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Prepare for an even more unhinged President Trump as this impeachment trial comes to an end

American voters won't forget the cowardice of Republicans in November

Ahmed Baba
Washington DC
Friday 31 January 2020 21:40 GMT
Senator Lamar Alexander said he would be voting 'no' to witnesses
Senator Lamar Alexander said he would be voting 'no' to witnesses (Getty Images)

On Wednesday, Alan Dershowitz basically argued that President Trump was a king. By Thursday, Senate Republicans were indicating they would happily pick up the crown and place it on Trump's head.

We've long known the acquittal of President Trump was all but certain, but how we got there mattered. The arguments from House impeachment managers and Trump's lawyers mattered. Whether the trial was fair mattered. In the end, what the American people were given was more akin to a coverup than a trial. Senate Republicans have now acknowledged that President Trump is guilty of what he's accused of and they just won't do anything about it.

The two days of the Senate trial's Q&A session can be summed up in three sentences: President Trump's lawyers made an authoritarian argument that he's above the law. The House impeachment managers argued he's not. Senate Republicans sided with Trump and put a rubber stamp on authoritarianism. As House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) put it, what we saw in Trump's defense over the course of this trial was "a descent into constitutional madness."

The crux of Dershowitz's argument was that even if President Trump was looking out for his own personal interests when withholding the aid from Ukraine and pushing for the probes, that's not impeachable. Dershowitz claimed that if a president believes his own re-election is in the public interest he can essentially do anything in pursuit of that end.

In other words, Dershowitz said that when you're a president, you can do anything, and Congress should let you do it. You can just grab foreign countries by their points of leverage and extort them to get re-elected. Dershowitz subsequently tried to walk back what he said, putting more emphasis on the claim that a crime would be impeachable. But even his clarifying argument is false, given the fact no statutory crimes existed at the time the impeachment clauses were adopted in the Constitution.

Schiff argued that if the Senate accepted Dershowitz’s argument, they would be validating President Nixon’s claim that if a president does it, then it is not illegal. Schiff said it would be a “normalization of lawlessness" and a "bastardization of the Constitution." But Schiff's powerful counterarguments appeared to ring hollow as Senate Republicans made statements signaling an endorsement of the core of Dershowitz's argument.

On Thursday night, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) announced that he would be voting "no" on the resolution to subpoena witnesses and documents. Alexander's statement was truly stunning, as it conceded that the House impeachment manager's proved their "overwhelming" case: "It was inappropriate for the President to ask a foreign leader to investigate his political opponent and to withhold United States aid to encourage that investigation." Lamar said the Senate shouldn't remove a president for "inappropriate" behavior, reducing Trump's alleged abuse of power down to the word "inappropriate."

Schiff speaks on importance of protecting whistleblowers during impeachment trial

Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), in what appeared to be a hall pass from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to aid her struggling re-election bid, said she will vote "yes" on witnesses. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) said he would vote "yes." But Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said she would vote "no," likely killing the witness vote.

Ahead of today's proceedings and the vote on witnesses, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) released a statement asserting that even if President Trump’s conduct was impeachable, it still wouldn't warrant removal: "Just because actions meet a standard of impeachment does not mean it is in the best interest of the country to remove a president from office." Rubio said the voters should decide in November, but the fact it’s an election year is precisely why President Trump must be removed. Trump's corrupt conduct was an effort to cheat in the election.

After this trial, prepare for an even more unhinged President Trump. The day after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, he told Russian officials in the Oval Office that he fired "nutjob" Comey and the "pressure" from the Russia investigation was taken off. The day after Special Counsel Robert Mueller's hearings, Trump called President Zelensky and pressured him to investigate the Bidens. What will Trump do the day after his acquittal?

If Senate Republicans acquit Trump, they will be emboldening a lawless president and weakening the legislative branch as a whole. It's a shortsighted, self-defeating move. They're saying it's OK for a president to extort countries for personal gain and to obstruct Congress. They're saying a president can do anything as long as he's a Republican.

Impeachment manager Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) captured what this all boils down to by quoting Thomas Jefferson: “Tyranny is defined as that which is legal for the government but illegal for the citizenry.”

What the Republican Party is endorsing is nothing short of tyranny, and Americans will remember this cowardice in November.

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