By James Preston Allen, Publisher
“The President, Vice President and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
—U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 4
I was eating lunch at Conrad’s Mexican Grill on 6th Street the day the Senate impeachment trial started. Conrad’s is one of the few restaurants in town with a big screen TV that still allows CNN to be on. Most of the local establishments long ago banned Fox News out of total disdain for their political misinformation and the disruption it caused, but when Donald Trump got elected his vocal minority around here became more embittered at CNN’s “fake news” as the president calls it. I can only count three out of the many restaurants and bars in my town that will now turn on anything other than sports.
Great, every beer-drinking citizen knows who’s favored to win the Super Bowl and probably knows the odds of their particular betting pool against their team, but nobody is sitting on the edge of their bar stool betting on impeachment. The odds aren’t good for a conviction, or so I’m repeatedly told, but this isn’t a trial played out just in the U.S. Senate. It’s a trial held in the court of public opinion and the Republicans are doing their worst to ensure that you don’t see the facts. These facts keep coming out in the pesky “fake news” media.
Damn the facts! “We know what you’re trying to do,” the Trump defenders scream. “You’re trying to overturn the 2016 election.”
So, the U.S. Senate has finally taken up the impeachment articles of Donald J. Trump for abuse of power related to illegally blocking aid to Ukraine and for obstruction of Congress in his stonewalling the release of documents and witnesses that could prove his guilt or perhaps his innocence. However, if he were innocent, then why wouldn’t he just release the information and let his people testify? Common sense would argue that an innocent man would rely on the evidence and a guilty one attacks his accusers.
The odds are that this isn’t going to be a fair trial based upon the facts even if they were allowed. This is going to be the surreal TV show trial starring Donald J. Trump in absentia. And the jury that Rep. Adam Schiff and his team of Democratic prosecutors are playing to is not the jury of U.S. Senators, but the American public, as it is clear that both sides have made up their minds. The only question now is how much airtime this will get between 24/7 sports coverage, nightly infotainment programs and the incessant local weather coverage that gets three times as much time on local TV news as anything as essential as impeaching the president.
We keep being reminded that impeachment has only happened three times in the history of our republic, as though this is a rare occurrence and that we are in uncharted waters. Yet, with a simple search on your computer you will discover that there have been at least 19 times impeachment articles have been approved and tried. Most of them were for federal judges. Only three were for presidents– Andrew Johnson in 1868, William Clinton in 1999 and now Donald J. Trump this past December. Richard Nixon resigned before he was impeached. It’s not like Congress doesn’t know how to do this. Yet the Republican-led senate has as of today blocked the admission of any evidence or witnesses that would make this look anything like court TV or the last time you served jury duty.
Once again, this is a political trial that does have its roots in the undisputed fact that Russia did interfere in the 2016 national elections to help elect Trump. The subsequent investigation by special prosecutor Robert Mueller III indicted and prosecuted some 34 people.
CBS News reported that Trump has called it “a witch hunt,” but special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation has already resulted in seven guilty pleas and one conviction at trial, with a cast of defendants that include Trump’s former campaign chairman, ex-national security adviser and one time personal lawyer.
In all, 34 people and three companies have been criminally charged as a result of the probe. Mueller was named special counsel in May 2017 by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and directed to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” and “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”
The only problem with Mueller’s investigation is that it did not clear Trump of any culpability in this scheme, but as he testified the DOJ could not prosecute a sitting president—leaving this to Congress as it is now doing. Clearly, Trump and his criminal enterprises should have been stopped before they came to this point and why they haven’t, we may never know. But, this is the tipping point in which the once timid Democratic party must stand up against corruption. This is something of a challenge for those who are constantly looking for bipartisanship in a divided nation.
As I’m finishing up my huevos rancheros at Conrad’s, with one eye on the Senate trial with the Republicans voting down any amendments for witnesses or evidence, I notice a guy at the far end of the room. He’s got one eye on this plate and one on the TV and I’m thinking this is the American dilemma. Do we eat lunch or do we consume a surreal TV court drama that could change everything or change nothing?
If this were Hong Kong or perhaps a dozen other countries, there would be millions demonstrating in the streets for Trump to be convicted but the debate is being argued on TV, the arbiter of our collective opinions and it is in that court of public opinion that Donald J. Trump will receive his just desserts.