyone agrees that this is reason enough to tear an already divided and polarised country further apart, and many believe this is why we have elections. If we look at support for impeachment and removal, beyond Independents it breaks down along party lines with 84.6 percent Democrats supporting it and 91.7 percent of Republicans opposing it. These numbers have held steady for the last year.

Finally, what makes the Democrat's case harder to make is that there is no smoking gun, like a stained blue dress or a conspiracy to destroy secret White House tapes. At the end of the first two weeks of hearings not one witness testified that Trump himself directly ordered them to make a quid pro quo explicit to the Ukrainians. In fact, if one thing has come to light during the public hearings, it is that President Trump made little attempt at subterfuge. Instead he openly made it clear to his ambassadors, diplomats and senior advisors that he wanted to press Ukraine to open an investigation into the Bidens, and in the end the military aid was released without any such commitment. When there is subterfuge, chicanery or evidence of a cover-up, it becomes easier to make the case for a conspiracy and point at wrongdoing, but in the absence of this, the whole thing could be painted as more clumsy than criminal.

This is why we saw Speaker Pelosi use the word bribery for the first time after the initial round of public hearings. Speaker Pelosi is aware that having witnesses simply corroborate facts will not be sufficient to sway people since the majority already agrees that the President’s actions were wrong but not on whether it rises to the level of impeaching and removing the President from office. Public opinion is deeply entrenched along partisan lines and will not be swayed easily. Ultimately, the severity and punishment for the President’s “high crimes and misdemeanors” will boil down to the strength of the argument made by Democrats or the defense put up by Republicans. The key for both sides is to make their case and convince Independents.

Democrats will need to offer compelling new evidence while trying to ensure that this process does not in the end help the President, by painting him as a victim of legislative overreach, and allow him to win a second-term.