Virtually all experts and observers envision a near-certain acquittal of President Donald Trump by the U.S. Senate after the House passage of two articles of impeachment on Dec. 18.
The Constitution requires a vote of two-thirds of the Senate to convict and remove a president — or 67 votes. However damning and culpable Trump’s actions in withholding critical aid to Ukraine against Russian aggression to force an investigation of a political rival, very few believe that 20 Republican senators will join 45 Democrats and two independents likely to vote for conviction.
But the larger, and perhaps more important question is whether the trial is going to be conducted fairly, with full respect for the Constitution and the rule of law.
Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate majority leader, has already placed a heavy hand on the scales against a fair trial. He said he will work closely with the White House to oversee the trial, though his control over the trial is limited. The Constitution places the chief justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, as the presiding officer — not McConnell.
But McConnell’s strong bias in favor of what amounts to an indicted defendant, Trump, is equal to having the head of a jury say he will side with the defendant before a trial even begins.
The ranking Senate Democrat, Chuck Schumer, wrote to McConnell, urging him to guarantee a fair trial in the interests of all parties and the country. That would mean, Schumer wrote, the appearance of key White House officials who have refused to testify and the release of vital documents withheld by the president.
There are several Republican senators who do not like or respect Trump — and are not afraid to say so. They range from outspoken critics like Mitt Romney (Utah) to occasionally independent skeptics such as Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Susan Collins (Maine) and Pat Toomey (Pennsylvania).
While many more quietly express disdain for Trump, his policies and behavior, it totals far less than 20, barring a bombshell soon.
Yet, along with 47 Democrats and independents, it would take just four senators to block McConnell’s drive to ram through a verdict without calling key witnesses and hidden documents. A 51-49 vote to require those witnesses and documents, including a full, unredacted version of the Ukraine call, would bring those to account.
Trump’s refusal to allow key White House officials to testify and to release vital documents is tantamount to Richard Nixon’s cover-up in 1974 — the key act that led to his approaching impeachment and resignation. Even Nixon did not block White House officials from testifying.
The American public has a right to hear from White House officials who refused to testify before the House of Representatives as they developed two articles of impeachment, for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. They are, especially, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and John Bolton, a former national security adviser who was fired by Trump. Bolton once objected to the Ukraine meddling by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani as “a drug deal.”
The near-total acceptance of Trump’s behavior by virtually all Republicans to this point is shameful. In addition to ignoring Russian aggression in Ukraine, basically supporting Vladimir Putin, the Republican Party has ignored an unprecedented pattern of corruption and unlawful behavior by Trump and his close aides.
Trump fired or castigated anyone who dared to oppose him, from Assistant Attorney General Sally Yates, who warned about the Russian connections of then-national security adviser Michael Flynn, to James Comey to Michael Cohen. Cohen paid $130,000 in hush money to a porn star to help Trump. Flynn pled guilty; Cohen is in jail.
Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, is serving a 7-year jail term for corrupt activities. The favoritism shown Trump’s children by China, Arab countries and others is far worse than GOP claims against the Bidens.
Once Democratic House managers of impeachment lay out their case, the only defense for Trumpite Republicans is to try to slam the door on revelation of the broader context of a truly “deep state” of malfeasance and corruption embodied by the 45th president. Even the vice presidential option to break a 50-50 tie on demands for critical witnesses and documents would fail if four Republican senators stood up for justice and the rule of law.
Frederic B. Hill of Arrowsic is a former foreign correspondent for The Baltimore Sun and conducted war-gaming exercises on national security issues for the Department of State. This column originally appeared in The Baltimore Sun.