February 21, 2020
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Senate trial needs deliberation, not speed

Jose Luis Magana | AP
Jose Luis Magana | AP
House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Clerk of the House Cheryl Johnson deliver the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump to Secretary of the Senate Julie Adams on Wednesday on Capitol Hill in Washington. Following are impeachment managers, House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-California, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-New York, Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, Rep. Val Demings, D-Florida, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-California, and Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colorado.

Did House Speaker Nancy Pelosi overplay her hand by delaying the articles of impeachment for a month before submitting them to the Senate on Jan. 16?

At least two guests on the Jan. 12 edition of “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” think so. The Washington Post’s Rachel Bade said that Pelosi failed to get what she had hoped from the delay, which was a commitment from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the status of witnesses during the Senate trial. Nor did she get a resolution describing how the trial would operate.

Bade suggested that Pelosi is “clearly putting a positive spin on what a lot of Democrats have privately said was a failed strategy.”

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was more emphatic. He said that the past three weeks had been good ones for the president and “It’s largely because the speaker made a serious error in political judgment in my view by holding back.”

But these assessments of Pelosi’s strategy don’t pay enough attention to the possibility that, had the articles of impeachment been delivered as soon as they were approved by the House, they might have been quickly dismissed by the Republican Senate.

In fact, the entire investigation by the House into President Donald Trump’s behavior has been haunted by the conventional near certainty that two-thirds of the Senate will never vote to convict Trump, no matter what the evidence shows. In short, by this way of thinking, the impeachment was doomed to failure from the beginning.

Thus, Pelosi did what any smart strategist who holds a losing hand does. She played the only card she had: Delay.

And why not? The Trump scandal is complicated, and Trump has taken careful measures to hide evidence and suppress witnesses. Over time, inevitably, more information will come to light. Since the articles of impeachment were originally approved by the House on Dec 18, we’ve learned about the revealing testimony of Lev Parnas, the expressed willingness of former National Security Adviser John Bolton to testify and the recent finding by the Government Accountability Office that withholding military aid from Ukraine was in itself an illegal act.

But here’s another benefit of the delay: At various times, Republicans have complained that the Democrats have been both too fast and too slow in investigating the president and in passing and then delivering the articles of impeachment. But the slower pace that brought the articles to the Senate only last week thoroughly befits the gravity of the charges against the president.

It’s hard to imagine an abuse of power more serious than using official acts to pressure a foreign government to interfere in an American election. It takes time to absorb the severity of such an act. The delay provided some of that time, and it sent the message that, even though the odds are strongly against them, the Democrats will not be satisfied with a biased, open-and-shut case in the Senate. In fact, no American should be.

We’ve heard many times that the impeachment of a president is a political proceeding, not a judicial one. To be honest, I’m not sure what that means.

Certainly it does not mean that Democrats can be allowed to mount a “hoax,” “sham” or “witch hunt” in order to bring down a president they don’t like.

Nor does it mean that Republicans should willfully turn away from evidence that has a bearing on the president’s guilt or innocence.

As it turns out, Pelosi’s delay in delivering the articles actually postponed the beginning of the Senate trial by only a week or so. But even this brief pause may have provided time and space for some senators to further absorb the gravity of the allegations against the president.

Indeed, some Republican senators appear to be wondering if it really is right to ignore available evidence in order to comply, lockstep, with the bidding of their party.

So, senators, call the witnesses. Look at the documents. Your decision is bigger than politics and is much too important to be hurried through without all the available evidence.

John M. Crisp, an OpEd columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Georgetown, Texas.

 


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