- Tiago Rodrigues da Costa
Impeachment has been "driven by a visceral hatred of the president," former counsel of Congress says
Former lawyer and counsel of the House of Representatives Douglas F. Bennett said that listening to new witnesses would have been important for the transparency of the trial. However, Bennett said, the case presented by the House Managers isn’t strong enough to convict President Trump.
"President Donald J. Trump arrives in the House chamber and is greeted by members of Congress prior to delivering his State of the Union address Tuesday, Feb. 4, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C." © Shealah Craighead/White House
After almost three weeks since the beginning of the trial of the 45th American President Donald Trump, the resolution of the impeachment is coming to an end. On one side, the House Managers led by Democrat Adam Schiff tries to prove in the Senate that Trump abused his power when he ordered a hold on the aid to be sent to Ukraine. On the other side, Trump’s defense team claims Trump’s actions as normal and tries to end the trial process as fast as they can in order for the president to concentrate on this year’s elections.
The final vote to convict or acquit Trump of the accusations of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress will be known this Wednesday. However, Trump’s impeachment process will be poorly remembered. This process has exposed a deeper ideological political division, where democrats and republicans show as highly partisan.
Impeachment is, above all, a constitutional right. In the Section 4, Article II, of the U.S. Constitution, the framers left it pretty clear: "The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors." However, the Constitution written between 1787 and 1789 lacks clarity, leaving the doors open for different interpretations.
"The framers did not intend impeachment to be a partisan political exercise," former Counsel to members of Congress Douglas F. Bennett said. "That’s why they said 'crimes.' They didn’t’ say misbehavior, they didn’t say malfeasance or misadministration. They said 'high crimes.'" Douglas F. Bennett was born and raised in one of the most well-known political families in the conservative state of Utah. His grandfather Wallace F. Bennett and uncle Bob Bennett were both Senators. Bennett himself grew up a Democrat, but ended up being hired by Republicans and in 1989, he moved to Washington, DC. It was there that Bennett made the majority of his career as a lobbyist and counsel for the Committee of Energy and Commerce in the House of Representatives.
"I love the House," Bennett said. "The House is wilder. The Senate is older, and richer, and whiter than most of America. If you’re a Senator you’re pretty much at the top of your political game."
In 1999, when the impeachment to the former President Bill Clinton happened, Bennett watched from the Senate's galleries. It was there that Bennett understood that impeachment is sometimes an unfair process. It was created to protect democracy, but it's used as a political tool. In this case, it was revealed that Clinton had been flirting with an intern, while married to Hillary, and despite this story not being received well by the public, it couldn't be considered an impeachable offense. Thus, questions about the partisan process rose.
"When Republicans impeached Clinton, Clinton emerged stronger," Bennett said. "Clinton’s numbers went up following impeachment. So, if parties are going to play this game of trying to impeach the president over a policy decision that they characterize as a crime, I think it’s pretty dangerous for the country. ... There are many Republican Senators who wouldn’t be sorry to see Trump go, and if they had stronger grounds they would probably vote to convict him. But, you probably don’t want to go home, if you’re a Senator from Idaho or Arizona, and explain that you removed the president on these grounds. You want a crime, and I don’t think they’ve proven he committed a crime. They can disagree with his decision, ... but it’s a harder case to make when the aid finally went."
There are two accusations, or two Articles of Impeachment, in the base of the conviction : Abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The first one is explained by the decision of the president to hold military aid, approved by Congress last year, to Ukraine. These funds would be used by Ukraine to protect against Russia. However, in a time when Joe Biden was first in national polls, Trump had a phone-call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and asked him to investigate the past of Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden in Ukraine. All of this was known from a whistleblower leak, which exposed this phone-call as suspicious. The Democrats then started an investigation.
"It’s politics," Bennett said. "The notion that the U.S. sends this money with no pre-conditions is simply wrong. We condition every penny of foreign aid [sent to other countries]. ... If I were Senator, I would be wrestling with this right now. I think the phone-call was indiscrete certainly. Is it a high crime? Well, that’s the question."
Trump said on the phone-call with President Zelensky: "I would like you to do us a favor though." And it's from here that comes the famous accusation of quid pro quo, seen in the abuse of power. Quid pro quo means, in other words, that Trump would let the funds go, if the Ukrainian president started an investigation on the Bidens. The Democrats accuse Trump of triggering this investigation for his own benefit in the 2020 elections, while Trump says this investigation would be for the benefit of all the American people. That's the hardest part to prove.
The second Article of Impeachment describes that Trump obstructed Congress, when he ordered—during the impeachment inquiry phase—American officials with connections to Ukraine to not testify in the House of Representatives. "As I watched the House Managers’ presentation, my old law school training came to me," Bennett said. "Most of what they based their case on was 'hear say.' 'Hear say' is not a whistleblower in most courts. The whistleblower wasn’t on the call, he didn’t hear about it first-hand. So, somebody told somebody."
When the impeachment process moved to the Senate this year, the House Managers tried in every way to convince Senators to approve the subpoena of more witnesses and important documents to help their case against Trump. However, Republicans voted against the Democrats' intention. The vote last Friday ended 51-49 with the Republicans in a better place to not approve more evidence. "If I had to bet today. I would bet that Trump is going to be acquitted, and he's going to be reelected [in November]," Bennett said.
The impeachment trial on Donald Trump is reaching the end. Senators will get together in the Senate this Wednesday at 4 P.M. EST and perform the final vote on the Articles of Impeachment. However, the final result isn't that hard to guess: Trump will be acquitted and his journey in the American presidency will continue.
Note: This article was initially written in Portuguese and published in Diário de Notícias—Diário de Notícias is the oldest daily-newspaper in Portugal (since 1864). Translation was slightly adapted to fit this language's needs.
Correction: On the first version of the article published, Mr. Bennett was referred as a former congressman. However, after looking closely, that fact was inaccurate. Mr. Bennett never sought the office, and therefore, was not congressman himself, but counsel to members of Congress. To clarify, Mr. Bennett is a former lawyer, lobbyist and counsel to members of Congress. He's currently Provost Faculty Fellow and professor at Southern Utah University.
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