Amer­i­cans want a real trial in the Se­nate

The Saline Courier - - OPINION -

To hear some peo­ple tell it, House Democrats are like the dog that fi­nally caught the car. Vot­ing to im­peach Don­ald Trump could turn out to be po­lit­i­cally sui­ci­dal. Es­sen­tially be­cause vot­ers turned against Repub­li­cans for im­peach­ing Bill Clin­ton -- the GOP lost five seats in the 1998 midterms, end­ing the po­lit­i­cal ca­reer of Speaker Newt Gin­grich -- con­ven­tional wis­dom as­sumes that Democrats will pay a sim­i­lar price for act­ing against Trump.

It’s even been sug­gested that Speaker Nancy Pelosi save her­self and her party by of­fer­ing a mo­tion of cen­sure, thus sur­ren­der­ing to the pres­i­dent’s bul­ly­ing, and to Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch Mc­connell’s vow to hold a purely per­func­tory Se­nate trial, call­ing no wit­nesses and rush­ing to a party-line ac­quit­tal.

In this for­mu­la­tion, Pelosi be­comes a po­lit­i­cal bat­tered wife, fear­ful that im­peach­ment would only make her an­tag­o­nist more dan­ger­ous and in­flame his cult-like sup­port­ers.

Well, that’s not go­ing to hap­pen. Con­ven­tional wis­dom re­gard­ing im­peach­ment de­pends en­tirely upon the Clin­ton ex­am­ple. “Go­ing back to the 1990s,” Josh Mar­shall points out, “the elite na­tional press, es­pe­cially in Washington, D.C., was highly, highly in­vested in the idea that a ma­jor scan­dal would and should bring Bill Clin­ton down.” Af­ter one me­dia-hyped Clin­ton scan­dal af­ter another fiz­zled -- re­mem­ber Su­san Mc­dou­gal in chains? -- catch­ing the big dope with his pants around his an­kles ex­cited tout le monde, as they say in Paris: ev­ery­body who mat­ters.

But the vot­ing pub­lic wasn’t buy­ing. Whether tit­il­lated or of­fended, most Amer­i­cans didn’t think Clin­ton’s sins called for im­peach­ment. “The poll data is strik­ing,” Mar­shall ex­plains. “Sup­port for im­peach­ing Clin­ton never got as high as 30%.” What’s more, be­cause it was about sex, pretty much ev­ery­body with a TV set knew all about it. Repub­li­cans forced the is­sue any­way.

Good­bye, Newt.

Pub­lic opin­ion re­gard­ing Trump is very dif­fer­ent. The pres­i­dent got an­gry about a re­cent Fox News poll show­ing that fully 50% of Amer­i­cans fa­vor his im­peach­ment and re­moval (my em­pha­sis). Another 4% are iffy about dump­ing him. Given that U.S. pol­icy to­ward Ukraine is rather less stim­u­lat­ing to most than Oval Of­fice sex, these are re­mark­able numbers. Given the strength of the ev­i­dence, more­over, sup­port for Trump can only go down.

For pub­lic con­sump­tion, Mitch Mc­connell acts as if he and Trump have got Democrats ex­actly where they want them. Re­gard­ing an im­peach­ment trial, the ma­jor­ity leader vows to call no wit­nesses, sub­poena no doc­u­ments, and stam­pede the GOP Se­nate to a quick and dirty ac­quit­tal.

“Ev­ery­thing I do dur­ing this, I’m co­or­di­nat­ing with the White House coun­sel,” Mc­connell boasted on Fox News the other day. “There will be no dif­fer­ence be­tween the pres­i­dent’s po­si­tion and our po­si­tion as to how to han­dle this to the ex­tent that we can.”

A more servile ap­proach to his con­sti­tu­tion­ally man­dated du­ties would be hard to imag­ine. Sev­eral GOP sen­a­tors have also an­nounced that they’re pre­pared to ig­nore their oath of im­par­tial­ity and vote to ac­quit the pres­i­dent -Ted Cruz and Lind­sey Gra­ham among them. They’re not merely will­ing to de­clare Trump a king, above and out­side the law, they ac­tu­ally brag about it.

It should be noted that Cruz and Gra­ham rep­re­sent states where au­thor­i­tar­ian Trump­ism is broadly pop­u­lar.

Sev­eral Repub­li­can sen­a­tors up for re-elec­tion do not.

Any­way, what if they’re all bluff­ing? Can it be that Mc­connell, a shrewd po­lit­i­cal strate­gist, fully un­der­stands the weak­ness of Trump’s po­si­tion? Has he ac­tu­ally got the 51 votes re­quired to stage a sham trial? It’s not clear that he does. Also, what would such a spec­ta­cle do for Repub­li­can hopes of keep­ing a Se­nate ma­jor­ity af­ter the 2020 elec­tion?

It would ap­pear that they fear that a full air­ing of the ev­i­dence re­gard­ing Trump and Rudy Gi­u­liani’s nut­ball scheme to with­hold mil­i­tary aid from Ukraine -- a democ­racy un­der at­tack by Rus­sia -- in or­der to ex­tort its pres­i­dent into an­nounc­ing a bo­gus in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Joe Bi­den would hurt the party even more.

So here’s the bad news for Trump­ists: With half the Amer­i­can pub­lic al­ready fa­vor­ing his im­peach­ment and re­moval, the rest ex­pect a se­ri­ous reck­on­ing. Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., sup­ports adopt­ing the same rules that gov­erned Clin­ton’s 1999 trial -- unan­i­mously ap­proved by 100-0 vote.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent Washington POST-ABC News poll, strong ma­jori­ties agree: Let’s have a real trial. Amer­i­cans think Trump’s top aides should tes­tify by a mar­gin of 71% to 22%. “Among Democrats, 79% say Trump should let his ad­vis­ers ap­pear be­fore the Se­nate, while 64% of Repub­li­cans agree.

Among in­de­pen­dents, 72% fa­vor their ap­pear­ance.”

No doubt many Trump sup­port­ers be­lieve that the tes­ti­mony of se­nior White House aides could only bol­ster his case. (Although what de­fen­dant any­where, ever, has fought to keep ex­cul­pa­tory tes­ti­mony hid­den?)

Trump’s re­moval by a two-thirds Se­nate vote re­mains highly un­likely. But a proper im­peach­ment trial would serve two im­por­tant pur­poses: to in­form the pub­lic and de­fend the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion.

Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a Na­tional Magazine Award win­ner and co-au­thor of “The Hunt­ing of the Pres­i­dent” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at eu­gene­[email protected]­hoo.com.

GENE LYONS

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