Seares: Can an impeachment trial without witnesses work? It does for Trump

News Sense

THE United States Senate, convened as an impeachment court to try President Donald Trump, last Friday (Jan. 31, 2020) voted, 51-49, to disallow new witnesses and documents. Closing arguments for four hours were scheduled to start Monday (Feb. 3), followed by more senators’ speeches on Tuesday and voting the next day (Feb. 4 and 5).

The proceeding has not been like the impeachment trial of Supreme Court chief justice Renato Corona, who went through a full-blown trial in 2012, complete with witnesses and and other evidence to prove that he violated an impeachable offense from the jurist’s failure to disclose his wealth and other assets.

Debate and questioning

What Americans and the rest of the world saw during the nine days of debate and questioning at Capitol Hill dwelt on the issue of whether Trump committed an impeachable offense.

Witnesses who testified in the House inquiry that led to the filing of the articles of impeachment were not heard anymore. And no new witnesses, crucially that of former national security adviser John Bolton, and documents were allowed, clearing the way for Trump’s acquittal.

Troubling questions

The troubling questions that have cast doubt on the mechanism of impeachment, which our Constitution also provides, include these:

[1] Can a President ever be removed by impeachment, if he controls either one or both chambers of Congress? If a sitting President controls the House, he cannot be impeached. If he controls the Senate, he cannot be convicted.

[2] What kind of mechanism is impeachment-and-trial when the President can block, as Trump did, witnesses and documents from seeing light during impeachment inquiry in the House, and the Senate can disallow, as the Republicans did, crucial witnesses and new evidence at the trial?

Flawed arguments

The constitution-created process was repeatedly assailed as a coup against Trump’s 2016 election. If that is valid, every President can ward off impeachment by alleging it as an assault on voters’ verdict.

And these two other equally flawed arguments:

(a) The President didn’t commit a wrong when he transacted the “quid pro quo” for his personal and political benefit with Ukraine because his reelection would be for the interest of his country, and

(b) Abuse of power, assuming that Trump committed it, is not impeachable.

Agenda vs. agenda

The narrow vote in blocking new witnesses and evidence does not presage a similar razor-thin vote on Trump’s “innocence,” which requires a two-thirds vote. Two Republicans who switched sides to allow new testimony may even vote for Trump’s acquittal.

The Democrats knew all along they couldn’t remove Trump. Apparently, they wanted to use the forum to dig out politically damaging information against Trump, which they hoped would hurt his reelection bid. The Republicans, seeing that intent, opposed a “prolonged” trial. Agenda vs. agenda.

Controlling legislature

To us, the Trump impeachment and trial would reinforce the basic lesson on how a President could stave off removal by impeachment and trial: Control one or both houses of the legislature.

It may seem odd to us that the Constitution’s system and structure would aim for checks and balances through the separate branches and at the same time would allow it to be derailed by a flawed impeachment-and-trial process.

Displaying intent

The farce or sham was highlighted when Republican senator-jurors took the required oath before the trial “to do impartial justice according to the Constitution and the laws,” even as they publicly announced they were ready to acquit Trump.

At least, our senators, in trying Corona, hid from public view their intention to convict him, which they ultimately carried out.

If Filipino legislators learned anything from the US model of impeachment and trial, politics, not necessarily the country’s interest, rules in any impeachment or trial.


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