The president was acquitted by the Senate, but the American people are smarter.
The vote to acquit President Trump was a dark day for the Senate. Uninterested in hearing from witnesses (and likely scared by what they would say), uncritical of outrageous legal arguments made by the president’s lawyers and apparently unconcerned about the damage Mr. Trump has done to the integrity of America’s elections, a majority of senators insisted on looking the other way and letting him off the hook for a classic impeachable offense: abuse of public office for private gain.
But while the Senate got it wrong, the American people learned what’s right. This impeachment was about much more than the final vote of 100 senators. It was a process, and that process yielded a public education of extraordinary value. While the Senate may emerge from the process weakened, the American people, on the whole, emerge from it strengthened by a sharpened sense of what’s right and what’s wrong for an American president; of what it means for a political party to show moral courage; of what it looks like when dedicated public servants speak truth no matter the consequences; and of the importance of whistle-blowers for ensuring accountability.
The past few months have shown Americans a president who abused the public trust for his personal benefit. Before this process, we suspect, few Americans had dwelled on the question of when it crosses the line for a president to exploit for private political gain the tools of national power placed in his or her hands.
But impeachment has forced Americans to confront it — a question, it turns out, that was central to the framers’ decision to include impeachment in our Constitution. And Americans overwhelmingly reject what Mr. Trump did, with 75 percent saying in December that his Ukraine extortion scheme was wrong (a view that even some Republican senators have endorsed). That’s huge: For all that divides Americans today, this is a dominant consensus on what it means to abuse public office and distort American democracy.
Americans have also seen that, despite the intense pessimism and even disillusionment that many feel about politics, a political party still can show moral courage — regardless of the political costs. The Democrats were told constantly that impeachment would hurt them in November. Mr. Trump himself has boasted that it will, and what’s more he has relished the chance to claim exoneration and to take a victory lap at the same time as Democratic hopefuls began duking it out in earnest in the primaries. The Democrats knew all this, and what’s more, they knew they faced an uphill battle: That’s what the constitutional requirement of a two-thirds Senate majority to convict imposes from the beginning.
But they still did the right thing. They called out impropriety so glaring that it could not be suffered in silence. And they reminded all of us that a political party can pursue what’s right over what’s expedient — and so can a lone politician, as Senator Mitt Romney showed.
Americans saw on vivid display another form of courage: the incredible bravery of public servants who testified before the House of Representatives, the nation and the world — people like Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Dr. Fiona Hill. They did so despite the gag orders issued by Mr. Trump to disobey Congress. They did so knowing they’d face death threats. They did so not knowing whether their testimony would yield the president’s impeachment or removal. And they spoke up because they believed in truth as an end in itself.
That’s a reminder, in our disinformation-fueled times, that candor is a value we must recover. And it’s a lesson for the American people that those who serve our government by working long hours for little pay and even less glory aren’t the “deep state” that Mr. Trump denounces but, instead, patriots.
Americans also received a lesson in the critical importance of whistle-blowers in holding our government to account. The role of whistle-blowers is as old as the government itself, dating back to the Continental Congress. But never has their necessity been put on display as clearly as when a courageous whistle-blower filed the complaint that, ultimately, led to the exposure of Mr. Trump’s Ukraine extortion bid.
In this, Americans can see why the United States has been protecting whistle-blowers by law since 1777: Through proper channels, they can provide internal accountability that other actors — like Congress and the press — often can’t achieve, especially when an administration like the current one so relentlessly tries to hide its misdeeds and resist oversight.
Remember also that the investigation into Mr. Trump’s Ukraine extortion scandal isn’t over. Trump’s own lawyers insisted that key witnesses like John Bolton should testify in the House, rather than in the Senate. And Mr. Trump’s entire defense was that the people should decide in November. So be it. The House has a continuing duty, as part of its oversight and legislative functions, to get to the bottom of what happened so that November will be a fully informed choice. Recall that it was Mr. Trump’s central defense that there weren’t witnesses who testified that they saw, firsthand, his extortion of Ukraine. The House now has an opportunity to do so. And it must, according to Mr. Trump’s own arguments, so that the November election can serve the function that Mr. Trump, in warding off impeachment, claimed it should.
President Trump may remain in office for now, but he now serves an American people that’s stronger for the journey our country has just taken. It’s a country energized by a sense of when a president has abused his office; reminded of how a political party can choose morality over political expediency; enlightened by the display of candor from public servants; and educated about the crucial nature of whistle-blowers and thus of the legal protections afforded them.
Regrettably, one political party has resisted acknowledging, let alone embracing, these lessons. That’s a danger to the Republic. And it’s one that Americans now need to address through their public advocacy, their community engagement — and, ultimately, at the voting booth in November.
Faced with impeachment proceedings, President Trump hasn’t set up a dedicated White House “war room” to guide his pushback against congressional Democrats running the investigation, instead making clear he is leading the charge.
As the House inquiry intensifies into whether Mr. Trump inappropriately used his office to pressure Ukraine’s president into investigating a political rival, the president has once again assumed the role of chief spokesman, blasting tweet after tweet, while also relying on his campaign, the Republican National Committee and outside attorneys. The loosely organized approach fits a freewheeling style Mr. Trump thrives on.
But while some allies defend his strategy, others question if more discipline is required in light of such a serious threat. Mr. Trump’s unpredictable side may keep adversaries off guard and drive news cycles, but it can leave his staff scrambling to react.
His recent tweets have put Republican lawmakers in a difficult position, with calls to expose and question the whistleblower at the center of the impeachment inquiry and the suggestion that a congressman leading the probe be arrested for treason. He has promoted talk of a civil war.
“He’s not taking full advantage of the White House’s ability to set and shape the daily narrative,” said GOP consultant Alex Conant, who led communications for Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign and served as a spokesman in the second Bush White House. “These are missed opportunities at a critical time.”
For now, Mr. Trump has made clear that he is embracing a no-holds-barred message, seeking to discredit the whistleblower and House Democrats and floating an extraordinary conspiracy theory. “As I learn more and more each day, I am coming to the conclusion that what is taking place is not an impeachment, it is a COUP, intended to take away the Power of the People,
- their VOTE,
- their Freedoms,
- their Second Amendment,
- Border Wall,”
he wrote in a tweet Tuesday night.
During the special counsel’s investigation into 2016 Russian election interference, the White House beefed up its legal team and assigned a communications aide to the response effort. Mr. Trump continues to weigh his options, but his outside attorney Jay Sekulow said on his radio show this week that there was no call for a war room of political, legal and communications staff, like President Clinton had when he faced impeachment.
Mr. Sekulow said the White House handled the Russia probe “without the institutionalization of a war room,” adding that “this is a skirmish in comparison.”
Some people close to the president also suggested that establishing a formal strategy is akin to admitting they have a political problem.
Mr. Trump “has done nothing wrong,” White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said when asked about the strategy, adding the administration wouldn’t “let partisan games and the media’s hysteria take away from President Trump and his administration’s work on behalf of the American people.”
Democrats defend the impeachment effort as a necessary check on presidential power.
Mr. Trump and his allies are “lying through their teeth to distract from a gross abuse of power,” Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said. “The evidence is his own words. We hope Trump’s strategy continues to be one that incriminates himself.”
Ari Fleischer, who was press secretary to President George W. Bush, said Mr. Trump is his best spokesman and credited response efforts from the Republican National Committee, but added the overall effort should be enhanced and the message more focused.
“At the end of the day, the Clinton people said you can’t impeach somebody who lied about sex. Pretty simple, straightforward and easy to remember,” Mr. Fleischer said. “With Trump, I think the story is Democrats are trying to impeach somebody because he won. This is not about the Ukraine call. This is about who he is.”
Mr. Trump’s campaign is trying to turn the attention on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. During the July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Mr. Trump raised a discredited claim that while vice president, Mr. Biden sought the removal of Ukraine’s prosecutor general to protect his son, who was on the board of a company whose owner the prosecutor had investigated.
Flush with recent donations—$8.5 million alone in the 48 hours after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the impeachment inquiry—the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee spent $10 million in the past week on television ads about the Bidens and impeachment, targeting House Democrats who won in districts carried by Mr. Trump in 2016. Online ads are pushing similar messages.
Ever focused on his news coverage, the president was generally pleased with his surrogates on Sunday news shows this week, said people familiar with his thinking. One said that Mr. Trump was less focused on internal White House organizational charts and more interested in an aggressive messaging effort on television, saying he wants to see “who’s on TV defending our position and fighting to level out the playing field and get our message across.”
A former White House official put it more bluntly, saying the response was “a disorganized mess, and it seems that’s what Trump wants.”