This week the trial of President Trump before the Senate begins. A delegation from the House of Representatives has delivered (finally!) the Articles of Impeachment. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has distributed the thirty gold pens with which she signed them. And Chief Justice John Roberts, who must preside over the trial, has been sworn in.
The trial itself will almost certainly end in the President’s acquittal. Public opinion, the actual Articles of Impeachment, the delay in transmitting those articles to the Senate, and the issue of what witnesses, if any, should be called, all diminish the chances for a Democratic triumph.
The main reason to expect the President’s acquittal is his continuing rock solid support from his Republican base. To remove the President requires the support of at least 20 Republican Senators, assuming all 45 Democrats and both Independents in the Senate vote to convict. But few, if any, of the Republican Senators will want to face the fury of the President’s base by voting to convict.
But it should also be noted that the charges against President Trump are weak. Nowhere is he charged with a specific crime.
Abuse of power? The President is charged with withholding congressionally authorized aid from the government of the Ukraine unless its government announced an investigation into Hunter Biden’s work for Burisma, the Ukrainian natural gas company. Yet the aid was delivered on schedule, well before the congressionally-imposed deadline, and to date the Ukrainian government has neither launched, nor even announced, a Biden-related probe.
And what about the charge that the President obstructed Congress? True, he refused to submit documents to, or allow testimony of administration officials before, the House Intelligence Committee. But the proper course of action was to litigate the matter before the federal courts. Had federal judges ordered the President to comply with congressional demands, then his refusal to do so might well have justified an obstruction of Congress charge. But in the absence of a refusal to obey a definitive court order, the charge seems to be a gross overreach by Congress.
It should also be noted that whatever the validity of the charges, Speaker Pelosi undermined their importance with her delay in their transmittal to the Senate. Her initial rationale in demanding impeachment before Christmas was that the President’s continued incumbency posed too grave a risk to America’s democracy and the integrity of the 2020 presidential election to allow him to remain in office any longer. That she waited 4 weeks to transmit the Articles to the Senate obviously belies this claim.
Also undermining the strength of the Articles is the Democrats’ demand that more witnesses be called to testify in the Senate trial. The Democrats say that witnesses such as Chris Mulvaney, the President’s Acting Chief of Staff, and John Bolton, the President’s fired national security adviser, be called to support and reinforce assertions that the President wanted to withhold aid to the Ukraine to extract an announcement of a Biden investigation. Republicans have responded that this means the Democrats think the witnesses who testified before the Schiff committee were not sufficiently reliable. Whatever. It seems highly unlikely that any minds will be changed with the testimony of new witnesses.
But there could be a danger, to the Democrats, at least, should they prolong the issue of witnesses. Consider the case of Lev Parnas, one of Rudy Guliani’s “business associates,” who claims he has more direct knowledge of the President’s Ukrainian gambit, as well as the degree to which other high-ranking officials, including the Vice President and the Secretary of State, were involved. No doubt the Democrats would love to have him testify, but he could present serious credibility issues which Republicans would be all too happy to exploit: He’s already been indicted for alleged violations of federal campaign finance laws, and Ukrainian officials he says he met deny any knowledge of him.
Another danger facing the Democrats is a potential Republican demand for witness reciprocity—an arrangement by which the Democrats can call their witnesses, in exchange for allowance of Republican-demanded witnesses as well. At the top of the GOP’s witness wish list are the Bidens themselves, whom Republicans would love to question under oath about Hunter Biden’s Ukrainian ties. Even if questioning reveals no technical legal violations, exploration and discussion of the $50,000/month payments to Hunter Biden can do Joe’s presidential bid no good.
All in all, it would probably be best if, in the upcoming trial, the House Managers (the representatives Speaker Pelosi appointed to prosecute the President) simply presented their case, to be followed by the case for the President as made by his attorneys, with a vote by the full Senate to end the proceedings. The presentation of witnesses will prolong the trial, but will not change the outcome of the proceedings. The sooner the trial is over, the sooner we can resume the presidential election campaigns and submit the question of whether President Trump should remain in office to America’s most important jurors—the voters.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.