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To Quit or Not to Acquit, That Was the Question

“Wherever law ends, tyranny begins”

– John Locke Two Treatises of Government

February 5, 2020. Think of it as “a day which will live in infamy.” It is, of course, the day the Republican majority in the U.S Senate decided to quit the Constitution rather than not to acquit a tyrannical president. Is it not a gross exaggeration to suggest a comparison between what happened in the Senate on that day with what happened at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941? Read on.

In the wake of a sham impeachment trial in the Senate, one with no witnesses and a predetermined outcome, there was never any doubt that the Republican majority would vote to acquit President Trump. Nor can there be any doubt that the 51 Republican senators who voted not to allow witnesses knew exactly what they were doing, knew that a trial without due process 1) is a travesty of justice, 2) sets a dangerous precedent, and 3) and demolishes America’s commitment to the rule of law in the eyes of the world.

What’s worse, these lawmakers did it at a time when we have a president who believes and behaves as though he is above the law. Last summer (July 23, 2019), Trump told a crowd of young conservatives, “Then I have an Article II, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president.” It would have been a false claim at any other time in the nation’s history. Is it still? Or has the U.S. Senate handed an impulsive president unlimited power to do whatever he wants?

Fact #1: Article II of the U.S. Constitution grants Congress the power to remove a president via “impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Fact #2: Fact #1 is irrelevant.

In the words Paul Savoy, a former prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office:

This is how autocracy comes to America: not with a declaration of martial law and tanks in the street, but by a roll-call vote in the Senate whipped by the leader of the Senate in violation of the Constitution.

Had the Republican majority in the Senate decided to hold a fair trial and act as an impartial jury, had they allowed witnesses to testify and considered the ample evidence of presidential wrongdoing, they would have had no choice but to convict Donald Trump or face the real prospect of a voter backlash.

Rats will be rats and they will desert a sinking ship. That’s precisely what motivated Mitch McConnell’s decision not to allow witnesses. Anyone who thinks otherwise does not understand how things work in Washington in the Trump era.

Senator McConnell made it crystal clear that there would be no impartial trial, telling Sean Hannity on Fox News, he intended nothing less than “total coordination with the White House counsel. There will be no difference between the president’s position and our position . . . .”

President Trump’s astonishingly bold assertion of unlimited presidential power now appears prophetic—quite possibly the most alarming self-fulfilling prophecy by a sitting president ever. We can only hope Paul Savoy’s words are not similarly prophetic:

If on the day the Senate returns its verdict, history records the failure to convict the president following a trial without witnesses, that will be the day the rule of law dies in America. The courts will remain open for business. Congress will be in session. Citizens will still be able to vote. And a free press will continue to launch withering attacks on President Trump. But the American people will no longer be living in a constitutional democracy.

In refusing to call a single witness before acquitting the most impeachable president in American history, Senate Republicans were in lockstep with Donald Trump and his drum major, Mitch McConnell. Are the American people in lockstep with them? We will have the answer to that question when voters go to the polls on November 3.

No witnesses? Who do they think they’re kidding! The nation witnessed the travesty. So did the rest of the world. What happened on February 5 will never be forgotten. It will be remembered as a day when the freedom Americans have fought and died was placed in moral mortal danger. Like Pearl Harbor.

 

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