March 28, 2020
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Why I voted to impeach the president for abusing his power, but not for obstructing Congress

George Danby | BDN
George Danby | BDN

On Dec. 18, the House voted on two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. I voted for Article I, regarding the president’s abuse of power, and against Article II, regarding obstruction of Congress. Impeachment of the president is a gravely serious issue and I want to be sure that you had the opportunity to hear straight from me why I voted the way I did.

You may or may not agree with me, but I hope you’ll read my full statement for the Congressional Record and give it some thought. For me, this wasn’t a political decision — indeed, my decision is bad politics, angering Democrats and Republicans alike. I voted the way I did because I believe it’s the right decision based on the evidence and the Constitution. Here’s how I approached my votes on impeachment.

Article 1: Abuse of Power

There is no doubt that the Framers feared foreign influence in our domestic affairs and viewed impeachment as a rare but critical remedy for a president who invited such foreign influence. At the Constitutional Convention, the Framers, including James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and George Mason, expressed their fears about a president who might abuse the powers of his office to corrupt elections, destroy their political opponents or allow foreign powers to influence American domestic affairs.

Our founders’ concerns are exactly why I have found the president’s actions with regard to Ukraine and the upcoming election completely unacceptable.

President Trump pressured the president of Ukraine to announce an investigation into trumped-up allegations against a political opponent. This call, bolstered by a pattern of evidence collected during the House’s investigation, clearly demonstrates corrupt intent on the part of the president, his personal lawyer and members of his administration to leverage the power of the presidency to damage a political opponent and strengthen the president’s re-election prospects.

I believe that the president’s actions are a realization of the Framers’ greatest fears, an imminent threat to our democracy that should not go unchecked. These actions, in my view, are clearly impeachable. For that reason, I voted for Article I of the House resolution to impeach President Trump for abuse of power.

I saw it as my duty to support this article of impeachment to send an unambiguous message to the president, the country and the world that foreign interference in American elections is neither acceptable nor welcomed, and will not be tolerated.

Article 2: Obstruction of Congress

This article charges the president with obstructing congressional investigations. Although the White House’s resistance to congressional subpoenas has been broad and excessive, I also believe there are legitimate and unresolved constitutional questions about the limits of executive privilege. Before pursuing impeachment for this charge, I believe the House needed to exhaust all other available options to resolve these questions.

This current tension between the president and Congress over the scope of their powers is precisely why our system of government provides a forum to settle these disputes: the courts. The House can — and in other contexts has — gone to the courts to enforce subpoenas. Before wielding our awesome power to impeach a sitting president, I believe we should at least have given the courts a chance. I’m not alone in this approach: Constitutional law professors from different institutions agree with my reasoning.

If the president had defied a court order to produce documents or testimony in an impeachment inquiry, then the obstruction charge would have been appropriate. The president’s stonewalling of the House’s investigative efforts is provocative, but I do not believe it has yet reached the threshold of “high crime or misdemeanor” that the Constitution demands. For that reason, I voted against Article II.

Where we go from here:

Earlier this year, I expressed my concern that a partisan impeachment would further deepen the political divisions in this country and argued that the best recourse was to rely on the next election to litigate our differences. But in this current moment, when the subject of the president’s actions has been to corrupt that very election, relying on the ballot box cannot be the solution.

As I’ve wrestled with my concerns about division and partisanship, I’ve taken solace in the words of another Maine congressman. William Cohen, then a first-term congressman from the 2nd Congressional District, observed during Richard Nixon’s impeachment: “To say that [impeachment] will tear the country apart is a proposition I cannot accept. I think what would tear the country apart would be to turn our backs on the facts and our responsibilities to ascertain them. That in my opinion would do far more to start the unraveling of the fabrics of this country and the Constitution than would a strong reaffirmation of that great document.”

Facing the evidence before me, I believe Cohen’s words still ring true — but only if we commit ourselves not to become mired in this current sad chapter of deep partisanship in American history. We must turn our eyes to the future and continue to look for ways to address the needs of the country and our constituents.

Jared Golden represents Maine’s 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

 


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