Rule of Law

RELEASE: Impeachment Trial: Senate Fails Test of Fidelity to Constitution and Founders

“Today, in abandoning its constitutional duty to ‘try all impeachments,’ the Republican-led Senate failed its historic test of fidelity to our nation’s founders and the legal charter they bequeathed to us.” — CAC President Elizabeth Wydra

WASHINGTON – On news that the U.S. Senate defeated a motion to subpoena new witnesses and documents in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, Constitutional Accountability Center President Elizabeth Wydra issued the following statement:

The Senate trial of President Donald Trump, and the impeachable conduct that led to it, has confronted America’s governing institutions with a moment of immense constitutional gravity. Today, in abandoning its constitutional duty to “try all impeachments,” the Republican-led Senate failed its historic test of fidelity to our nation’s founders and the legal charter they bequeathed to us.

In the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton advocated for the ratification of the Constitution he helped draft. In Federalist 65, Hamilton wrote of the Senate’s “judicial character as a court for the trial of impeachments,” defining the Senate’s role as passing judgment on “offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust.”

To that end, the Constitution of our founders grants the House of Representatives “the sole Power of Impeachment.” The House properly used this authority to impeach President Trump for “high Crimes and Misdemeanors”—specifically, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress—that cut to the core of the “abuse or violation of some public trust” that Hamilton warned us about. The House impeached President Trump for his attempts to extort the President of Ukraine into interfering in our elections by withholding from him both a much-desired White House visit, as well as congressionally-approved military aid that was critically needed to repel an ongoing invasion by Russia—an adversary common both to Ukraine and the United States.

In turn, because the Constitution grants the Senate “the sole Power to try all Impeachments,” the Senate was obligated to hold a trial of President Trump as charged in the articles of impeachment passed by the House.

Today, however, the Republican-led Senate confirmed its failure to hold such a trial. By helping President Trump block the evidence of key documents and first-hand witnesses to the President’s own impeachable conduct—even as new evidence about that conduct is revealed almost daily—Senate Republicans abandoned their constitutional duty to “try” this impeachment.

This Senate decision sets a dreadful, frightening precedent. Rubber-stamping this President’s lawless behavior—essentially giving him carte blanche to engage in new abuses of his office—means most Senate Republicans have assumed responsibility not just for this President’s past impeachable conduct, but also the conduct we might expect from this President in the critical months that lay ahead. What may be worse, future lawless presidents might look back on this Republican-led Senate’s grant of impunity to President Trump, and cite it most eagerly as a constitutional free pass for their own abuses of office.

Make no mistake, President Trump will forever be only the third President in American history to be impeached. That stain on the memory of his time in office is permanent. An acquittal after an inadequate trial can never wash it away. The damage done to our Constitution—caused by the President’s lawlessness and corruption, and endorsed for all practical purposes by today’s action by this Republican-led Senate—is real. Repairing that damage will ultimately be, as it always has been, the responsibility of We the People.

#

Resources:

“Opinion: McConnell, everybody knows a trial has witnesses. Impeachment is no different,” by Elizabeth Wydra, January 21, 2020, Louisville Courier Journal: https://www.courier-journal.com/story/opinion/2020/01/21/trump-impeachment-mitch-mcconnell-we-know-trial-has-witnesses/4534514002/

##

Constitutional Accountability Center is a think tank, public interest law firm, and action center dedicated to fulfilling the progressive promise of the Constitution’s text and history. Visit CAC’s website at www.theusconstitution.org.

###