Opinion: Partisanship may defeat statesmanship re: impeachment

(Erin Schaff/The New York Times)

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(Erin Schaff/The New York Times)

"Impeachment is about cleansing the office." U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, advocating Bill Clinton's impeachment.

When looking at impeachment, there are many esoteric terms being thrown around that the average American does not fully understand. Frankly, Americans cannot make a nonpartisan determination as to whether or not President Donald Trump should be removed unless they understand the meaning of the words used.

For example, many of my conservative friends have told me repeatedly that the Mueller report cleared Trump of collusion. Collusion is not even mentioned in the report. And, they say that it found him completely innocent. It clearly did not, although U.S. Attorney General William Barr attempted to indicate that in his fanciful “summary” of the report.

The Mueller report looked at legalities, attempting to determine if there was enough evidence to reasonably convict the president of conspiracy, a statutory crime. In large part due to the fact that Trump refused to answer questions either in writing or verbally (and obviously obstructed the investigation on multiple occasions), there was not enough evidence to bring forth charges of conspiracy. On the other hand, many observers have reasonably concluded that based on the report, the president and his campaign did collude with Russian agents, although that question was not what Mueller was tasked to examine.

Further, the Mueller report did state (in purposefully confusing legalese) that Trump was not cleared of obstruction of justice. In fact, the report clearly documents many instances when the president did obviously interfere with the investigation. However, Mueller indicated that Trump’s DOJ had indicated to him that Trump could not be indicted while in office (a debatable interpretation not in the Constitution). So, he left the matter of what to do about obstruction up to Congress.

Which gets us to impeachment and removal, separate Constitutional issues. The Constitution defines the grounds for impeachment and removal as being: “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors”. As a practical matter, this leaves a tremendous amount of interpretation to Congress, which has generally used the vague “abuse of power” rule.

Impeachment is the role of the House of Representatives. Removal of an impeached President (after a trial and vote) is the role of the Senate.

The Constitution did not envision our two-party system where the impeachment/removal process would be primarily controlled by party loyalty, extreme partisanship and politics. Thus, putting nation over other factors like party (as the Constitution envisioned) has not always been the case.

For example, Bill Clinton lied about a sexual affair having nothing to do with the daily functions of government. Clinton was then impeached by the GOP-controlled House (led by an obviously partisan Newt Gingrich) for lying to Congress, but the Democratic Senate subsequently refused to remove him from office. I had a close friend who was once head of Sen. Bob Dole’s staff who was emphatic about Clinton needing to go, per the Graham statement above.

On the other hand, true statesmen did put the interests of our country before political gain. Famously, Sen. Barry Goldwater, the father of the modern conservative movement, went to Richard Nixon and indicated to him that the GOP Senate would support his removal if he did not resign.

Obviously, with the death of Sen. John McCain, there appears to be no Republican leader with the fortitude to take on Trump (and his highly motivated, nativist base) in a similar manner. Certainly, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has just shown himself to be a pawn of the president. This partisan situation is made worse by social media and a major news network that obviously will support the president regardless of what he does.

The Democrats have at long last opened official impeachment hearings. They have a lot to work with, including the clearly unethical call made by Trump to pressure the head of the Ukraine to investigate Biden (at the risk of having military aid held up, obvious bribery in my opinion).

However, in the long run, the final decision on removal will not simply be made on the facts. Removal via a trial will be in the hands of McConnell, no impartial statesman. Will he continue to blindly follow Trump, further destroying our democratic traditions, or will he finally have the moral courage to do what’s right for the nation? Over the next year, we will know. But I’m not optimistic.

Jack Bernard has been an executive with several national health care firms. A Republican, he’s a former chairman of the Jasper County Commission.