After President Trump was impeached in December, a trial took place that could have led to the president being removed from office. However, he was acquitted last week.
Tom Chesley | Staff Writer
President Trump was accused of breaking the law by pressuring Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, to dig up damaging information on his political rival, Joe Biden. In July 2019, President Trump allegedly urged Mr Zelensky to investigate one of the Democratic frontrunners to take him on in the 2020 presidential election. This mattered, opposition Democrats said, because it is illegal to ask foreign entities for help in winning a US election and thus, is considered an abuse of power. Mr Trump denies any wrongdoing. After Mr Trump was impeached in December, a trial took place that could have led to the president being removed from office. However, he was acquitted last week.
Whilst the Democratic-run house of representatives voted to impeach the President, the Republican dominated senate voted to acquit him after it voted to not hear any more testimony from witnesses. However, there was one dissenting Republican voice, Senator Mitt Romney, who voted to convict Mr Trump.
Mr Romney spoke on the Senate floor ahead of his vote on Wednesday to say, “the president is guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust,” and that what he “did was wrong, grievously wrong”. He spoke of his Mormon faith and “oath before God” that demanded that he vote for conviction.
This antagonism is the latest in a string of attacks on the president by Mr Romney. Back in early 2019, Romney launched a scathing critique on the president stating that Trump had not ‘risen to the mantle’ of the US presidency. Furthermore, in November 2018 Mr Romney also took issue with Mr Trump labelling the press the “enemy of the people” as well as condemning the President’s response to a violent far-right rally in Charlottesville in 2017. Clearly, the two men have a fractious relationship and with this history in mind it is hardly surprising that Romney has criticised Mr Trump again for perceived misconduct.
The impeachment trial has highlighted the problems within the US political system with both the prosecution and defence run on party lines as opposed to finding any evidence of wrongdoing. This seems to be aggravated by the senate’s refusal to call upon new witnesses, such as former National Security Adviser John Bolton, that could shed new light upon the situation.
According to the New York Times, Mr Bolton writes in his forthcoming book that the president directly instructed him to withhold military aid from Ukraine in exchange for dirt on a Democratic political rival, Joe Biden. Testimony from Mr Bolton about his involvement in the Ukraine affair threatened to significantly undermine the case made by the president’s lawyers during his trial.
This has driven Jonathan Turley, a professor of law at George Washington University, to comment on the most striking aspect of the trial. He states that, “it really did not matter what people actually said whether it was witnesses or the accused or even the Framers (the people who drafted the US Constitution). It was the first entirely dubbed trial where advocates simply supplied the words that fit with their case rather than reality.”
This impeachment trial seems to reflect our ‘post-truth’ times. Where revealing the facts is of secondary importance to portraying narratives each diametrically opposed to the other. It is an indictment of US political practices.
Ultimately, Mr Trump has been cleared of any wrongdoings by the Republican held senate. However, there seems to be one last sting in the tail as the President has dismissed two senior officials who testified against him at his impeachment trial. Eliot Engel, the Democratic chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said in a statement: “This is shameful of course. But this is also what we should now expect from an impeached president whose party has decided he is above the law and accountable to no one.” Mr Engel emphasised the point that the Republican majority in the senate has given Mr Trump a mandate to act as he pleases.
Where does this leave the President and US politics in general? With the 2020 general election nine months away, according to polls, the nation is split pretty much as it was before the impeachment. The US is separated pretty evenly between Republicans and Democrats. Being divided on these fiercely partisan lines further exacerbates the loggerheads that the House of Representatives and the Senate finds themselves at. The impeachment, then, is not idiosyncratic of a unique political process but is rather a symptom of wider partisan US politics.
According to the BBC, the President’s approval ratings hover in the low to mid-40s, roughly where they’ve been the entirety of his term in office. This makes his re-election chances uncertain but far from unlikely.
[Image Credit: Harold Mendoza]