Lessons Learned from the Impeachment Trial

The Impeachment process is over. Although the dust has not settled, we need to ask: What have we learned?

 Lesson #1

We have a divided Congress This was clearly seen in the votes on impeachment. Back in December in the House of Representatives, 230 members voted in favor of Article 1 of impeachment (Abuse of Power) while 197 voted against (a few abstained). That is a 54/46% split in approval of impeachment. In the Senate in January, it was the mirror opposite.  48 senators voted in favor of Article 1, with 52 against.

Lesson #2

It was a strange impeachment trial. In all fifteen previous trials in the Senate (of sitting presidents or others), key witnesses had given relevant testimony. Not in this case. Government officials, like John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney, could have provided information that would either have shown the president to be innocent or guilty of the abuse charges. According to several reliable polls, 75% of the U.S. population wanted witnesses to testify. (In these divided times, this was overwhelming agreement.) Nevertheless, only two Republican senators voted to have witnesses. The remaining Republican senators seemed to be afraid of upsetting the president and in receiving his wrath. Senator Lamar Alexander´s response was typical. He thought the House representatives had proven their case that the president´s actions were ¨improper¨ but he did not believe those actions reached the bar of ¨high crimes and misdemeanors¨. I am disappointed in Alexander and others like him. He believed the president to be guilty but would not allow Bolton and Mulvaney to present their understanding of what really happened to the American public.

Lesson #3

Senator Susan Collins said she hoped that the president would have learned from his mistakes and would act more properly in the future. (Bill Clinton had, at least, apologized to the nation for his wrong actions). Such was not the case. Trump did not apologize. To the contrary, he has maintained that he did nothing wrong. He feels more emboldened to act as if he were ¨above the law¨. For example, his tweets have applied pressure to Attorney General Barr to reduce the sentencing recommendations on his old friend, Roger Stone, who lied to Congress. Barr proclaimed that Trump´s tweets have made it ¨impossible for me to do my job¨.  (Many feel that this was just political theater so that Barr could claim independence from Trump even though he does the president´s bidding on every single issue). The lesson we should learn is that no one is above the law.

Lesson #4

Meanwhile, the Democrats are in the midst of a messy primary tussle. The process in Iowa was a complete debacle. In New Hampshire, Bernie Sanders won a close race against Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar. Bernie´s challenge: How does he persuade the American public that his Democratic Socialism is the good variety (like Social Security or as practiced in much of Europe)? Joe Biden has slipped and needs a victory in South Carolina to go forward.  Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is hovering over the field hoping for several wins on super Tuesday.

Hang on to your hats. The next few weeks will be a political roller coaster ride.

The Impeachment Trial and Hypocrisy

The impeachment trial of President Trump is coming to an end. It is likely today there will be a vote on the calling of witnesses. That vote will probably be about 49/51 and therefore not enough to pass. If this happens, Trump will be acquitted shortly thereafter.

There have been many irregularities that need to be clarified. Here are my reflections.

Hypocrisy is evident in both sides: Democrats and Republicans. Two decades ago, President Clinton was impeached in the Republican controlled House of Representatives but acquitted in the Democrat dominated Senate (just the opposite of the current composition in Congress). Some of the current key players on both sides were also quite involved in the Clinton trial (Lindsey Graham, Jerry Nadler, Zoe Lofgren, Mitch McConnell, and others) and they are on record arguing for ethical and procedural positions on witnesses, documents, etc., in that trial that are just the opposite of what they have affirmed in the current situation. Although it is possible for people to change their minds on ethical principles, in this case the tribalism and hypocrisy are quite evident. We the people are naïve if we don´t recognize that many politicians change their moral principles to suit their personal or political ambitions. We the people should call them out, Democrats and Republicans alike, for their hypocrisy.

Witnesses – According to U.S. history, we have had fifteen previous impeachment trials in the Senate (of Presidents and others). In every one of these trials, there have been witnesses. If no witnesses are permitted to give testimony in the Trump trial, it is a complete break with precedent.

A bogus argument – The White House lawyers have repeatedly claimed that the Democrats in the House did not do their job, because they should have called witnesses like Bolton. As a consequence, the lawyers argue that the Senate should not call witnesses just because the House Democrats failed to do their job. This is the height of hypocrisy and I hope that most citizens see through this guile. The lawyers know quite well that Trump defied every single subpoena for witnesses and documents. When subpoenas are defied, the lawyers claimed the House should have gone to court to obtain this testimony, but they know quite well that appeals to the court would take months to work through the judicial system. (the House did take their subpoena of previous White House Counsel Don McGahn to court, but nine months later, the courts have still not given their final decision) This is stalling. What makes it worse, early on the WH counsel said that taking the subpoenas to court was illegal. Arguing that the House could not go to court and then arguing that the House should have taken the extra months and/or years by going to court is a sham. Most Americans recognize this as hypocritical.

In an earlier blog weeks ago, I expressed the need for eyewitnesses to testify. Eyewitnesses like John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney are the ones whose testimony under oath could confirm whether President Trump is innocent or guilty. Both of these men were appointed by Trump. Both are Republicans. Rules could be established that limit their testimony to one day or one week. To vote against calling these witnesses is an admission of not wanting to seek the truth.

Not hearing from the most relevant witnesses gives the appearance of hiding the facts and covering up misdeeds. John Bolton´s book will eventually be published, and his understanding of the truth will be made public. Let it happen during the trial and not when it is too late.

Martin Luther King, Civil Disobedience and the Bible

Today we have a federal holiday to honor the life and service of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.  He became known around the world for his defense of civil rights. He was a strong example of producing social change through non-violent means. Although he had flaws like all of us, there is much too learn from his life.

In this writing I would like to comment on another aspect of his life: civil disobedience. I believe that citizens generally should obey the laws of their country. Although most laws have been established for the common good of people, on some occasions, laws or commands by authorities are so morally wrong that they need to be disobeyed. Civil disobedience is not an easy decision. It requires courage and a willingness to be arrested and to accept the punishment.

In this regard, Martin Luther King had a specific word for Christians. He said, “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.” Christians look to Scripture for guidance whether it be the establishment of just laws or the occasional need to disobey unjust laws. It might come as a surprise to some readers, but civil disobedience appears frequently in the Bible. Three passages will suffice to illustrate the most important principles.

In the Book of Acts, the early Christians were turning the world upside down through their preaching and practice of the gospel. The religious authorities of the Sanhedrin did not like the changes that were occurring and prohibited the apostles from sharing the gospel. Nevertheless, the early followers of Jesus continued their evangelism. Peter and the other apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than human beings! (Acts 5:29). Here is the clear principle: When human rules violate God´s laws, believers need to obey God, the highest authority. Our allegiance to family, political party, or nation must always be limited and conditioned by our obedience to God.

A clear example of civil disobedience in the Old Testament took place when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. The Pharaoh was oppressing the Hebrews and feared their numerical growth. He then ordered the two Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, to kill the baby boys immediately after they were born. This command to murder the baby boys clearly was against God´s teaching. What would these two women do? Scripture tells us that ¨the midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live” (Exodus 1:17). The ethical principle is obvious: the taking of innocent life is wrong. Believers must obey God rather than dictatorial rulers. Shiphrah and Puah are my heroines.

Earlier this month, Christians celebrated the visit of the Magi to baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem. In their search for the Messiah, the Magi came across King Herod in Jerusalem. Herod was alarmed at the news of a newborn King of the Jews, and told them, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” This was a lie. After they found and worshipped Jesus, the Magi were told by God to not return to Herod (Matthew 2:7-12). The lesson to be learned is that people need to exercise a healthy dose of suspicion and discernment to avoid becoming accomplices in the sins of unjust rulers.

Let us strive to contribute to the conscience of our world through our word and our actions!

Good Press about our Recent Book

Some of you know that a colleague from Whitworth and I wrote and published a book Challenged and Changed about Whitworth University’s Central America Study and Service Program, CASP, which dates back to 1975. The program is a hidden jewel of the university and has had a transformative impact on the hundreds of students who have participated in it. The book is available at https://wipfandstock.com/challenged-and-changed.html

Recently, the Spokane Fig Tree newspaper interviewed us and published a good article about the program. You can access it at https://www.thefigtree.org/jan20/010120whitworthcasp.html

Happy reading!

A Potential War with Iran and the Attempt to get Reelected

It is well known that governments that are facing domestic problems often go to war in order to rally public support behind their failing administration. They hope that a majority of their citizens, in a spirit of nationalism, (not genuine patriotism), will overlook the domestic issues and come to the support of the executive branch of the government. This is what happened forty years ago when the failing government of Argentina went to war with England over the Falkland Islands.

In light of this political strategy, the following quote is illustrative:

“Our president will start a war with Iran because he has absolutely no ability to negotiate. He’s weak and he’s ineffective. So, the only way he figures that he’s going to get reelected — and as sure as you’re sitting there — is to start a war with Iran.”

Nevertheless, this quote did not come from a liberal Democrat in a critique against Donald Trump. It was not penned by left wing radicals who hate our current president. No, this was a tweet by Donald Trump on November 16, 2011 in which he predicted that then President Obama would lead our country into a senseless war in the Middle East. President Obama did not fulfill Trump’s prophecy. He refused to start a futile war with Iran for personal political gain. Although Trump was wrong about Obama, he was right about human nature and how many politicians make decisions. Many rulers create international crises for their own personal benefit. Ironically, perhaps Trump was predicting his own behavior in 2020.

Citizens in the United States, and around the world, must learn from history. The war in Iraq was touted as a “just” war that we waged to eliminate Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. There were no weapons of mass destruction. Although Saddam Hussein was evil, our military conflict was not justified. Trump himself opposed that war and campaigned on getting our troops out of never ending, futile and unjust wars in the Middle East. He has just ordered the deployment of thousands of soldiers to the Middle East.

A truly biblical position on political activity comes from Jesus Himself where he warns people to not be naïve. Jesus told them, “The rulers of the world lord it over their subjects, and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors (= Doers of Good). Do not be like them.” (Luke 22:25-26). Jesus calls his followers not to believe everything we hear. We are called to have a healthy dose of skepticism. People must hold their elected officials responsible to tell the truth and to act justly. It is my hope and prayer that we do not fall into an “easy believism”. May we rigorously seek the truth and may the truth win out.

Christianity Today and Trump's Impeachment

Last week on December 19, the Editor in Chief of Christianity Today, Mark Galli, wrote an editorial that has caused quite a stir. Titled ¨Trump Should Be Removed from Office¨ Galli argued that President Trump has been so immoral that he should leave the presidency either through impeachment or be voted out of office in the 2020 election (see https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/december-web-only/trump-should-be-removed-from-office.html)

Christianity Today was founded by the evangelist Billy Graham back in the 1950s and has remained both theologically and socially conservative since its beginning. It is the flagship magazine of the mainstream evangelical movement. Although it is non-partisan, it deals with political and social issues with some frequency. Galli argued that just as the magazine had urged the impeachment of President Bill Clinton some twenty years ago, the time had come to urge that President Donald Trump be removed from office.

Galli was very precise in his analysis. First, he pointed out the bad actions that the Democrats had committed: ¨The Democrats have had it out for him {Trump} from day one, and therefore nearly everything they do is under a cloud of partisan suspicion. This has led many to suspect not only motives but facts in these recent impeachment hearings. And, no, Mr. Trump did not have a serious opportunity to offer his side of the story in the House hearings on impeachment.”

Nevertheless, the actions of Trump were beyond the pale. “The facts in this instance are unambiguous: The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents. That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.” Galli also points out other sins that Trump has committed: racism, abundant lies, immoral actions against women and in business, slander, etc.

What is at stake, for Galli, is the very integrity and witness of the church. If followers of Jesus pretend that Trump’s sins are “good” or are not important, we no longer contribute to the moral compass of our culture. Instead of Christians adorning the gospel with our lives, we are actually pushing people away from Jesus. Sadly, I have personally seen this happen over and over again, especially with younger generations. Galli knows that for many evangelicals, Trump’s virtues (his appointment of conservative judges and a strong economy) outweigh his vices. He knows that they might still approve of his presidency, but some positive actions do not make a person immune from impeachment. Sincere Christians might disagree on impeachment, but at the very least, they need to have the courage to identify sin when it stares them in the face.

Trump was quick to respond to the editorial. He lambasted the magazine with an ad hominem attack using phrases such as “radical left” and “communist”. These comments are absurd! Even those who have a superficial understanding of the contemporary religious scene know that Christianity Today has been and continues to be socially and politically conservative. In a follow up response, Christianity Today’s president and CEO, Timothy Dalrymple, defended the editorial as well as the magazine’s reputation. “President Donald Trump would have you believe we are ‘far left.’ Others have said we are not Bible-believing Christians. Neither is true. Christianity Today is theologically conservative. We are pro-life and pro-family. We are firm supporters of religious liberties and economic opportunity for men and women to exercise their gifts and create value in the world. We believe in the authority of Scripture.”

Given the importance of these issues, I echo the magazine’s call for continued conversation. Let our contributions to the dialogue be respectful and filled with truth and grace. That is the way of Jesus.

Seeking Truth in an Age of Impeachment – What are they trying to hide?

Most people in the United States (and many around the world) are aware that President Donald Trump was impeached on Wednesday by the Democrat controlled U.S. House of Representatives. The vote was overwhelmingly along party lines. He was indicted on two articles of impeachment: (1) abuse of power and (2) obstruction of the Congress. He was accused of abusing his office of president this past summer when he pressured the government of Ukraine to get dirt on his political rival Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. Trump put a pause on almost 400 million dollars of military aid approved for Ukraine by the U.S. Congress until the Ukraine government publicly announced an investigation of criminality by the Bidens.

Democrats and Republicans are generally in agreement regarding the facts. The White House has issued a fairly complete transcript of the July 25 phone conversation between Trump and Ukraine President Zelenski where Trump stated, “We do ask for a favor though” where he asked that the Ukrainians investigate the Bidens. Nevertheless, Democrats and Republicans vigorously disagree on the motivation behind the favor that Trump requested. Trump claims he was putting a hold on the funding until corruption in the Ukraine government had been significantly reduced. Democrats claim that Trump was illegally using the presidency to get “dirt” on his possible 2020 election rival, Joe Biden and that this illegal action rises to the level of impeachment.

Sadly, it is human nature for us to try to put our best foot forward and to suppress any information that describes us in a negative light. We do it when we write an overwhelmingly positive resumé as we apply for a new job, when we write a commercial to sell our products, or when we are trying to get elected (whether it be for class president or for the U.S. Senate). Nevertheless, this leads to only part of the truth, the part that we want others to see. We try to hide our weak areas, the negative aspects of the truth, those aspects that would hurt our cause.

This is what has happened in the impeachment inquiry. President Trump blocked many witnesses from testifying and he blocked the release of significant emails. This blocking of witnesses continues to unfold as the process moves to the U.S. Senate. The Republicans want to bring to the witness stand the whistleblower, Hunter Biden, Joe Biden, and Adam Schiff. The Democrats want John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney, Rudy Giuliani to appear because they are the key figures who had direct knowledge of why the military aid was suspended. The Republican strategy is somewhat divided. President Trump wants a longer “trial” so that his image might be repaired in a Republican controlled Senate. Majority leader  Mitch McConnell has indicated reluctance to any additional witnesses because some new damning evidence might come out, especially by Bolton and Mulvaney.

There is hypocrisy on both sides. Both want the public to see the testimony of witnesses that reveal the negative actions of the other side. For example, the Republicans accuse the Democrats for not proving their case, but it was President Trump who was blocking the very testimony of those who had first-hand knowledge. To demand that the Democrats should go to the courts in order to legally obtain this information is obviously hypocritical, because this process would be tied up in the courts well past the 2020 election.

Nevertheless, if we really want to know the truth, we should want to know more information, not less, more witnesses who would testify, not fewer. Will the sworn testimony of Hunter Biden, John Bolton, and Mick Mulvaney be embarrassing to their side? Probably. Will it help clarify the issues? For certain! We the people ask the Senate to bring in those persons who will shed light on what really happened. We demand that they stop hiding the facts. The truth will set us free!

We betrayed the Kurds: Let’s admit our big mistake

Our Betrayal of the Kurds: Let’s admit we made a big mistake

A week ago President Trump ordered the removal of U.S. troops from northern Syria. Our troops were there together with our allies, the Kurds, in a prolonged conflict to remove the terrorist group ISIS from Syria. This decision was made by our President but went against the recommendations of most of our National Security and Military leadership. The response from the Turkish government was quick and predictable. They sent troops to invade northern Syria to create a “safe zone”. It was an obvious “land grab” and the area is now anything but “safe”. The rapidly occurring events include the following:

  • Hundreds of Kurdish civilians have been killed and their leaders feel betrayed by us.
  • Thousands of captured ISIS terrorist soldiers are now escaping from prisons and detention camps
  • The Kurds are now asking for help from the Syrian authoritarian ruler, Bashar al Assad.
  • The Kurds, realizing that we have abandoned them, are also seeking a new alliance with Russia.
  • President Trump has threatened Turkey with “crippling sanctions”, but these are still potential measures that have not been implemented. Such feeble threats have done nothing but embolden Turkey’s ruler Erdogan.

In a very rare demonstration of bi-partisan unity, almost all of our Congressional representatives who have weighed in on the issue, have criticized the President’s decision. Republican Senator Lindsay Graham, one of Trump’s most faithful allies, announced that the White House “shamelessly abandoned” our allies, the Kurds. Republican Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, rebuked the President and explained that “a precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran and the Assad regime…and it would increase the risk that ISIS and other terrorist groups regroup.” This is quite revealing. If McConnell is right, much of the so called “war on terrorism” has been a huge mistake since the gains that were made with great sacrifice and cost, will now be lost.

Although I empathize with Trump’s desire to get us out of “stupid, endless wars” we must be very careful and wise in how we remove ourselves. If not, the solution is deadlier than the problem. President Trump, it takes courage and maturity to recognize one’s mistakes, especially when they occur in full public view.  Be mature, retrace your steps, and change your policy.

Enough is Enough! Senator Mitch McConnell, Bring the Bill Up for a Vote!

This past Saturday our country suffered another mass shooting, this time in El Paso, Texas. A 21-year-old white supremacist opened fire at a Walmart store and killed 22 people and seriously wounded others. Then, early Sunday morning, another mass shooting took place in downtown Dayton, Ohio and nine civilians were killed.

Time and time again we have witnessed mass killings in our country: Las Vegas, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Orlando, Gilroy, and the list goes on and on. These massacres are in the news for a while, but nothing happens. Our Congress has let us down. 90% of our citizens are in favor of requiring a universal background check before people can purchase guns. This would reduce the number of guns in the hands of those who should not have them (felons, domestic abusers, mentally ill people, etc.)  Currently there are many loopholes (sales at gun shows, online gun sales, etc.) that allow guns to get into the wrong hands.

There is one man who has blocked legislation that would require a universal background check: Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell. He has repeatedly refused to bring legislation passed by the House of Representatives to a vote in the Senate. On a wide variety of issues this has contributed to the deadlock and polarization of our Congress, as moderate measures are not even given a chance. This is especially troubling regarding background checks.  Last month, a bipartisan bill passed the House (240 to 190) that would require a universal background check prior to the purchase of guns and would eliminate the loopholes. It was co-sponsored by Republican Representative Pete King who affirmed, “When background checks are used, they keep guns out of the hands of people that we all agree shouldn’t have guns. As government officials it is our responsibility to protect our citizens, and when it comes to gun violence, we must do more. The overwhelming majority of Americans want to see action and we owe it to the victims and their families to prevent such tragedies from occurring again.” Senator McConnell has not even brought this bill up for a vote in the Senate. The fact that the NRA (National Rifle Association) has given millions of dollars in contributions to his election campaigns clearly suggests that McConnell is in the NRA’s back pocket.

This bill is not perfect and will not end all gun violence in our country. McConnell does not have to vote in favor of this bill, but he does have the moral and legal responsibility to bring it up for discussion and a vote in the Senate. I urge my readers to communicate with Senator McConnell and to urge him to bring the bill to the Senate.  This is not a left/right issue. Even President Trump has urged a bipartisan response that would include “stricter background checks”. Enough is enough. We, the people of the United States, need to demand action by those in Congress who represent us. The lives of our neighbors are in the balance.

Mueller has spoken. So has Barr. Is it time for an impeachment inquiry?

As everyone knows, Special Counsel Robert Mueller headed up the investigation on alleged Russian interference in our 2016 presidential election. The twenty-two-month long investigation resulted in the Mueller Report with the following conclusions:

  • There was definite interference by Russia in our election.
  • The was not enough evidence to bring charges of conspiracy between the Trump election campaign and Russian officials.
  • There were ten episodes of alleged obstruction of justice. The Report laid out the evidence in favor and against obstruction, but did not state a conclusion. It suggested that the Congress has this responsibility.
  • The Report did not exonerate the President.

Within 48 hours, Attorney General Barr wrote a four-page document that summarized the report. Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein made a decision to affirm that President Trump was innocent of the allegations of obstruction of justice. Trump went even further and claimed that there was no obstruction and that he was fully exonerated.

Mueller disagreed with the Barr summary and wrote two letters to Barr to rectify that misleading conclusion. Not obtaining the rectification that he sought, Mueller broke his public silence on the investigation and gave a nine-minute public address (May 29, 2019) when he also announced his resignation from the Department of Justice. Regarding the investigation, he made the following affirmations:

  • His Special Counsel investigation was not legally permitted to bring charges against Trump due to Department of Justice tradition and policy that would not allow a sitting president to be indicted.
  • Since the Department of Justice cannot bring charges against a sitting president, the only other option is political. The Congress would need to bring charges of impeachment against the President.
  • Regarding the claims of no obstruction and exoneration, Mueller spoke quite clearly, “If we had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that. We did not, however, make a determination, as to whether the President did commit a crime.”

A few days later, Barr stated his disagreement with Mueller’s comments. Meanwhile, various committees in the Democrat controlled House of Representatives have subpoenaed various documents (Trump’s tax returns) and witnesses (Don McGahn, Hope Hicks, etc.). The Trump administration has refused to turn over documents and has pressured the witnesses not to appear before the House committees.

We are at an impasse. Both sides have their partisan political reasons for their positions. Democrats claim that Trump has obstructed justice and he is doing everything he can to prevent the truth from coming out. Trump claims that the Democrats lost in the investigation and want a “re-do” in a type of witch hunt against the President.

More than partisanship, what we really need is to come to a conclusion regarding the truth on these issues. A full-blown impeachment process would probably not obtain the needed two/thirds majority in the Senate due to the Republican control there, and therefore could be a strategic mistake for the Democrats. Nevertheless, given the White House actions of stalling and stonewalling, I believe an “impeachment inquiry” is now the only way to obtain a clearer understanding of what happened. If Trump is truly innocent, he should turn over the documents and permit McGahn and Hicks to bear witness to the truth, whatever the consequences. Democrats should be courageous enough to begin the inquiry in order to fulfill their Constitutional oversight responsibilities. Let the truth win out!

Let me be as clear as possible. An impeachment inquiry is not the same as articles of impeachment. An inquiry is a first step to gather sufficient evidence to see whether impeachment proceedings should go forward or not. If the White House is not willing to relinquish key documents and allow witnesses to testify, an impeachment inquiry is the next step forward.