The impeachment of President Donald J. Trump may end right after it opens without the normal staples of a “trial” – witnesses, documents and compliance with subpoenas.
That would be bad for Colorado, bad for the country and bad for our constitutional system of government.
With one vote, Sen. Cory Gardner could avoid that outcome.
Unless Gardner believes he has already heard enough information to find Trump guilty of both articles of impeachment the House charged — abuse of power and obstruction, he should join with Democrats and a handful of Republicans voting to hear from critical witnesses and demanding the White House turn over documents subpoenaed long ago. Four Republicans will be needed to proceed.
The odds that Gardner will be one and break ranks with Republican leadership and Trump are only good in comparison to the odds that he ultimately votes to remove the president.
The ultimate question surrounding Trump’s impeachment — should he be removed from office? — represents a foregone conclusion. Too many Republican senators acquitted Trump before he’d even been impeached, much less waiting for evidence to be presented.
But the path to that outcome will resonate far beyond a single presidency.
The real trial taking place under the dome of the U.S. Capitol places the rule of law and our constitutional system of government in the defendant’s chair. A vote to forgo hearing from further witnesses and forcing the White House to comply with subpoenas will do more to deteriorate both than any other vote cast in the Senate since it first convened in 1789.
Trump’s trial strategy seems to simply be to flout subpoenas, stonewall investigators and instruct his sycophants to refuse to testify or provide documents.
Nothing if not boastful, Trump even bragged about his ability to keep information from Congress and the American public. Effectively, he has asserted that he is above the law and dared the co-equal branches of government to defy him.
If Gardner and the Senate fail to rise to the occasion, can they really be considered co-equal?
To the contrary, the Senate would be rewriting the Constitution. Not only would the presidency be elevated to a position more closely aligned with infallible kings, queens and popes, but the sole mechanism to keep a president in check would be eviscerated and subject only to the president’s choice to comply. That sounds more like a dictator.
And why stop there? Trump has already planted the seed to do away with term limits and clearly thinks little of elections.
Americans fundamentally understand that risk and overwhelmingly want the Senate to hear from key witnesses such as former Nation Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Polling shows 72% of the country, including 69% of Republicans, believe the Senate should take that step.
Legal scholars, including Fox News’ chief legal analyst and conservative firebrand Judge Andrew Napolitano, have decried Trump for suppressing evidence and recognized the value of additional evidence.
Even Trump has said he wanted witnesses to testify, though that was two days, multiple conflicting statements and hundreds of tweets ago.
But now, in an effort to deflect from the overwhelming sentiment of the country and the reckless path they’ve plotted for it, GOP senators have begun to bemoan the time-consuming court fight that might occur if Trump attempts to exert executive privilege. As though a few weeks or months of inconvenience aren’t worth protecting 231 years of constitutional rule of law.
Eventually people will talk and documents will be released; whether via the sluggish wheels of the judicial system, enterprising journalism, tell-all books or a new president lifting the executive order. Eventually, the American public will hear the whole truth.
The question for the Senate and Gardner is how that truth will reflect upon them and the legacy they craft over the next few days.
Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq
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