BIPP: Partisanship and personalization in impeachment proceedings

Nicole Reddig, BIPP Intern

On the morning of Jan. 25, U.S. President Donald Trump’s legal team took the Senate stage and started off the first day of opening arguments for the defense. They lasted a mere two hours. Poking holes in the House’s case for impeachment, Trump’s team outlined their argument of the President’s innocence and accused the Democrats of trying to “steal 2020” out of the hands of the voters. To no surprise, Trump is not going down without a fight.

The charges against the President are fairly simple. Article 1 outlines abuse of power, saying, “Using the powers of his high office, President Trump solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, in the 2020 United States Presidential election.” This statement refers to the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and subsequent actions involving the exchange of military aid for intelligence on political rival Joe Biden. Article 2 charges the President with obstruction of Congress, saying that he obstructed the House’s constitutional “Power of Impeachment” by directing the “unprecedented, categorical and indiscriminate defiance of subpoenas issued by the House of Representatives.” By directing executive branch organizations to defy subpoenas for documents relating to Ukraine, the President obstructed the House’s ability to execute the impeachment process.

The most modern example of impeachment proceedings is the 1998 impeachment of former President Bill Clinton. The two proceedings share some of the same senators and lawyers but differ in personalized and partisan nature. Clinton was impeached by the House on two charges, perjury to a grand jury and obstruction of justice, but the trial in the Senate focused on the severity of his wrongdoing as an impeachable offense, not whether or not the action was wrong. Trump’s legal team is insistent that his actions were within the range of presidential power over foreign policy. Instead of protecting the office of the President, this argument protects Trump as an individual who is immune to wrongdoing.

Moreover, even though Clinton’s impeachment sets the only modern precedent for the Senate trial, this trial’s proceedings have been even more partisan. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has openly admitted to working in “total coordination” with the White House and Democratic Senators during the Clinton trial refused to even discuss defense strategies with the White House, emphasizing impartiality. McConnell has stated that allowing for witnesses to be called in the Senate trial would be unconstitutional, violating the doctrine of separation of powers. Three witnesses were deposed in Clinton’s trial, including Monica Lewinsky herself. McConnell’s strong opposition to calling witnesses has become a major point of contention in the Senate, who will vote on approval of witnesses after opening arguments. Only four Republicans are needed to approve this measure, but they would likely face consequences from their own party.

In addition to the prevention of witness testimony, the amount of evidence being introduced in the Trump impeachment differs starkly from that of the Clinton impeachment. Clinton provided investigators with full access to executive documents pertaining to the investigation; Trump, on the other hand, has prevented the release of documents to such a degree that he is facing a second charge of obstruction of Congress. A Freedom of Information Act request was required, revealing documents that show evidence that the Office of Management and Budget froze aid to Ukraine. During the Clinton investigation, this information would have likely been recovered without an FOIA request.

Clinton was acquitted; however, in his apology, he recognized his wrongdoing with the understanding that “accountability demands consequences.” In his closing argument, Clinton’s White House Counsel Charles Ruff said, “Would it put at risk the liberties of the people to retain the President in office?” The same question can be asked today, from the opposite side of the trial. Trump has betrayed the trust of the public by soliciting intelligence on political rivals from a foreign government in the name of the most highly respected political office in the country. He has denied a complete investigation. He has directed his executive offices to ignore congressional subpoenas. He has coordinated with Republican leaders to preserve his personal legacy over the presidency. He refuses to accept his wrongdoing and the consequences of his actions.

It would risk the liberties of the people to retain the President in office. 

(Visited 29 times, 1 visits today)