On February 5th, the Senate voted to acquit President Trump from charges of Obstruction of Congress with a 53-47 vote and Abuse of Power with a 52-48 vote. The votes were cast based on party lines, except for Mitt Romney (R-UT) who voted to convict Trump of Abuse of Power. Eventually, the trial came to a speedy end since the Senate voted to block additional witnesses and documents with a 51-49 vote on January 31st. In response to the acquittal, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell remarked that “This [impeachment trial] has been a colossal political mistake” for the Democrats (Re, 2020). On the other hand, the Democrats were upset with the outcome. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called the impeachment process a “kangaroo court” and a “sham” (Re, 2020). I think acquittal of Trump should come as no surprise to those who follow politics closely. It was predicted that the Senate would acquit Trump of charges because Republicans were the majority; however, there are other factors to consider in why the impeachment effort failed. Before I address the core of the impeachment trial, let’s understand the Constitution and the circumstances of how we got there in the first place.
What the Founders Believed
Article II Section 4 of the Constitution, outlines the conditions and process of Impeachment. In order to impeach a sitting president, he/she must be convicted of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” (US Constitution art. II Section 4). Article I Section 2 of the Constitution dictates that the House has the “sole power of impeachment” (US Constitution art. I Section 2). This phrase indicates that the House is the only body that can actually impeach a president. Article I Section Three of the Constitution delegates the power of trying impeachment to the Senate as presided by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. A 2/3 vote of the Senate (67 Senators) is needed to fully convict and remove a sitting president. It is important to note that the Senate has the power to set the rules for an impeachment trial, such as calling witnesses and documents.
How did the Founders view impeachment? Impeachment is the main check on the Presidency. The Founders hated the idea of monarchy/tyranny in their new country so measures needed to be taken to prevent an uncontrollable President. Alexander Hamilton, one of the Founding Fathers, feared that “popular demagogues” can instill a monarchy in the United States (Hamilton, 1792). He described a demagogue as:
“When a man unprincipled in private life desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents, having the advantage of military habits—despotic in his ordinary demeanour—known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty—when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity—to join in the cry of danger to liberty—to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion—to flatter and fall in with all the non sense of the zealots of the day” (Hamilton, 1792)
The Founders structured the impeachment process to involve both Congress and the Judicial Branch. Ideally, the Founders wanted most of Congress to agree that a president needs to be removed from office. Furthermore, the Founders intended that the Senate trial remain as impartial as possible. The Constitution states the Senate must swear an “oath or affirmation” that they will uphold the Constitution (US Constitution art. I Section 3). The Founders also delegated that the Chief Justice, rather than the Vice-President, supervise the Senate impeachment trial (US Constitution art. I Section 3). This change in supervision helps eliminate the possibility of a corrupt trial. Lastly, a 2/3 vote from the Senate is needed to convict a president suggests an element of bipartisan support. I say “bipartisan” because that is the structure of American politics today. However, it is important to note that during the writing of the Constitution there were no powerful political parties. The Federalist Party, the first political party, was founded in 1790 just two years after the Constitution was ratified in 1788 and the Democratic-Republican Party, the opposing political party, was founded in 1792. Even with political parties, partisanship or politics was not as strong as it is today. In the 1780s, Senators were selected by the state government rather than direct election which removed Senators from their constituents. However, the ratification of the 17th Amendment in 1913 granted the right for people to vote for their state senators (United States Senate, n.d). Much like representatives, Senators must be wary of not only the nation’s interests but also their constituents’. While direct elections helped promote a more democratic republic, a situation in which 2/3 of the Senate can be of the same party, a phenomenon we call “supermajority”, is possible. The most recent supermajority in the Senate was the 111th Congress in 2009 which was majority Democrat. (US House of Representatives, n.d). Including the 111th Congress, there were only 3 supermajority Senates in US history. However, these three Congresses are outliers and do not undermine what the Founders intended.
Nevertheless, Alexander Hamilton expected some partisanship and coalitions when a sitting president is impeached. He wrote, in Federalist 65, that a “well-constituted court” is difficult to obtain especially if the government is elected by the people (Hamilton, 1788). Because public servant’s failure has a direct effect on the people, the process is inherently political (Hamilton, 1788). The impeachment will divide the people into opposing coalitions, making the decision more influenced by the “comparative strength of parties” rather than guilt or innocence (Hamilton, 1788). The Senate is expected to look at the charges and evidence closely and evaluate whether the president violated the Oath of Office so that a proper and fair trail can be carried out.
Hunting Hunter Biden
The infamous July 25th phone call between President Trump and newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was reported to the inspector general by a whistleblower in mid-September. The whistleblower alleges that President Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden by leveraging military aid. The full transcript is online here. There is some skepticism regarding the transcript and whether it was unedited or not, but this transcript is the best we have. To summarize the call, there were greetings and pleasantries between the two presidents. The most critical line is when Trump says “I would like you to do us a favor” (White House, 2019). He then asks the Ukrainian President to investigate Hunter Biden, Crowdstrike (a cybersecurity firm), and Hillary Clinton’s server. President Trump talked about how Joe Biden managed to stop an earlier investigation of his son Hunter Biden saying “that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that” (White House, 2019). In response to Trump’s favor, Zelensky agreed to it saying “The issue of the investigation of the case [Hunter Biden] is actually the issue of making sure to restore the honesty so we will take care of that and will work on the investigation of the case” (White House, 2019). The President of Ukraine acknowledges that there is some level of corruption within Ukrainian government. Nowhere in the call did President Trump says that military aid is on the line.
The freeze on military aid was first reported by witnesses during Congressional Hearings. The military aid was first reported withheld on July 3rd (Welna, 2019). Another important aspect of this situation is whether President Zelensky felt “pressured” to investigate Hunter Biden. Lastly, the investigation of Hunter Biden in exchange for military aid is what everyone calls a quid pro quo (something for something). Quid pro quo is a general term for a mutual exchange of equally valuable goods between two parties. Forming a business deal is considered a quid pro quo. Asking your friend to walk your dogs and in exchange you water his plants is a quid pro quo.
When reading the transcript, I got the impression that President Zelensky was trying his best to establish a good and cooperative relationship with Trump. There were no disagreements during the call and Zelenskiy was really friendly with Trump even inviting him to visit Ukraine saying “I also would like to invite you to visit Ukraine and come to the city of Kyiv which is a beautiful city. We have a beautiful country which would welcome you” (White House, 2019). Since President Zelensky was newly elected, establishing good relations with the US can legitimize his presidency aiding Ukraine’s efforts to combat Russian aggression in Crimea. Securing a White House visit was a priority for the new administration and a source of controversy for the Trump administration.
Months after the phone call, Ukraine knew that military aid was being withheld according to a testimony by Laura Cooper, senior Defense Department Staffer. She testified that “her staff received two emails indicating that Ukraine was – to at least some extent – aware that aid has been put on hold” (Bump, 2019). Furthermore, Ukraine was unable to secure a White House meeting. Gordon Sondland, US ambassador to the European Union, testified that in regards to whether a quid pro quo took place: “As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and the White House meeting, the answer is yes” adding “everyone was in the loop. It was no secret” (Cohen, Kaufman & Fox, 2019). Sondland’s testimony indicated that the quid pro quo involved two bargaining chips: military aid and a White House meeting.
After months of trying President Zelensky finally got a meeting with Trump at the United Nations. Addressing the controversy, President Zelensky said that he never felt “pushed” by Trump. So was President Zelensky lying when he said that he never felt “pushed” by Trump? Possibly. President Zelensky even expressed frustration over the holdup saying “Look, I never talked to the President from the position of a quid pro quo. That’s not my thing. … I don’t want us to look like beggars … I think that’s just about fairness (Shuster, 2019). When Zelensky said that he never felt “pushed” by the president, he is saying that in order to save face and preserve relations with Trump. It would make Ukraine and Zelensky look weak if he was pushed around by Trump which would be politically disastrous for the new president. Instead, Zelensky wants to treat this as a matter of fairness. If Ukraine does something for the US, then the US will give something to Ukraine.
In response to the controversy surrounding the phone call President Trump said multiple times that that nothing wrong happened and it was a perfect phone call. I do not believe that the phone call was “perfect” as President Trump describes. I think that describing the phone call as “perfect” was a strategically bad move because it is very hard to prove and defend. When I read the transcript, the phone call involved a quid pro quo without any doubt in my mind. Foreign policy is basically run on quid pro quo type of deals. The United States has used this tactic to achieve its interests. For example, the Iran nuclear deal was a quid pro quo. Iran agreed to the terms of the deal in exchange the US and the EU paid the Iranians billions of dollars. Domestically, quid pro quo is used in sexual harassment cases. If Harvey Weinstein offered a young actress a movie role in exchange for sex then that exchange is a quid pro quo (Cornell, n.d). The only question of Trump’s quid pro quo is whether it was legal or an impeachable offense.
Impeachment in the House!
After hearing countless testimonies regarding the phone call, the House concluded that the quid pro quo was an impeachable offense. Eventually, the House passed the Articles of Impeachment on December 18, 2019. The vote was mostly on party lines with 230-197 for the Abuse of Power Clause and 229-198 for Obstruction of Congress clause. Only 3 Democrats broke ranks and voted against the articles. So what exactly is abuse of power and obstruction of congress and is what the House accusing the President an impeachable offence?
In regards with the abuse of power charges, the impeachment articles said that President Trump pressured the Ukrainian Government to open investigations on Hunter Biden to “arm the election prospects of a political opponent, and influence the 2020 United States Presidential election to his advantage” (House Resolution 755). These attempts by the President ultimately undermined US national security interest. This clause relies on two premises: that President Trump pressured Ukraine and that Trump was looking into the 2020 election cycle. The first critical question that needs to be answered is whether this quid pro quo is legal. If Trump’s intention was to use Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe and Hunter Biden in 2020 then the action is 100% impeachable. This move would basically be Watergate 2.0 Ukrainian Edition. One thing to note is when Trump was talking to President Zelensky, Hunter Biden is not the only person that Trump wants investigated. Trump mentioned Crowdstrike and the “server”. What is he talking about? Well, let’s put on our Alex Jones hats for a moment and talk about some conspiracy theories!
Donald Trump and the Raiders of the Lost Server
In 2016, there was a breach in the DNC servers. Crowdstrike, a US based cyber-security firm, was in charge of investigating the DNC hacking. The firm found that Russian agents were responsible for the DNC breach. However, Roger Stone, who was one of Trump’s advisors at the time, alleged that the DNC breach was an inside job and that Crowdstrike framed the Russians. The theory further alleges that Crowdstrike’s co-founder and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Dmitri Alperovitch is actually Ukrainian (he’s Russian) and is taking money from a prominent Ukrainian billionaire, who happens to donate to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. (Vavra, 2019). Since Ukrainians hate Russians (remember Crimea?), pinning a cyber-attack on the Russians would rally the US against Russia. There is also a theory that one of the hacked DNC servers is missing and is buried somewhere in Ukraine. (Vavra, 2019). What’s a DNC server doing in Ukraine and how did it get there? I have no idea, but that’s conspiracy theories for you.
Apparently Trump believes theses conspiracy theories, for some reason, and wants Ukraine to figure out what is going on. As for Hunter Biden, he has been an indirect target of Ukrainian law for some time thanks to his membership in Burisma. Hunter joined Burisma in 2014. In 2015, the Prosecutor General of Ukraine, Viktor Shokin announced an investigation into Hunter Biden and Burisma. Shokin alleges that Burisma and Hunter Biden were engaging in corruption. Shokin was fired in 2016 by then President Petro Poroshenko. What’s weird and yet ironic about this firing was that the Obama Administration and Joe Biden threatened to withhold 1 billion in US loans if the prosecutor is not fired. Joe Biden even bragged about Shokin’s firing saying, “I said, ‘You’re not getting the billion.’ I’m going to be leaving here in, I think it was about six hours. I looked at them and said: ‘I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money,’” (Solomon, 2019). We can look at both situations can say that they are basically the same in terms of action. Money that was meant for Ukraine’s national security was being withheld in exchange for some gain. So even before Trump was elected, the Burisma issue was present.
I get the feeling that Trump was obsessed with 2016 conspiracy theories and is using his power as the president to investigate those theories in order to further legitimize his presidency. Trump wants everything investigated, not just Hunter Biden. On the other hand, I get the feeling that US interest are being put on the line because of some personal issue. If I take cost-benefit analysis, I do not see the great benefit. Russian aggression in Eastern Europe threatens US interests and letting Ukraine fall would be a national security failure.
Back into the Fray
The House then argued that Trump obstructed Congress by not cooperating with the impeachment investigation. The Resolution states that “without lawful cause or excuse, President Trump directed Executive Branch agencies, offices, and officials not to comply with those subpoenas” (House Resolution 755).
This is the impeachment article that I disagree with on a fundamental basis. Obstruction of Congress, you mean Separation of Powers ...? A fundamental part of the US government is that all three branches put each other in check. If Congress has a problem with what the Executive Branch is doing, then the Judicial Branch is there to solve it. Who determines who is the Supreme Court? The Legislative Branch (to a certain extent) and the Executive Branch.
Still, what President Trump is doing is not Obstruction of Congress, but more of an informal evoking of executive privilege. Executive privilege is the notion that some communications within the Executive Branch is immune against forced disclosure (Vladeck, 2019). There is not a lot of Judicial cases regarding this issue because the majority of these conflicts are often resolved through negotiation (Vladeck, 2019). One major case was United States v. Nixon in 1974. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that executive privilege does not excuse the President from withholding the Watergate tapes from Congress because it interfered with a criminal investigation (PBS, n.d). What’s interesting is that US v. Nixon does exempt diplomatic and military communications from obligated disclosure (PBS, n.d). Given this exception, Trump releasing the phone call to Ukraine is really generous and ruins the image that a cover up took place. However, President Trump never formally evoked executive privilege during the impeachment trials.
Given the verdict of US v. Nixon does President Trump have the right to withhold documentation and stop witness from testifying in Congress? Not really, because Congress has a couple of methods of getting witness and documentation. First, Congress can vote to hold non-compliant witness in Contempt of Congress. Contempt of Congress is punishable by a $100,000 fine and a year in prison (Taylor, 2019). Second, Congress can detain an individual until that individual agrees to testify (Taylor 2019). Lastly, Congress can petition to the Supreme Court to force compliance out of a branch (Taylor 2019). However, since Contempt of Congress is a federal crime, the executive branch is in charge of enforcing it (Taylor, 2019). If the executive branch refuses to prosecute the individual charged with Contempt of Congress, then Congress is forced to go to the Supreme Court.
When President Trump refuses to cooperate with the impeachment effort it may be perceived as a cover up but also it can be seen as a preservation of the separation of powers. President Trump and his lawyers utilize executive privilege as a shield against Congressional subpoena. Jay Sekulow, one of Trump’s lawyers, wrote in a letter to Trump saying, “The majority of that information [White House staff, advisors, and campaign employees] could have been rightfully withheld on multiple privilege grounds, including but not limited to the presidential communications privilege” (Taylor, 2019). If Trump loves privacy then that’s his preference, however it does not completely protect him from Congressional subpoena. Trump’s refusal to cooperate with the impeachment effort can only be countered either by going to the Supreme Court or forcing some deal out of Trump. The House did neither of those things, and instead accused the President of a cover-up.
What’s interesting about this situation is that House members and other top Democrats were saying that President Trump is an existential threat to the United States and that impeachment has to happen immediately. Many prominent House Democrats such as Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) advocated strongly for President Trump’s impeachment citing that President Trump is a threat to the country and will remain a threat if reelected. Given their assertions, running to the Supreme Court would undermine their haste. However, going to the courts would be the smartest move to increase the chances of forcing compliance. Only four out of the nine Justices is needed to hear the case and the Supreme Court has four liberal Justices that could take up the case: Sotomayor, Ginsberg, Breyer, and Kagan. When that case is taken to Court then one more vote is needed to force President Trump to comply. Chief Justice Roberts would seem the likely target of the prosecution because of his moderate views while the conservative Justices: Alito, Kavanagh, Gorsuch, and Thomas would be against the case. However, the process of litigation could take a very long time perhaps a year or so before opening arguments are heard. By the time the Supreme Court decides on the case the election will already be in its apex. If President Trump needs to be removed from office within a year, then would nominating a strong Democratic candidate to beat President Trump the best way to do so? Personally, I think not going to the Supreme Court and getting those witnesses and documents was a really big mistake from the impeachment team. I think they had a good case saying that those witness and documentation are important for a criminal investigation which would echo the conflict in US v. Nixon.
Another argument is that President Trump violated the Impoundment Control Act (ICA) of 1974. This act was designed to force the President and other executive branch officials to allocate funding where Congress wants it to go. For example, if Congress passes a spending bill that will fund the effort to create a vaccine for the corona virus, then President Trump cannot just withhold the money or spend it on getting golden toilets for the White House (which would be an interesting maneuver indeed…). Did the president violate this act? Yes, he did because he withheld military funding meant for Ukraine and did not inform Congress about it. The General Accountability Office (GAO), a nonpartisan arm of the legislative branch, even said so.
The real question is-- is it impeachable? In 1989 a US District Court ruled that the Impoundment Control Act (ICA) does not grant private right of action, the ability of private parties to sue the state for rights. The Court then argued that the Comptroller General, the head of GAO, has the power to enforce the ICA (Public Citizen v. Stockman, 1981). That enforcement came in the power of litigation (Public Citizen v. Stockman, 1981. As a result, violation of the ICA is not impeachable. The penalty of breaking the ICA comes in the form of a lawsuit which never happened because President Trump eventually released the aid to Ukraine.
I am the Senate!
On December 18th 2019, the House approved the articles of impeachment but delayed sending those articles until January 15th. Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker at the time, defended her decision of delaying the impeachment articles saying that Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Senate Majority Leader, will not be impartial in the Senate trial and that he is engaging in a cover up. Mitch McConnell indicated that additional witnesses or documents may not be guaranteed (Andrews et al, 2019).
While Senator McConnell did not promise new witnesses or documents he set rules which could allow the Senate to call new witnesses and documents. As I mentioned earlier, the House can basically do the same thing. Even if the Executive Branch refuses the House subpoenas, the impeachment effort could have looked to the courts to force witnesses and documents. The prosecution in the Senate was off to the wrong start due to the need of additional witnesses and documents. It is like a prosecutor who petitions to the judge and jury for additional witnesses and documents to convict the defendant. From the beginning, the impeachment effort looks under prepared and rushed. Still, the blockage of additional documents and witness was unprecedented in the history of impeachments.
In an ideal world, the Senate is impartial. Arguments, evidence, and questions will be exchanged and evaluated on both side and individual Senators will make a rational decision on the president's actions. Let’s be honest, no one in the Senate was impartial in this impeachment trial. Partisan politics and reelection are all strong factors in a Senator’s choice during the elections. For Republican Senators it would make sense to side with the President politically because it appeases their voting base and earns an endorsement from the President. On the other hand, for Democratic Senators voting against the sitting President is the best move politically because it appeases their voting base and other party members. The vote is so partisan that one Democrat House member even turned Republican because of the impeachment trials.
I do not trust either the Democrats or the Republicans to give President Trump a proper and fair impeachment trial. I do not expect Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), or Kamala Harris (D-CA) to be fair to the president. Nor do I expect Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Lindsay Graham (R-SC) to go against President Trump. Since Republicans are in the majority of the Senate, the acquittal of the president was inevitable. Sure there were some swing vote Republicans such as Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Susan Collins (R-ME). While these Senators are not big fans of Trump, they do not hate him entirely. I had a feeling that these three Senators were the most fair out of all the others. Unlike the Republicans, the Senate Democrats were unified against Trump. There was not a single Democrat detractor in the Senate vote and that’s to be expected. Democrats hate Trump, for good and bad reasons, while Republicans love Trump. The idea that the Senate would have been completely fair to Trump is fantasy, because this impeachment trial started super politically (no bipartisan agreement in the House) and ended politically. The impeachment trial echoes what Hamilton said about impeachment- the decision will be based on the strength of the parties rather than a guilt or innocence rule.
Furthermore, the impeachment team that Pelosi selected were all Democrats and vocal Trump critics: Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Jerry Nadler (D-NY). Like I said, this impeachment effort was politically charged and it made it this far thanks to a Democrat majority in the House and it ended due to a Republican majority in the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader McConnell promised to emulate the rules of Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial. In Clinton’s trial, the Senate first heard opening arguments from the prosecutor (the impeachment lawyers) and the defendants (Trump’s lawyers). Then there was cross examination and the Senate votes for additional witnesses and documents. After hearing and seeing additional evidence the Senate then voted to convict or acquit the President.
The Impeachment team’s strategy was to pull the swing vote Republicans on their side. Republicans have a slight majority in the senate (53-47). If there had been a tie, then Chief Justice Roberts would have made the final call and Roberts is also a swing vote. In an ideal world, the impeachment lawyers managed to convince all swing votes and win additional witnesses and convict Trump. All they need to do is present logical and persuasive arguments on why Trump abused his power, which is their strongest case, and why he should be impeached. However, presenting a strong argument is hard if your case requires additional witnesses and documents. It is because the argument’s weakness that Senator Murkowski voted against calling for witnesses and documents saying, “House chose to send articles of impeachment that are rushed and flawed” (Egan & Gregorian, 2020). However, the impeachment lawyers did not completely fail in their strategy. They did manage to convince Senator Romney and Senator Collins to vote for witnesses.
While debating witnesses, a revelation came out with John Bolton who was Trump’s former national security advisor. Bolton revealed, in a preview of his new book, that he was told by Trump to hold military aid to Ukraine to secure an investigation on the Bidens (Collinson, 2020). In my opinion, this “revelation” or “bombshell” did not really add much to the conversation. This revelation does not answer the fundamental question: is Trump’s quid pro quo impeachable? We already knew that Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine unless they can investigate the Bidens and other things. Another interesting thing is that Bolton even said that he is willing to testify to the Senate about Trump. I thought that was a strong boost to the impeachment effort. Unlike the other testimonies, Bolton actually talked to Trump. He was there when Trump made the call to withhold military aid; he can provide some useful information. That was enough to pull two Republican Senators to vote for witness, but Senator Murkowski thought otherwise.
From what I read about the impeachment hearings, I thought the impeachment lawyers made some good speeches from what little they had. The speeches that stuck with me the most are Representative Adam Schiff’s opening and closing arguments. Representative Schiff addressed partisanship in the Senate saying, “They risked everything, their careers. And yes I know what you're asked to decide may risk yours, too. But if they could show the courage, so could we" and “We all, Democrats and Republicans alike, must ask ourselves whether our loyalty is to our party or whether it is to our Constitution?” (Naylor & Allyn, 2019). I also liked when Schiff mentioned what the Founders thought when discussing the basis of impeachment. Representative Schiff has the right idea in addressing the hyper-partisanship in the Senate and making an appeal to GOP Senators to drop politics and do their duty. Establishing that appeal is a good step in addressing impeachment because it sets up a premise that if a GOP senator opposes impeachment, then that opposition can be attributed to party loyalty.
Moving on, I did not like Trump’s defense. They basically argued that Trump’s phone call with President Zelensky was perfect and that Trump did nothing wrong. It is true that Trump committed no impeachable crimes (looking in hindsight), but that phone call was not perfect. Arguing that something is perfect is such a bad position, but it is so like Trump to do so. Trump likes to say that he either did something perfectly or he did not do it at all.
However, there were a couple of surprising arguments and revelations that arose from the impeachment cross examinations. I think the most prominent is Alan Dershowitz’s argument in defense of Trump’s quid quo pro. Dershowitz argued that “If a president does something which he believes will help him get elected, in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment” (Sherman, 2020). Many people interpreted this argument to meant that the president can basically do anything he/she wants and say that such actions are in the “public interest”. Let’s put this argument into context. Before Dershowitz argued that public officials believed that their reelection is in the public interest. He then followed up by making a historical analogy to when President Lincoln ordered General Sherman to send troops to Indiana to vote for the Republican Party. Dershowitz then argued that Lincoln’s quid pro quo was done because Lincoln believed that his party’s success was in the national interest. Dershowitz then concluded that “everyone has mixed motives” (Sherman, 2020).
When looking at this argument in context, there is a mixed motive between a President’s interest in getting reelected and a President’s interest in upholding national interest. Sometimes there is a conflict of interest and sometimes those interests align. DISCLAIMER, I am no psychologist but I agree with the argument that people have more than one reason/motive for doing things. While one motive can strongly compel an action, there are other motives that play a role. For example, I go to school every day. Why do I go to school every day? Because I want to go to medical school, so I get to see my friends, so I do not fail undergraduate, so I can graduate, so I can learn things. Likewise, if a president does something that he/she believes is both in both national and personal interest, mainly getting reelected, then the action is not impeachable. If a president does something solely to get reelected without considering national security, then that is impeachable. Also, a president can do something that is in the national interest but in so happened that it benefitted him personally.
A week after the Senate voted 51-49 against witnesses, the Senate then voted to acquit Trump of both charges. For the next couple of weeks, the Democrats were outraged that Trump was acquitted and warned that he will do more illegal actions in the future. Nancy Pelosi commented on the aftermath saying that Trump is impeached forever. That’s true, but that really does not matter. Bill Clinton is also impeached forever and yet he is living the good life and is a big part of American politics (remember how he campaigned for Hillary?) When Trump leaves office, no one will care that he was impeached. Weeks after the impeachment, it was business as usual. Trump tweets dumb things and gloated his acquittal, Democrats fire back and Trump hits back. Same stuff, different day. However, President Trump’s impeachment did make history as being the first impeachment of a sitting president during the first term. Before, Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson were both impeached, but during their second terms. Another unprecedented event that occur was the COVID-19 Pandemic which basically eclipsed the impeachment trial.
I am writing this approximately two months after the impeachment trial. First off, while the US was hyper focused on the impeachment trial, SARS-CoV2 was spreading around the world. At the time, no one took it seriously. Many dismissed it as a seasonal flu and focused their energy on the impeachment trial. Still, no one could have predicted this pandemic we are seeing now. Because COVID-19 is a serious issue in the election cycle, the main debate of Trump’s reelection will be centered around his response to the pandemic. The impeachment trials will be used as a way to attack President Trump’s character in office. Whether Trump botched the COVID-19 response is a whole separate debate. Once COVID-19 dies down, the impeachment trial and their arguments will gain traction as criticisms against Trump. Nevertheless, COVID-19 and the economy will be the top issues in the general election.
Let’s assume COVID-19 did not exist and that President Trump does not do anything stupid past February. The impeachment effort united both Democrats and Republicans to support their respective causes and caused a rift between Trump and the House (remember the State of the Union?). A question that I see raised after the acquittal is “will Trump be impeached again?” I do not think Trump will be impeached again. The Democratic primaries are happening soon so the Democrat’s best chance of kicking Trump from office is beating him in the general election. The impeachment ended so badly that it would be foolish to try brining up again so soon: it would look petty and degrade the significance of impeachment. I think because of how the impeachment effort went, it does not really hurt Trump’s chance at reelection significantly.
I think that the central debate around the election is the same issues as the 2016 elections: economy, healthcare, foreign policy pertaining to Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and the Middle East, and immigration. The impeachment effort is likely to be used as a character attack against President Trump. If such attacks were used, then the same arguments are going to be utilized on both sides. One on side critics will argue that the impeachment trial was a witch hunt and unjustified; those on the other side will argue that the impeachment trial was unfair and incomplete. Nevertheless, whoever has the best policy plan, record, and future vision of the US will win the next election. Election wise, the people who supported Trump will keep on supporting Trump and the people who hated Trump will continue to hate Trump. I think the American people want a President who can serve them and provide them safety as well as economic prosperity. Americans are sick and tired of DC politics and want their politicians to serve them rather than the political parties or special interests. The future president should recognize the US’s role in the world economy and security and fight to protect her interest and allies. That president should give hope and reassurance to the people: if something goes wrong then we can overcome together.
Democracy is a great thing; it allows the people to keep their government in check. While the Founders valued the role of the people in politics, they still created the process of impeachment as a check on the President. The Founders believed that the people are too ignorant or easily swayed to make intelligent political decisions. However, today, the American people are smarter and more engaged in the way their country works. I think that the most fascinating aspect of our country is that discontent at a sitting President is not resolved by politicians, but by everyday people who hold their government accountable every step of the way. The American people recognize that loving their country does not mean turning a blind eye to wrongdoings by the government, loving their country means speaking out, voting, and fighting for what is best for the US. The will of the people is truly the greatest driving force in American politics, no amounts of money or challenges can ever stop it.
Beavers, O. & Lillis, M. (2020). House delivers impeachment articles to Senate. The Hill. Retrieved from: https://thehill.com/homenews/house/478490-house-delivers-impeachment-articles-to-senate
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