Where do we go after the Trump Impeachment Trial?

Almost everyone knows that on Saturday the U.S. Senate acquitted former president Trump of the crime of incitement of insurrection for the riot that took place at the capitol on January 6. The vote to convict was 57 to 43, (48 Democrats, the 2 Independent senators, and 7 Republicans voted that Trump was guilty), which was a majority of the Senate, but not the two thirds super majority that was required.

So, where do we go now?

Trump goes to court?

Although Trump was acquitted of the impeachment charge, it is likely that he will be charged in the criminal court system. After the impeachment vote, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell made a somewhat strange speech on the Senate floor in which he stated that the House Managers successfully demonstrated that Trump was “morally and practically guilty” of the crime of incitement, but because Trump was no longer in office, McConnell voted to acquit (many Republican senators who voted to acquit used this same technical argument). I will comment on this technicality below, but McConnell suggested that Trump can (and should) be tried in the criminal or civil courts. “We have a criminal court system…Trump is still liable for everything he did while in office”, including incitement to insurrection and a “disgraceful dereliction of his presidential duty”. Trump’s legal defense team make the same strange argument. In their attempt to obtain the votes of Republican senators who felt squeamish about acquitting Trump, the defense team acknowledged the errors of the former president, and that he could still be punished (by others) in the criminal justice system. This provided the senators an easy and cheap cop-out.

It is likely that Trump will be charged in one or more of the following courts where investigations have already begun:

  • New York – Manhattan’s District Attorney’s office. Tax fraud and insurance fraud.
  • Washington D.C.’s Attorney General – Incitement to insurrection.
  • Georgia Secretary of State – Interference in election results.
  • Atlanta/Fulton County’s District Attorney – Interference in election results.
  • Civil suits at several sites – sexual assault, abuse of government funds, etc.

We live in a country where, supposedly, no one is above the law. The law should be applied fairly and equitably, regardless of political party, race, wealth, or gender. Because Trump is no longer in office, he does not have the presidential protections that he has enjoyed these past four years. These legal cases should run their regular courses, leading to convictions and penalties or conversely to acquittals, but always based upon the evidence. May the truth win out!

The Future of the Republican Party

                Where is the Republican Party headed?Most people recognize that over the last five years, the Republican Party became the Trump Party. For example, in 2020 the Republican Party decided to not have its own platform, but merely referred to and approved Trump’s policies. Republicans need to decide their own future. Will they still be the Trump Party, will they purge their party of Trump, or will Trump’s influence just gradually fade away? Each of these options is a real possibility.

                Although there has been some slippage of Republican support for Trump after the January 6 riots and the impeachment hearing, 60-75% of Republicans still approve of the former president. Republican senators who voted to convict Trump (like Cassidy and Burr) have received censures from their pro-Trump state parties. Some Republican leaders who ran for the presidency in 2016 (Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio) strongly denounced Trump five years ago, but have praised and defended him ever since. On the other hand, significant Republicans (like Nikki Haley, Jeff Sessions, “Mad Dog” Jim Mattis, Rex Tillerson) held important posts in the Trump administration, but later resigned and accused the president of serious deficiencies. Former Vice-President Mike Pence has been especially quiet these past weeks. The rioters shouted ¨Hang Mike Pence¨ after Trump denounced the VP for not overturning the vote. A Pence political comeback is very difficult.

  1. The most likely option is that Trump will try to stay influential within the Republican party. Those who voted against impeachment will receive his support in primaries and the general elections in 2022. He himself may run for president in 2024. Although his base will continue to be enthusiastic about him, Democrats would like this option because a new Trump campaign would trigger more opposition than support. Trump would be an easy target.
  2. It is possible that if the Republicans lose the House of Representatives in 2022, Republicans will swing to a new leader (essentially purging Trump). At this point of time, such a leader has not yet appeared. I doubt that it would be Cruz, Pence, or Rubio. Perhaps Haley?
  3. There has been some talk (by Anthony Scaramucci and others) of creating a new ¨center-right¨ political party made up of traditional Republicans and with independents disillusioned with Democrats and with Trump. In the short run, this would hurt the Republican party, but it would definitely shake up the political landscape.

Democrats

                President Biden mostly stayed away from the impeachment trial. He needs to concentrate on getting the Covid vaccines out to the public and getting his Covid Relief Bill passed. As I mentioned in my previous blog, he should make some common sense concessions and attempt to reach a bipartisan consensus.

Epilogue

I believe that Senator Mitch McConnell is a hypocrite of the first degree. As I mentioned above, he stated that Trump was morally and actually guilty of incitement of insurrection, but because Trump was already out of office, Mitch voted to acquit. The truth is that the House of Representatives impeached Trump on January 13th. They tried to have the Senate take up the case while Trump was still in office (from January 13-20), but Senator McConnell was the Majority Leader of the Senate at that time and he refused to schedule the hearing during that time period! This is a clear example of hypocrisy.

A vibrant democracy is great in theory, but difficult to keep. God help us!

Nadie está por encima de la Ley

There was significant interest in the blog ¨No One is Above the Law¨ that I published on Monday. Several people from Latin America and Spain have asked for a version in Spanish to help clarify our current complex political situation. I offer the following to accomplish their request.

Nadie está por encima de la Ley: ¿Cuáles son nuestras opciones?

Aunque no me sorprendió, como la mayoría de las personas, me sentí consternado por los eventos que tuvieron lugar en el Capitolio de los Estados Unidos en Washington, DC la semana pasada. Un grupo de partidarios del presidente Trump marchó hasta el Capitolio y luego irrumpió en el edificio. Intentaban impedir que el Congreso contara y ratificara los votos del Colegio Electoral que certificaban la victoria electoral de Biden. Aunque no es común en los Estados Unidos, esto fue, de hecho, una insurrección, un auto “golpe de Estado”, un intento de robar la elección a los votantes que eligieron a Biden el 3 de noviembre de 2020. El presidente Trump había hablado anteriormente con los manifestantes y repitió la mentira de que había ganado las elecciones. Luego instó a sus seguidores a marchar hacia el Capitolio y luchar por su “victoria del día de las elecciones”. Los miembros del Senado y la Cámara de Representantes se reunieron para contar los votos del Colegio Electoral. Aunque algunos de los manifestantes eran pacíficos, cuando llegaron al edificio del Capitolio, la protesta se tornó violenta, irrumpió y destrozó el edificio. La fuerza policial estaba abrumada. Al principio, los miembros del Congreso se mantuvieron en su lugar, pero luego fueron trasladados a “búnkeres” seguros en el sótano. Durante el motín, Trump tuiteó una dura crítica al vicepresidente Pence por no anular los resultados (lo que legalmente no podía hacer). Inmediatamente, surgieron gritos dentro de la multitud al interior del Capitolio, “¡Cuelguen a Mike Pence! ¡Cuelguen a Mike Pence!”. Después de varias horas, la policía finalmente recuperó el control, aunque cinco personas han muerto como consecuencia de la violencia. Más tarde esa noche, el Congreso reanudó su sesión y certificó la victoria de Biden.

La mayoría de la gente ha condenado las acciones de los partidarios de Trump como criminales debido al allanamiento de morada y al vandalismo, aunado a las cinco personas que murieron. Los demócratas y muchos republicanos han acusado al presidente de incitar a la insurrección. Al menos dos miembros del gabinete (la secretaria de Educación Betsy Devos y la secretaria de Transporte Elaine Chao) y muchos otros funcionarios de alto rango han renunciado en protesta. Republicanos prominentes que han apoyado a Trump en el pasado (como Mitch McConnell, Lindsay Graham y William Barr) han admitido que el presidente ha ido demasiado lejos esta vez. Algunos de sus amigos más confiables cuestionan su salud psicológica y dicen que ha estado inusualmente deprimido después de su derrota electoral. Aunque la transferencia de poder a Biden tendrá lugar el 20 de enero, la mayoría de los ciudadanos estadounidenses quieren que Trump se vaya antes. Por temor a que Trump haga aún más daño en los próximos diez días, Twitter y Facebook han bloqueado permanentemente las cuentas del presidente. Si nadie está por encima de la ley, ¿cómo responsabilizar a las personas por sus acciones y, al mismo tiempo, traer mejoría a nuestro país? Hay varias opciones disponibles, pero cada una tiene sus ventajas y desventajas. ¿Qué debería hacerse?
 

1.- Trump podría renunciar lo antes posible. Tras su renuncia, el vicepresidente Mike Pence se convertiría en presidente hasta el 20 de enero. Esta es la opción más fácil, con mucho, y minimizaría la polarización adicional del pueblo estadounidense. Por sí sola, una renuncia no castigaría a Trump por sus crímenes. Pence podría ofrecerle un perdón presidencial (como Ford le dio a Nixon), que cubriría todos los delitos federales. Sin embargo, Trump aún podría enfrentar cargos del estado de Nueva York por evasión de impuestos u otros presuntos delitos, pero su incitación a la insurrección probablemente quedaría impune. Trump ha anunciado que no renunciará bajo ninguna circunstancia (podría ser presionado para cambiar de opinión si una opción más negativa como el juicio político se convierte en realidad).

2.- El vicepresidente Pence y la mayoría del gabinete podrían invocar el artículo 25 que establece que un presidente puede ser destituido de su cargo si no es apto (física o psicológicamente) para cumplir con sus funciones. Hasta ahora, Pence no ha mostrado ninguna voluntad de implementar esta opción.

3.- La presidenta de la Cámara de Representantes, Nancy Pelosi, ha prometido que si Pence no invoca el artículo 25, ella traerá un artículo de acusación a la Cámara a principios de esta semana por incitar a la insurrección. Ella pondría esto en una “vía rápida”, y podría someterse a votación en la Cámara de Representantes el miércoles. Pasaría fácilmente. Luego iría al Senado donde necesitaría una supermayoría para su aprobación, lo cual no es tan seguro. Aun así, la decisión del Senado probablemente no se alcanzaría hasta después de la toma de posesión de Biden. Si el Senado confirma el juicio político, a Trump se le prohibiría postularse para presidente o cualquier otro cargo federal en el futuro. Sin embargo, Biden no favorece esta opción. No quiere comenzar su presidencia con una furiosa pelea partidista.

4.- El Congreso podría “censurar” a Trump por sus acciones. Esto probablemente se aprobaría tanto en el Senado como en la Cámara con un apoyo republicano sustancial. Sin embargo, este es un castigo demasiado débil. Es como una palmada en la muñeca por un delito grave que resultó en cinco muertes y podría haber derrumbado la democracia estadounidense.
 

Como puede verse, cada opción tiene su lado negativo. ¿Cómo deberíamos responsabilizar a la gente por sus crímenes y traer curación a nuestro país polarizado al mismo tiempo? Si ni la opción 1 ni la 2 se implementan en los próximos días, yo estaría a favor de un juicio político (impeachment) por la vía rápida en la Cámara, pero no llevado inmediatamente al Senado. Esto daría tiempo para que se produzca un respiro y para que Biden obtenga la aprobación de su gabinete y comience a implementar sus políticas prometidas. Si este alto crimen queda impune, otros presidentes podrían envalentonarse para cometer este u otros crímenes de traición en el futuro. Todos deben rendir cuentas por sus delitos. Nadie está por encima de la ley.

Un problema paralelo es por qué la policía fue tan ineficaz para detener esta insurrección. La policía del Capitolio debería haber sido reforzada rápidamente con la Guardia Nacional o la fuerza policial del FBI, pero por alguna razón, esas ofertas de ayuda fueron rechazadas. ¿Por qué? Se debe realizar una investigación exhaustiva para descubrir quién falló en sus responsabilidades y si Trump u otros estuvieron involucrados. Dado que la inauguración tendrá lugar el 20 de enero, es muy posible que se produzcan más acciones de violencia en la capital o en otros lugares de Estados Unidos durante los próximos días.

Otro tema que debe abordarse es el racismo institucional. Las protestas pacíficas de Black Lives Matter tuvieron lugar en DC y en otras ciudades el pasado verano y se encontraron con una fuerte resistencia policial. Pero cuando los manifestantes por la supremacía blanca invadieron y saquearon el edificio del Capitolio el miércoles, la inacción de la policía permitió que el saqueo no se controlara. El camino hacia la igualdad racial es largo y difícil, pero sigamos avanzando y no perdamos la esperanza.

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.

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!