The U.S. presidential election is only 276 days away. Americans have no way of knowing how secure the ballot boxes will be. This is because as of Friday morning, January 31, it looks as if the Senate, during its impeachment trial, will acquit Donald J. Trump, who is accused of behavior that threatens the integrity of U.S. presidential elections.
The articles of impeachment against Trump are based on charges that Trump put pressure on Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskiy to open an investigation into Trump’s political rival, former vice president Joe Biden, and Biden’s son, Hunter, by withholding $391 million in already approved military aid.
The week started with revelations from the manuscript of former U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton’s upcoming book, The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir. According to The New York Times, the manuscript contains details of President Trump’s phone call with Zelenskiy. Bolton has said that Trump told him directly that he was placing a hold on the aid until Zelenskiy announced the investigation Trump requested.
During the earlier impeachment hearings that took place in the House, Bolton had not shown up for a requested deposition before the House Intelligence Committee. If the House issued him a subpoena, Bolton said, he would take the matter to court. In early January, however, Bolton said that he’d be willing to give testimony in the Senate impeachment trial, if requested.
The question and answer phase of the impeachment trial has taken place this week, with Senators submitting questions for either side (in lieu of questioning actual witnesses and without benefit of relevant documents), to be read aloud by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. The questions seemed largely aimed at restating the positions of those asking them, rather than discovering information.
Avoiding, or unable, to produce a substantial defense for the president, Trump’s defense team has turned instead to using distraction techniques, including focusing on such topics as Joe and Hunter Biden’s activities; the debunked myth that it was Ukraine, not Russia, who interfered with the 2016 election; and the “great economy under Trump.” Finally, they settled on the position that even if Trump did do what he’s accused of, he did nothing wrong, because he’s the president. Or, at the very least, he shouldn’t be impeached because it would be “too disruptive.”
Alan Dershowitz, a member of the Trump defense team, put forth an argument that many interpreted as saying that the law gives the president nearly unchallenged presidential power.
“If a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment,” Dershowitz said.
But what politician doesn’t think that being elected is in the public interest? One can draw one’s own conclusions about how far a politician could go to get elected if he or she could do anything without being kept in check.
On Friday, the Senate will vote on whether to call witnesses. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer pointed out that the Trump defense team was making the case for calling witnesses with its argument that there was not sufficient evidence of wrongdoing to remove the president from office. And as of Thursday, it appeared that the defense had enough votes to block witnesses.
Republicans are united in their efforts to support Trump by blocking witnesses and documents pertinent to the trial, ostensibly to “wrap it up” quickly (“for the sake of the American people”).
Meanwhile, the White House has reviewed Bolton’s manuscript and issued a formal threat to Bolton in an effort to prevent him from publishing his book, saying that some of the information was classified at “top secret” level, could cause grave harm to national security, and “may not be published or otherwise disclosed without the deletion of this classified information.”
One has to wonder why the White House is scrambling to protect this information as a “security threat,” when the president, through his public actions, words, disclosures, and tweets, regularly threatens national security.
As expected, Trump has begun his Twitter attacks on Bolton’s credibility, integrity, and reputation. Among his most notable was this:
“For a guy who couldn’t get approved for the Ambassador to the U.N. years ago, couldn’t get approved for anything since, “begged” me for a non Senate approved job, which I gave him despite many saying “Don’t do it, sir,” takes the job, mistakenly says “Libyan Model” on T.V., and…
” ….many more mistakes of judgement, gets fired because frankly, if I listened to him, we would be in World War Six by now, and goes out and IMMEDIATELY writes a nasty & untrue book. All Classified National Security. Who would do this?”
Trump’s attacks are reminiscent of other attacks and threats he has made toward those he sees as having crossed him. These include former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, both of whom gave testimony during the House impeachment hearings; the whistleblower who first reported the troubling content of Trump’s call to Ukraine; former FBI director James Comey; and others.
If the Senate votes on Friday to hear witnesses, Trump has said he may try to invoke executive privilege to block Bolton from testifying. Legal experts, however, are saying that Trump may have undermined executive privilege with his tweets describing his conversations with Bolton regarding Ukraine.
Despite the fact that 75 percent of voters want the Senate to call witnesses, Republicans appear eager to eschew any new evidence that could change someone’s mind, and keep repeating, “Let the American people decide at the voting booths.” And this, we must be sure to do.
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