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.
The Army stymied its own study of the Iraq War. Gen. Ray Odierno, then Army chief of staff, ordered an unvarnished history in 2013, seeking to record the lessons of the conflict before memories faded. A draft was finished in 2016. It has yet to be published.
From reporter Michael R. Gordon:
Two big problems with many official Army histories are that they avoid controversy and are published so many years after a conflict they are little use to anybody other than professional historians.
A history of the Iraq War by an Army study team avoided those pitfalls. In a letter last year to the Army leadership, Conrad Crane of the Army War College praised its “almost brutal candor.”
But those very strengths made it a hot potato for Army officials. A plan to distance the service from the study was dropped after The Wall Street Journal started asking about its status. It will be published by the end of the year with forewords by Gen. Odierno and current chief of staff Gen. Mark Milley.
Comey’s memoir shows he is more like Trump than he cares to admit.
But Mr. Trump told an interviewer that he had fired Mr. Comey because the FBI chief wouldn’t say publicly that the FBI wasn’t investigating Mr. Trump. The President also threatened Mr. Comey with a false claim about Oval Office “tapes.” Mr. Comey responded by leaking documents that caused Mr. Rosenstein to name a special counsel, which has put Mr. Trump’s Presidency in mortal peril.
.. The main lesson from Mr. Comey’s book is that Mr. Trump’s abuse of political norms has driven his enemies to violate norms themselves.
.. The most notable fact in the book is how little we learn that is new about Mr. Trump.
.. Mr. Trump is preoccupied with his critics and the validation of his presidential victory. He is clueless that his bullying and flattery would repel Mr. Comey
.. The book mainly adds Mr. Comey’s moral and aesthetic contempt for Mr. Trump.
.. Mr. Comey’s comparison of Mr. Trump to a “mafia” boss is hilariously overstated. Don’t they call it “organized” crime? And what about that code of silence known as omerta? The Trump White House can’t keep anything secret.
.. Mr. Comey reveals in his excessive self-regard that he is more like Mr. Trump than he cares to admit. Mr. Trump’s narcissism is crude and focused on his personal “winning.” Mr. Comey’s is about vindicating his own higher morality and righteous belief.
.. He accuses Mr. Rosenstein of acting “dishonorably” by writing the memo describing how Mr. Comey mishandled the Clinton probe. Yet he barely engages Mr. Rosenstein’s arguments, which quoted from former Justice officials of both parties. Mr. Rosenstein wrote that Mr. Comey was “wrong to usurp” the authority of Attorney General Loretta Lynch and wrong to “hold press conferences to release derogatory information” about Mrs. Clinton.
That mistake made Mr. Comey feel obliged to intervene again in late October—this time to announce the reopening of the probe in a way that helped Mr. Trump. Had Mr. Comey followed Justice protocol in July, he would not have had to make himself the issue in October, damaging the reputation of the FBI and Justice in the bargain.
.. This has been the habit across Mr. Comey’s career, though you’ll find no mention in his memoir of Steven Hatfill, the government scientist he wrongly pursued for years as the anthrax terrorist; or Frank Quattrone, the Wall Street financier he prosecuted twice for obstruction of justice only to be rebuked by an appeals court; or Judith Miller’s recantation of her testimony against Scooter Libby.
Mr. Comey has also had little to say so far about the controversy over the Steele dossier and his handling of the Russian investigation of Mr. Trump. Did he know that the dossier was commissioned by Democrats for the Clinton campaign? He also has nothing to say about the dismissal of his former FBI deputy, Andrew McCabe, for “lack of candor.”
Mr. Comey is getting his moment of revenge as much of the press revels in the attacks on Mr. Trump. Yet his career, reinforced by his memoir, is a case study in the perils of the righteous prosecutor. It also shows why Mr. Comey’s view of the FBI as “independent” of supervisory authority is wrong and dangerous. A presidential bully who abuses power needs to be checked, but so does an FBI director who turns righteousness into zealotry.