Impeachment is not a punishment, it’s a prevention, and the only way, unfortunately, to keep an unrepentant president from repeating his wrongful actions is removal. I worry that by acquitting President Donald Trump, we are moving dangerously close to an elected monarch — the very thing the Framers feared most.
With this in mind, here is why I ultimately voted to convict the president and to remove him from office.
The question I got most frequently at a listening session in Brunswick last week was how the Senate could proceed without calling relevant witnesses and securing the documents that would confirm — or deny — the charges against the president. For the first time in American history, we robbed ourselves, and the American people, of a full examination of the case before us. This failure stains the Senate, undermines the ultimate verdict and creates a precedent that will haunt those who come after us, and indeed will haunt the country.
I have always been a conservative on the subject of impeachment. For the last three years, I have opposed the idea. Impeachment should not be a tool to remove a president on the basis of policy disagreements; I agree with the president’s lawyers when they argued that this would change our system of government. But this reluctance must give way in the face of serious misconduct, for which impeachment is the only remedy.
Article 1 charges a clear abuse of power in inviting foreign interference with the upcoming election — a concern dating back to the Federalist Papers. The president tasked his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani to work with a foreign head of state, to induce an investigation that could harm one of the president’s top political rivals. And to compel the Ukrainians to do so, he unilaterally withheld nearly $400 million appropriated by Congress to help them fend off Russian aggression.
The president’s backers claim that this was done to root out corruption — so why not use official channels? Why did he focus on no examples of corruption generally other than ones directly affecting his political fortunes? And why did he not publicize the withholding of funds, as the executive branch typically does when leveraging federal monies for policy goals?
Despite the president’s repeated claims, his phone call with Ukraine President Vlodymyr Zelensky wasn’t “perfect.” He sought to use the power of his office in his own personal and political interest, pressuring a government of a strategic partner to take action against one of his rivals and thereby undermine the integrity of the coming American election.
This last point is important, because the president’s defenders asserted that impeachment was unnecessary because the election is less than a year away. But the president was attempting to affect this year’s election — and he has expressed no understanding that he did anything wrong, let alone anything resembling remorse.
Article 2 is even more serious in its long-term implications, given that acquittal sets a precedent that enables the president’s wholesale obstruction of the impeachment process itself, and goes to the heart of Congress’s constitutionally-derived power to investigate wrongdoing by this or any president.
I do not arrive at this conclusion lightly. I take seriously the White House counsel’s argument that there must be limits on Congress’s ability to intrude upon the executive. But in this case, the record is clear and is summarized in the White House letter to the House that asserted the president and his administration “cannot participate” in the impeachment process. This blanket refusal to cooperate in any way — no witnesses, no documents, no evidence of any kind — that undermines the assertion that a categorical refusal was based upon any legitimate legal or constitutional privilege.
If allowed to stand, this position — that any president can use his or her position to totally obstruct the production of evidence of their own wrongdoing — eviscerates the impeachment power entirely and compromises Congress’s vital oversight powers.
For these and other reasons, I voted guilty on both articles of impeachment.
The structure of our Constitution is based upon the bedrock principle that the concentration of power is dangerous, that power divided and shared is the best long-term assurance of liberty. To the extent we compromise that principle, give up the powers the Framers bestowed upon us, and acquiesce to the growth of an imperial presidency, we are failing. We are failing our oaths, we are failing our most fundamental responsibility, we are failing the American people.
History may record this week as a turning point in the American experiment — the day that we stepped away from the Framers’ vision, enabled a new and unbounded presidency and made ourselves observers rather than full participants in the shaping of our country’s future. I sincerely hope that I am wrong in all this, but deeply fear that I am right.
Angus King represents Maine in the U.S. Senate.