Sham Trump Impeachment Trial Acquittal Erodes Congressional Oversight of Presidential Abuse of Power

Interview by Marge Baker, executive vice president for policy and program with People For the American Way, conducted by Scott Harris

As the Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump drew to a close, in advance of the expected outcome of acquittal, lead House manager Rep. Adam Schiff asked the 53 Senate Republicans, “Is there one among you who will say, ‘Enough?'” Urging GOP senators to prevent a “runaway presidency,” he summarized the reasons that Trump should be removed from office for his request last July to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch an investigation into former vice president and 2020 Democratic candidate Joe Biden, as he blocked the release of $391 million in military aid to fight pro-Russian separatists. In his closing argument, Schiff maintained that “History will not be kind to Donald Trump.”

White House Counsel Pat Cipollone told senators there was no evidence of Trump’s wrongdoing, and that the only solution was “to leave it to the voters” to decide this November. But Cipollone’s credibility came into question when an excerpt of Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton’s forthcoming book charged that Cipollone was in the room with other White House officials when the president asked Bolton to assist with the extortion campaign to extract damaging information on Democrats from Ukrainian officials.

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Marge Baker, executive vice president for policy and program with People for the American Way. Here, she assesses the conduct of the Senate impeachment trial that blocked all new witnesses and documents, and the long-term damage to the U.S. Constitution with the erosion of congressional oversight and checks on presidential abuse of power.

MARGE BAKER: So this is an absolutely shameful, painful episode in our nation’s history, in the history of our democracy, in history of the Senate. It’s utterly shameful and we actually don’t even think that you can call what’s going to happen later this week an acquittal because there hasn’t been a real trial. You can’t have a trial without witnesses and documents. Never in history has there been any impeachment trial without witnesses and documents. And to suggest that (this) even comes anywhere near the fair trial that the American public deserved and that our democracy deserved is ridiculous. So this is it. It really is shameful. I could not agree more with Rep. (Adam) Schiff’s characterization. This is going to be a stain, will be a mark forever. The Republicans in the Senate, all but two of whom voted not to have witnesses and not to have documents. You’re going to have to live with that vote for a very, very, very long time.

SCOTT HARRIS: What about the continuing investigation? We have a lot of information that has not yet been brought to bear, including allegations made in a forthcoming book by former (National) Security Council advisor to Donald Trump, John Bolton, where he claims many people in the administration were involved in this shakedown scheme of Ukraine in exchange for political dirt on a potential rival of Donald Trump in the 2020 election – that’s former Vice President Joe Biden. Is there a need in your view for the House of Representatives to continue the investigation and expose the information and allegations that are being made by many parties, including John Bolton and a former Rudy Giuliani associate, Lev Parnas? What’s the role of the House now, do you think?

MARGE BAKER: I think there there’s clearly going to be more and more information coming out. I mean even just since the impeachment so-called trial record closed. We have Bolton apparently, in his book, revealing that in May, two months before the call that he had with the president of Ukraine, Bolton says Trump told him, Bolton, to help with the Ukrainian pressure campaign.

Friday at midnight after they had concluded their vote on not having witnesses and documents, the Department of Justice –in a filing with the federal courts as part of a Freedom of Information Act case – revealed that they have two dozen emails relating to the Ukrainian aid freeze, including ones relating to Trump. So there’s more and more information that’s going to come out and it is absolutely true that the House of Representatives still has investigatory power and can still hold hearings and still do investigations, which it no doubt will. I think the real judgment for what we’re seeing come to light is going to be in November. I believe the American people will cast their vote mindful of the danger that has been created for our democracy by a president who is absolutely lawless and thinks he has a permission slip to cheat, which he’s going to keep doing. I think the way to stop this president is to vote him out of office in November.

SCOTT HARRIS: What’s the longterm damage to the U.S. Constitution and to the very key element of checks and balances on presidential power that’s going to come out of this impeachment trial and the assertion, the astonishing assertion by Trump’s lawyers, namely Alan Dershowitz, that the president has unlimited and unaccountable executive authority where he can do just about anything under his power to gain re-election as long as – as Dershowitz put it – the president thinks it’s in the public interest.

MARGE BAKER: Yeah, I mean it’s an absurd, cockamamie theory that gets no support among the academics who look at this issue and legal scholars. And Dershowitz even had to try to walk it back, although it was very difficult. I mean, it’s a crazy, absurd theory, but it’s really dangerous. The notion that because a president believes his re-election is the public interest, he can do anything to get re-elected. That’s not how a democracy works. It’s not how our Constitution works. In terms of long-term harm, this is really serious. This is a watershed moment and as I’ve heard someone say, you know, maybe maybe you survive one term of this. A second term of Trump doing this, I don’t know how you come back from that.

This is a really very, very scary, very dangerous time. Which is, you know, why we’re working so hard and our allies are working so hard to make sure that what we’re helping and working to channel some of the anger, and the concern and focusing on what do we have to do in November. My personal view is it makes it harder for the senators who supported him. And it’s harder for Trump in his re-election. There are folks out there who I think have to be and are concerned about what they’re seeing. A president let loose thinking that he’s totally above the law with no restraints, permission to cheat in any way he wants to – that’s not what they want in a president.

For more information, visit People For The American Way at pfaw.org, Common Cause at CommonCause.org and Public Citizen at citizen.org.

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