An Unsatisfying Process

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As we go to press on the eve of Wednesday’s expected Senate vote for acquittal of President Donald Trump in his impeachment trial, we can’t help but reflect on the deeply unsatisfying process that has been the singular focus for so many members of Congress and the press, even as it has been largely ignored by a significant segment of the American public.

This third impeachment of a president in American history, like the trials of Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson, proved that guilt of high crimes and misdemeanors is in the eye of the beholder, and disturbingly subject to crass political calculation.

“If you have eight witnesses who say someone left the scene of an accident, why do you need nine?” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said, to explain why he opposed calling witnesses during the Senate impeachment trial. “I mean, the question for me was: Do I need more evidence to conclude that the president did what he did? And I concluded no.”

There seems to be no question that Trump did what the House said he did. He withheld $400 million in military aid to Ukraine in an effort to get a “favor” from that country’s president to announce an investigation of Trump’s political rivals. But the House managers were not able to convince enough senators that such action justifies a president’s removal from office.

There is justification for that conclusion. According to Alexander, “I think what he did is a long way from treason, bribery, high crimes, and misdemeanors … I don’t think it’s the kind of inappropriate action that the framers would expect the Senate to substitute its judgment for the people in picking a president.”

The Trump impeachment effort was unimpressive from start to finish. House Democrats rushed the process, with one eye on the clock, seeking to wrap it up before the presidential campaign season got underway. That approach caused problems. Time constraints and the fear of drawn-out court battles caused Democrats to take shortcuts, and the resulting articles of impeachment were not fully developed.

Even so, certain underlying facts were established, and the Democrat stumbles don’t excuse the intellectual dishonesty of the many vocal Republicans who defended the president’s actions and sought to justify Trump’s “perfect” call, as if the very facts laid out in the call notes and by those who heard the call never actually happened. Such obfuscation is insulting.

But we will move on. Starting with this week’s Iowa caucuses, the country’s focus will shift to the presidential race, and the American people will decide who should be their president. We encourage active participation in the election process, and hope that, come November, an unprecedented number of Americans will make their voices heard.

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