January 23, 2020

Impeachment Trial Begins

Editor's note: We couldn’t be more proud of one of our teammates, Isaac Rose-Berman, who penned his first op-ed this week in USA Today: “How college students can bridge American divides: 'Study abroad' in Alabama or New York.” Please give it a read, and share far and wide!

Democrats accused President Donald Trump at his impeachment trial on Wednesday of a corrupt scheme to pressure Ukraine to help him get re-elected.” Reuters

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From the Left

The left criticizes Trump’s defense and argues that the Senate should call new witnesses.

“Members of President Donald Trump’s legal team wasted no time telling a number of lies… Cipollone at one point complained that ‘not even [House Intelligence Committee chair and impeachment manager Adam] Schiff’s Republican colleagues were allowed into the SCIF,’ or Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility…. However, Republicans who are members of one of the three committees involved in the process had the same access as Democrats

“Sekulow’s opening statement, which served as an extended complaint about process, also managed to mangle the facts (he claimed House Democrats delayed transmitting the articles of impeachment to the Senate for a longer period of time than was actually the case) and mischaracterize the impeachment process (he said Trump ‘was denied the right to cross-examine witnesses’ during the House inquiry when, in fact, the White House declined to do so).”
Aaron Rupar, Vox

“The affair thus far is markedly different from the Clinton trial two decades ago, when procedural rules were passed unanimously after Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Louisiana and his Democratic counterpart, Tom Daschle of South Dakota, had resolved to work together despite the rancorous partisanship…

“Under the Senate’s usual rules, the minority party—and even a single senator—has significant power to delay or alter the proceedings. But under [these] impeachment-trial rules, McConnell can resolve any dispute by simple majority vote—and, for the moment anyway, he has the votes to do so. That’s why Schumer and the Democrats were so determined to force votes on each amendment, in an attempt to hammer home their contention that the trial, in its present incarnation, is inherently unfair. It’s the only leverage they have, and the only real remaining suspense is whether at least four GOP senators might join Democrats next week in agreeing to seek witness testimony or subpoena more documents.”
Todd S. Purdum, The Atlantic

“Republicans have successfully maneuvered around the evidence that already exists for removing Donald Trump from office. Their ability to do so probably wouldn’t change even if damning new information came out, but it’s nevertheless in their interest to keep anything new from coming out. That’s why 13 hours were spent on Tuesday rejecting Democratic amendments to subpoena new witnesses and documents at the outset of the trial… The strategy was to block Democrats from obtaining new material, and then to mock their presentation for failing to present any new material. In judging it that way, they elide the crucial question: Whether Donald Trump had admirably discharged his duties as president in the Ukraine affair.”
Jim Newell, Slate

“Every impeachment trial in American history has heard from fact witnesses. And at least every impeachment trial in the last hundred years has heard fact testimony from new witnesses — those who have not previously provided evidence to the House of Representatives… The president’s allies in the Senate must ask themselves whether they would brush aside such serious allegations if someone else was occupying the White House. One suspects that they would react very differently if, for instance, President Barack Obama had been accused of asking a foreign government to investigate Mitt Romney.”
Noah Bookbinder, New York Times

“Yes, the Constitution states that public officials may only be impeached for ‘high crimes and misdemeanors,’ but that phrase had an expansive meaning when it was written into the Constitution… The impeachment power, Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers, extends to ‘those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust.’... As a member of Congress, James Madison argued that a president could be impeached for ‘wanton removal of meritorious officers.’… Trump’s claim that he was improperly impeached is simply wrong.”
Ian Millhiser, Vox

“What happens in the trial will also affect the course of the presidency. Will future presidents take the threat of impeachment seriously? Or will they think of it as a small annoyance that isn’t worth avoiding? Will they feel secure in resisting what has been up to now routine congressional oversight, or will they accept that bargaining with Congress is part of the rules of the game? Will they feel emboldened to ignore the law when it comes to appropriations, or will they accept that spending law is binding? All presidents take domestic politics into account in foreign affairs, and rightly so, but will future presidents remember this episode and feel licensed to conduct foreign affairs for their own narrow personal interest — or will they remember this episode and exercise caution?”
Jonathan Bernstein, Bloomberg

Others argue that “Biden was almost the only one on the stage who talked like a normal person. There was a point near the end of the debate when he was talking about getting men involved in stopping domestic violence and he said that we need to keep ‘punching’ at it… I knew that the twitterati and the analysts would tut tut. Ol’ Joe is just out of touch! He doesn’t know you can’t use words like that. Meanwhile, every non-political junkie watching the debate thought there was nothing wrong with this. Biden was just using ordinary language, not worrying too much if it was fully approved by the woke brigade.”
Kevin Drum, Mother Jones

From the Right

The right is skeptical of the case against Trump and accuses Democrats of bad faith.

From the Right

The right is skeptical of the case against Trump and accuses Democrats of bad faith.

“The House managers don’t assert that any specific action by President Trump was an abuse of power or a violation of law. They don’t deny he can delay aid to a foreign country or ask a foreign leader to investigate corruption. Presidents do that all the time. Instead they assert in their first impeachment article that Mr. Trump is guilty of ‘abuse of power’ because he committed those acts for ‘corrupt purposes.’… As 21 Republican state attorneys general explained… ‘It cannot be a legitimate basis to impeach a President for acting in a legal manner that may also be politically advantageous. Such a standard would be cause for the impeachment of virtually every President, past, present, and future’…

“Every President has made foreign-policy decisions that he thinks may help his re-election. That’s what President Obama did in 2012 when he asked Dmitry Medvedev to tell Vladimir Putin to ease up on missile defense until after the election. Mitt Romney was criticizing Mr. Obama for being soft on Mr. Putin, and Mr. Obama wanted a political favor from the dictator to help him win re-election. Was Mr. Obama’s motive also corrupt and thus impeachable? We can guess what Mr. Romney thought at the time, but he didn’t say Mr. Obama should be impeached. He tried to defeat him at the ballot box.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

“It is fair enough to tut-tut that a president should not conflate foreign policy and domestic politics (something all of them do to some degree). And it would certainly be prudent (even if not constitutionally required) for presidents to leave questions about who should be investigated to the Justice Department, especially when a president’s political fortunes may be implicated. All that said, though, it makes a difference whether this president is asking the foreign power to manufacture a case against a political opponent, or whether the president is instead asking for an investigation into something that truly appears suspicious

“The president is entitled to an opportunity to show that there was reason for him to believe that a notoriously corrupt Ukrainian energy company had retained Hunter Biden and paid him a fortune despite his lack of qualifications.”
Andrew C. McCarthy, National Review

“Democrats insist that only witnesses who meet their standard of relevancy be called, contending that the Senate should only debate questions regarding what the president did and when he did it. But the presidents’ lawyers note that the question of why he did what he did is also a relevant question, as he cannot be removed from office for pursuing a proper public issue…

“Through his lawyers, the president argues that investigating Hunter Biden and Joe Biden’s behavior in Ukraine is a legitimate public purpose because of the appearance of public corruption. That makes both men’s activities and testimony highly relevant to the inquiry, regardless of what Democrats want to be true — unless the president should be prevented from presenting his defense on his own terms.”
Henry Olsen, Washington Post

Nevertheless, “Impeachment doesn’t require a crime… The Founding-era debates about impeachment are clear that Congress was to be able to remove a president from office if he had exercised his legal powers in an abusive way. One example that came up during those debates: What if the president tacitly encouraged a crime and then pardoned the perpetrator?...

“Attempts to impeach presidents have thus frequently combined charges of crimes with charges of non-criminal abuses. A categorical denial of the latter class of charge would do violence to the Constitution and one of its checks on presidential misconduct. Republicans would be better off arguing that in this case the president’s behavior, while objectionable, should be left, as scheduled, to the judgment of the voters directly — an argument that already has the support of most voters in polls and accords with Senate Republicans’ actual beliefs. There is no need for constitutional contortions.”
The Editors, National Review

“A political opposition can’t put a country through multiple congressional and media inquiries alleging Trump campaign collusion with Russia alongside Robert Mueller’s massive investigation into these charges, spend more months pushing obstruction-of-justice accusations, and now after three years of this political posse ask any serious person to believe the impeachment is only about Mr. Trump’s Biden-related conversations with the Ukrainian president or Mick Mulvaney’s refusal to testify… We read and hear constantly about Mr. Trump’s ‘violations.’ The real violation was winning Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.”
Daniel Henninger, Wall Street Journal

“If a dozen drones or missiles can do the kind of damage to the world economy as did those fired on Saturday—shutting down about 6 percent of world oil production—imagine what a U.S.-Iran-Saudi war would do to the world economy. In recent decades, the U.S. has sold the Saudis hundreds of billions of dollars of military equipment. Did our weapons sales carry a guarantee that we will also come and fight alongside the kingdom if it gets into a war with its neighbors?… the nation does not want another war. How we avoid it, however, is becoming difficult to see. John Bolton may be gone from the West Wing, but his soul is marching on.”
Patrick Buchanan, The American Conservative

Others note, “I’d hate to be a Democratic member of Congress trying to convince Joe Sixpack that this is a whole new ballgame. The transcript shows Trump being Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky trying to ingratiate himself with the big dog by, for instance, mentioning that he stays at Trump hotels. Trump’s conversation is typically scattershot, wandering all over the field, leaving a reasonable listener puzzled about what the takeaways are supposed to be…

“I think Joe Sixpack’s response is going to be a hearty shrug. After all that has emerged about Trump so far, his approval rating is closely tracking Obama’s approval at the same point in his presidency. To get Mr. Sixpack’s attention you are going to have to do better than this.”
Kyle Smith, National Review

President Trump should be happy. As much as Warren is articulate, obviously intelligent, and energetically supported by Democrats, she would also be far easier to defeat than Joe Biden… Considering Trump's economy, the president is well placed to defeat Warren.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

A libertarian's take

“While running for president in 2000, George W. Bush derided ‘nation building’ and said American foreign policy should be ‘humble’ rather than ‘arrogant.’ As president, Bush brought us the disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq… While running for president in 2007, Barack Obama rejected the idea that the president has the authority to wage war without congressional authorization whenever he thinks it is in the national interest… As president, Obama did that very thing in Libya… A few years before his 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump said the U.S. should withdraw immediately from Afghanistan… As president, he sent more troops to Afghanistan…

“Three men with little or no foreign policy experience entered an office where they were surrounded by experts, and they quickly shed their initial skepticism of military intervention… we should worry about a president with little knowledge of the world whose military decisions are driven by anger or domestic political considerations. But it's not clear to me that such a president poses a bigger danger than the experts who have been disastrously wrong more times than we can count.”
Jacob Sullum, Reason

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