House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is gloating because President Trump is “impeached for life,” and “there’s nothing the Senate can do that can ever erase that.” Like a prosecutor telling a defendant, even if acquitted, you’re “indicted for life” and you’ll never shake the disgrace. So much for the noble principle of innocent until proven guilty.
Could this be the same never-hate Pelosi who wore black on Dec. 18 as she “solemnly and sadly” called for a vote to impeach the president? What a charade. The Democrats’ goal all along has been to impeach Trump and damage his re-electability in 2020.
The House sent the articles of impeachment to the Senate, where a trial will get underway next week. Already, Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer are conspiring to make the disgrace stick by smearing Trump’s likely acquittal as a cover-up.
They’ve been demanding an upfront guarantee that the Senate will call White House staff as witnesses, knowing that’s a nonstarter with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell prefers the trial format used for Bill Clinton’s 1998 impeachment: First, the House presents its charges, and Trump’s lawyers rebut. If the senators need to know more, they can call witnesses. Delaying that decision doesn’t mean the trial is rigged.
Some Trump supporters are urging the Supreme Court to step in to halt the Senate trial before it begins. That will go nowhere because the Court ruled unequivocally and unanimously in 1993 that it would not interfere in impeachments. It’s up to the Senate to question the wisdom of degrading impeachment into a partisan tool. Allow it now, and any future House majority can impeach a president they don’t like.
After all, House Democrats argued Trump could be impeached even if he hasn’t violated any law. Their first article of impeachment accuses him of putting “personal political benefit” ahead of “the interests of the nation.” Who’s to say what’s in the national interest?
That definition of an impeachable offense is so vague and subjective that any president could be impeached. Senators should reject it.
Democrats charge Trump with a second offense, “obstruction of Congress,” for claiming executive privilege and refusing to allow White House staff to testify. But executive privilege isn’t something Trump invented. Previous presidents, from George Washington to Barack Obama have said “no” to congressional requests, relying on the courts to referee. This time, House Democrats were in a rush to impeach and unwilling to battle Trump in court. They took a short cut around our constitutional system of checks and balances. Senators shouldn’t go along with it.
The Senate could vote to dismiss the articles, on the basis that these charges are not impeachable offenses. Trump called for that on Sunday, but there is no political will among Senate Republicans to take the heat for that. And the truth is that acquittal is better than dismissal.
So, after opening arguments, the next question is whether to extend the trial and call witnesses. Democrats are running ads against vulnerable Republicans like Maine’s Susan Collins accusing them of unfairness for not guaranteeing witnesses, and it’s having an impact. Collins indicated last Friday she’ll try to get witnesses called. But calling witnesses isn’t the same as getting them.
Even if the Senate votes to subpoena White House staff, including former national security adviser John Bolton, don’t count on hearing from them. Trump indicated last Friday that he intends to limit or block testimony, including Bolton’s, citing executive privilege. Bolton may defy Trump, but it’s less likely Trump’s current top advisers will.
In ordinary times, Trump’s stance would set up a court battle. Democrats lost their chance for that once they voted to impeach. The 1993 ruling makes it clear the Supreme Court will no longer intervene. That means there’s no practical way to force the president to produce witnesses.
Expect a short trial, an acquittal and no relief from the venomous anti-Trump rancor driving the Democratic Party. House Democrats are looking for new grounds to impeach. As if Congress had nothing better to do.
Betsy McCaughey is a former lieutenant governor of New York.