February 22, 2020
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President Trump has been impeached, but many questions remain unanswered

Patrick Semansky | AP
Patrick Semansky | AP
House members vote as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., stands on the dais, during a vote on article II of impeachment against President Donald Trump, Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

President Donald Trump has been impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives. No matter your views on our chief executive, this is a permanent stain on his presidency, and a dark moment in the history of our country.

The process leading to Wednesday night’s votes on two articles of impeachment was rushed and riddled with missteps. The end result, however, highlights many fundamental truths about America today, some of them good, some of them troubling.

On the positive side, Democrats in the House have made clear that the separation of powers and Congress’ role in oversight of the executive branch still means something. Their exercise of that power, however, had procedural mistakes that ensured the impeachment investigation, debate and vote became a heated partisan affair.

To be fair, in this environment and perhaps in any impeachment, that level of crippling partisanship may have been inevitable. But based on the available evidence, it’s clear to us that Democrats overplayed a weak hand and failed to pursue all possible avenues to compel testimony from the administration and strengthen that case.

One of the most concerning things about this entire process, and in American politics today generally, is the eroding of any sense of shared facts across the political divide. Democrats attack the president as lawless and Republicans defend him as flawless, with seemingly little room for nuance in our national debate.

Trump, as we’ve written before, has already proven himself unfit for the office he holds. Still, he was elected to the job and must uphold his oath to the Constitution. He has repeatedly raised questions about his willingness and ability to do so. For example, Trump’s mixing of personal and political influence has been problematic since before his inauguration. But these articles of impeachment hinge on interactions with Ukraine, not previous instances of concern, and the case to remove him from office must be ironclad.

Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat, was the only House member to split his votes on the articles of impeachment, supporting the article charging the president with abusing his office, but against the second article which accused the president of obstructing Congress. His split vote — and lengthy rationale for it — highlights a shortcoming of the House investigation and resulting impeachment.

As Golden correctly pointed out in his explanation, the House did not exhaust all of the “available judicial remedies” to enforce subpoenas of key administration officials. From our perspective, that failure not only weakens the case for obstruction of Congress, but also leaves important gaps in the case for abuse of power related to the president’s motives and directives. We believe this shortcoming in the process will further solidify dangerous political divisions in Congress and across the country.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s move, late in the week, to delay sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate furthers the perception that this whole process has been politically motivated. This maneuvering undercuts the argument that Democrats sought impeachment to uphold the standards and ethics of the presidency as enumerated in the U.S. Constitution. In the end, such moves embolden the president and his allies.

Trump’s interactions with the government of Ukraine, both directly and through his personal and governmental representatives, raise a host of legitimate, troubling questions about whether he abused the power of his office for personal political gain.

We recognize that a fuller answer to that question and others was impeded by the Trump administration’s refusal to comply with subpoenas or participate at all in the impeachment proceeding in the U.S. House of Representatives. This is unacceptable, but again, the House did not follow up through the courts to compel testimony that would further explain what happened between U.S. and Ukraine officials.

When, and if, the process moves to the Senate (and it should without delay, once both bodies reconvene after the holidays), there are still questions that remain unanswered by the House investigation. The Senate has the ability, and we believe, the responsibility to try to answer them.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is correct that neither Senate rules nor past impeachment precedent require him to commit to votes on additional testimony or evidence in the Senate trial. But the weight of this moment demands a trial that both informs America and inspires some sense that the pursuit of truth still matters.

 


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