With articles of impeachment delivered and the trial set to start, Republicans in the upper chamber can no longer hedge by claiming ignorance of the facts.
President Donald J. Trump was impeached on Thursday.
I know that he was technically impeached when the House voted to do so in December. But the truth is, as a political and historical matter, Thursday was the day. House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s strategy — brilliant to fans, incomprehensible to foes — of sitting on the articles of impeachment left a lot of people wondering whether this show was ever going to get on the road.
Now, with the chief justice of the United States sworn in to preside over the Senate trial, and senators sworn in as jurors, there’s no mistaking that it’s about to go down. The clearest sign that the Senate is taking this at least somewhat seriously: Senators are handing over their cellphones before they enter the chamber. That’s not good news for the president.
Oh, it’s still unlikely there will be enough votes to remove Trump from office. But having talked with many GOP senators since the Ukraine story broke, I can tell you that few have paid close attention to the facts of the case. Some weren’t engaged because they wanted — or said they wanted — to avoid reaching conclusions since they would have to be impartial jurors. Others seemed to think, understandably, that the Ukraine drama was simply the latest chapter in the long-running story of the media and Democrats rushing to “get” Trump no matter what. Others appeared eager to stay in their lanes, avoid the cable-news shout shows, and get on with the jobs they were sent to Washington to do.
Whatever the reasons, I’ve been shocked at how so many senators didn’t know — or claimed not to know — many of the central facts from the House hearings and news reports.
Now, they all have to sit in a room like good boys and girls and stay absolutely quiet as the House impeachment managers make their case. They can’t play Candy Crush or check out the latest sports scores on their phones. The rules say that if they even talk among themselves, they can be imprisoned.
Some senators have said they want to be protected from learning relevant new facts, claiming that because the impeachment process in the House was flawed and rushed — which is true — the Senate shouldn’t be obligated to do the heavy lifting of evidence-gathering. Though few have been as adamantly opposed to hearing new evidence as Senator Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.).
On Wednesday, Senator Susan Collins (R., Maine) ignited a furor when she asked why new evidence provided by Lev Parnas — a Ukrainian grifter who’d been working closely with Trump’s personal fixer, Rudy Giuliani — wasn’t in the report sent by the House. When a journalist pointed out that the evidence had just surfaced, Collins replied, “Well, doesn’t that suggest that the House did an incomplete job then?”
Maybe this was a sign she wasn’t paying attention or an indication she doesn’t want to hear new evidence. If it’s the latter, she has a point. If representatives had taken time to do all of their due diligence, they likely would have uncovered more evidence, whether from Parnas or other potential witnesses.
But, looked at from a broader perspective, so what? Republicans screamed “show trial” during the House hearings. It was an overheated and indefensible claim. But if you’re on record saying you’re opposed to show trials — i.e., proceedings in which relevant evidence is ignored in pursuit of a foreordained conclusion — then saying you don’t want all of the facts is terribly hypocritical.
People are going to watch the hearings. They’re going to see miserable senators presented with ample evidence that the president used his office to pressure the Ukrainians to sully a political opponent. If the only times Republican senators make a fuss are when they maneuver to avoid hearing even more damning evidence, or demand that the Senate participate in the president’s strategy of making Joe Biden the issue, they won’t merely be violating their oaths to deliver impartial justice; they will risk going down in history — and appearing to voters — as participants in a cover-up.
Some senators will be fine with that, because that’s what a majority of their voters want. For those who either come from states that don’t have enough Trump-base voters to get reelected or are burdened with a politically inconvenient concern about their reputations, it will be a real problem. The one thing none of them will be able to claim, however, is that they don’t know the facts because they weren’t paying attention.
It’s time to say what we said 20 years ago when a president’s character was revealed for what it was.
In our founding documents, Billy Graham explains that Christianity Today will help evangelical Christians interpret the news in a manner that reflects their faith. The impeachment of Donald Trump is a significant event in the story of our republic. It requires comment.
The typical CT approach is to stay above the fray and allow Christians with different political convictions to make their arguments in the public square, to encourage all to pursue justice according to their convictions and treat their political opposition as charitably as possible. We want CT to be a place that welcomes Christians from across the political spectrum, and reminds everyone that politics is not the end and purpose of our being. We take pride in the fact, for instance, that politics does not dominate our homepage.
That said, we do feel it necessary from time to time to make our own opinions on political matters clear—always, as Graham encouraged us, doing so with both conviction and love. We love and pray for our president, as we love and pray for leaders (as well as ordinary citizens) on both sides of the political aisle.
Let’s grant this to the president: The Democrats have had it out for him 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.
But 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.
The reason many are not shocked about this is that this president has dumbed down the idea of morality in his administration. He has hired and fired a number of people who are now convicted criminals. He himself has admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women, about which he remains proud. His Twitter feed alone—with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders—is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.
Trump’s evangelical supporters have pointed to his Supreme Court nominees, his defense of religious liberty, and his stewardship of the economy, among other things, as achievements that justify their support of the president. We believe the impeachment hearings have made it absolutely clear, in a way the Mueller investigation did not, that President Trump has abused his authority for personal gain and betrayed his constitutional oath. The impeachment hearings have illuminated the president’s moral deficiencies for all to see. This
- damages the institution of the presidency,
- damages the reputation of our country, and
- damages both the spirit and the future of our people. None of the president’s positives can balance the moral and political danger we face under a leader of such grossly immoral character.
This concern for the character of our national leader is not new in CT. In 1998, we wrote this:
The President’s failure to tell the truth—even when cornered—rips at the fabric of the nation. This is not a private affair. For above all, social intercourse is built on a presumption of trust: trust that the milk your grocer sells you is wholesome and pure; trust that the money you put in your bank can be taken out of the bank; trust that your babysitter, firefighters, clergy, and ambulance drivers will all do their best. And while politicians are notorious for breaking campaign promises, while in office they have a fundamental obligation to uphold our trust in them and to live by the law.
Unsavory dealings and immoral acts by the President and those close to him have rendered this administration morally unable to lead.
Unfortunately, the words that we applied to Mr. Clinton 20 years ago apply almost perfectly to our current president. Whether Mr. Trump should be removed from office by the Senate or by popular vote next election—that is a matter of prudential judgment. That he should be removed, we believe, is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments.
To the many evangelicals who continue to support Mr. Trump in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this: Remember who you are and whom you serve. Consider how your justification of Mr. Trump influences your witness to your Lord and Savior. Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency. If we don’t reverse course now, will anyone take anything we say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for decades to come? Can we say with a straight face that abortion is a great evil that cannot be tolerated and, with the same straight face, say that the bent and broken character of our nation’s leader doesn’t really matter in the end?
We have reserved judgment on Mr. Trump for years now. Some have criticized us for our reserve. But when it comes to condemning the behavior of another, patient charity must come first. So we have done our best to give evangelical Trump supporters their due, to try to understand their point of view, to see the prudential nature of so many political decisions they have made regarding Mr. Trump. To use an old cliché, it’s time to call a spade a spade, to say that no matter how many hands we win in this political poker game, we are playing with a stacked deck of gross immorality and ethical incompetence. And just when we think it’s time to push all our chips to the center of the table, that’s when the whole game will come crashing down. It will crash down on the reputation of evangelical religion and on the world’s understanding of the gospel. And it will come crashing down on a nation of men and women whose welfare is also our concern.
A new tell-all book called ‘A Warning,’ written by an anonymous Senior White House Official, was released today. The saddest part about the book and these impeachment proceedings, is that Trump’s hardcore supporters don’t want to know what he has done wrong. They will support him no matter what. So to prove it, we went out on the street, found people who are fans of Donald Trump, and we asked them how they felt about a bunch of stuff Trump has done. Except none of it was stuff Trump has done, all of the events we described were about Watergate and Richard Nixon.
Witnesses were uneven, but even his closest allies don’t try to deny he did what he’s accused of doing.
Look, the case has been made. Almost everything in the impeachment hearings this week fleshed out and backed up the charge that President Trump muscled Ukraine for political gain. The pending question is what precisely the House and its Democratic majority will decide to include in the articles of impeachment, what statutes or standards they will assert the president violated.
What was said consistently undermined Mr. Trump’s case, but more deadly was what has never been said. In the two months since Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry was under way and the two weeks since the Intelligence Committee’s public hearings began, no one, even in the White House, has said anything like, “He wouldn’t do that!” or “That would be so unlike him.” His best friends know he would do it and it’s exactly like him.
The week’s hearings were not a seamless success for Democrats. On Tuesday they seemed to be losing the thread. But by Wednesday and Thursday it was restored.
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman was not a persuasive witness and did not move the story forward, because in spite of the obvious patriotism reflected in his record he was annoying—smug and full of himself. He appeared in full dress uniform with three rows of ribbons. When Rep. Devin Nunes called him “Mr. Vindman,” he quickly corrected him: “Ranking Member, it’s Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, please.” Oh, snap. As he described his areas of authority at the National Security Council, he seemed to glisten with self-regard. You got the impression he saw himself as fully in charge of U.S. policy toward Ukraine. Asked if it was true that government offered to make him their defense minister he said “yes” with no apparent embarrassment. I don’t know about you but I don’t like it when a foreign government gets a sense of a U.S. military officer and concludes he might fit right in. (A Ukrainian official later said the job offer was a joke.)
Mr. Vindman—I’m sorry, Lt. Col. Vindman—self-valorized, as other witnesses have, and tugged in his opening statement on America’s heart strings by addressing his father, who brought his family from the Soviet Union 40 years ago: “Dad, . . . you made the right decision. . . . Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth.”
The committee has paid entirely too much attention to the witnesses’ emotions. “How did that make you feel?” “Without upsetting you too much, I’d like to show you the excerpts from the call . . .”
I am sure the questioners were told to take this tack by communications professionals who believe this is how you manipulate housewives. In fact a mother at home with a vacuum in one hand and a crying baby in the other would look at them, listen, and think: “You guys represent us to other countries? You gotta butch up.”
Later, as Col. Vindman returned to work, and clearly wanting to be seen, he posed grinning for photos in front of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
It is not only Donald Trump who suffers from Absence of Gravity.
On Wednesday Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, was both weirdly jolly and enormously effective in doing Mr. Trump damage. He followed the president’s orders; there was a quid pro quo; “everyone was in the loop, it was no secret“; Rudy Giuliani was the point man, with whom Mr. Sondland worked “at the express direction of the president.”
It was his third try at truthful sworn testimony and it was completely believable. It was kind of the ballgame. He seemed like a guy with nothing to lose, or maybe a guy who’d already lost much.
On Thursday Fiona Hill, the former White House Russia expert, was all business, a serious woman you don’t want to mess with. She reoriented things, warning that those who excuse or don’t wish to see Russian propaganda efforts against America, and targeting its elections, are missing the obvious. The suspicion of the president and his allies that Ukraine is the great culprit in the 2016 election is a “fictional narrative.” They are, in fact, bowing to disinformation Russia spreads to cover its tracks and confuse the American people and its political class. She dismissed the president’s operatives’ efforts to get Ukraine’s new president to investigate his country’s alleged meddling as a “domestic political errand.” She and other diplomats were “involved in national security, foreign policy,” and the interests of the operatives and the diplomats had “diverged.” She warned Mr. Sondland: “This is all going to blow up.”
What became obvious in the hearings was the sober testimony from respectable diplomats—not disgruntled staffers with nutty memoirs but people of stature who don’t ordinarily talk—about how the administration operates. It became clear in a new and public way that pretty much everyone around the president has been forced for three years to work around his poor judgment and unpredictability in order to do their jobs. He no doubt knows this and no doubt doesn’t care. Because he’s the boss, they’ll do it his way.
After Thursday’s hearings I felt some free-floating sympathy for high Trump appointees who joined early. You can say they knew what they signed up for, but it’s human to have hope, and they surely had it when they came aboard. They were no doubt ambitious—they wanted a big job—but they probably wanted to do good, too. They were optimistic—“How bad can it be?” And there would have been vanity—“I can handle him.” But they couldn’t. He not only doesn’t know where the line is; he has never wanted to know, so he can cross it with impunity, without consciousness of a bad act or one that might put him in danger. They were no match for his unpredictability and resentments, which at any moment could undo anything.
As to impeachment itself, the case has been so clearly made you wonder what exactly the Senate will be left doing. How will they hold a lengthy trial with a case this clear? Who exactly will be the president’s witnesses, those who’d testify he didn’t do what he appears to have done, and would never do it?
Procedures, rules and definitions aren’t fully worked out in the Senate. But we are approaching December and the clock is ticking. A full-blown trial on charges most everyone will believe are true, and with an election in less than a year, will seem absurd to all but diehards and do the country no good.
So the reasonable guess is Republican senators will call to let the people decide. In a divided country this is the right call. But they should take seriously the idea of censuring him for abuse of power. Mr. Trump would be the first president to be censured since Andrew Jackson, to whom his theorists have always compared him. In the end he will probably be proud of a tightening of the connection.