For too long, Democrats have allowed Republicans to run roughshod over them, the Constitution and the rule of law in this country. For three years, we have witnessed an American president repeatedly thumb his nose at what we thought were settled constitutional norms and traditions of public behavior and policy, and use his office to enrich himself, punish his perceived enemies and sell out his country to foreign adversaries.
President Donald Trump, in this process, has compromised the values and principles that are the basis of the boldest social experiment in the history of humankind. He has aligned himself with corrupt, even murderous, dictators who have sought to undermine the freedoms and rights of Americans and their long-standing allies around the world. And in spite of his boastful campaign slogan, he has conducted himself in a manner that disgraces the greatness of America and what it symbolized to our fellow citizens of the world before he defiled it.
Trump has been enabled by a cowardly class of Republican legislators who shamelessly stand mute as he and his minions allow foreign adversaries to corrupt our electoral process and to obstruct lawful investigations and congressional oversight. And rather than moving aggressively to hold the president accountable for his daily assault on our democracy and feeding off of racism in this country (if not out-and-out fomenting it), the Democrats have largely responded with timidity.
Clinton versus Trump impeachments
Understandably, they were concerned that public opinion might overwhelmingly rally around Trump in an impeachment, as it did with President Bill Clinton. But the differences between those two matters couldn’t be starker.
The Clinton case technically was based on allegations of perjury and obstruction of justice in connection with a private civil case. But in reality, it centered on disgraceful personal behavior — not crimes or conduct based on abuse of power as president. As Sen. Dale Bumpers, D-Ark., said at the Clinton trial, “When you hear somebody say, ‘This is not about sex,’ it’s about sex.”
The Trump case is rooted in alleged abuses of power of the office of the president. Moreover, while many Republicans have sought to trivialize this conduct as noncriminal in nature, that contention is wholly without merit.
President Donald Trump and national security adviser John Bolton at the White House in Washington on April 9, 2018. (Photo: Susan Walsh, AP)
Under Section 201 of our federal code, it is a crime for a public official to directly or indirectly, corruptly seek anything of value personally for or because of any official act performed or to be performed by that public official. Section 1951 makes it a crime to extort property from another through the use of fear of economic loss or under color of official right. Section 666 makes it a crime to corruptly solicit anything of value from any person intending to be influenced or rewarded in connection with any government business or transaction.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have been at a standoff over impeachment. McConnell promises to abide by the procedures adopted by the Senate in the Clinton trial. Let’s hear opening statements first, he says, then we will consider whether to hear additional evidence. McConnell is essentially saying, “Trust me, we’ll hear witnesses just like we did in the Clinton matter.”
Editorial Board: If Donald Trump is ‘perfect’ on Ukraine, then let Senate impeachment trial hear witnesses
But why should Democrats trust him? McConnell, whose hypocrisy truly knows no bounds, is the same man who refused to even consider President Barack Obama’s last Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, because he was nominated in the final year of Obama’s term, eight months before an election. Now, in the final year of Trump’s term, McConnell says he will move to confirm any Supreme Court candidate Trump may nominate.
As President George W. Bush once torturously tried to say, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
House should subpoena Bolton
There are at least four witnesses who have direct knowledge of the circumstances of Trump’s attempt to trade congressionally appropriated military aid for a Ukraine investigation of the Bidens: Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Office of Management and Budget official Michael Duffey and former national security adviser John Bolton. Trump has endeavored to prevent all of them from testifying, and McConnell says he’s working with the White House on impeachment trial procedures.
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Bolton now says he’s “prepared to testify” in a Senate trial if he is subpoenaed. There is a way to give him that opportunity, even without his Senate testimony. House committees can continue their investigations and can subpoena other witnesses, including Bolton. Like a grand jury, the House can, if warranted, add other charges or co-conspirators in the equivalent of a superseding indictment.
It would be hard for Bolton to refuse to comply with a House subpoena, given his public expression of willingness to testify before the Senate.
Were Bolton to testify truthfully and that testimony revealed to the public, which McConnell would be powerless to prevent, it would be much more difficult for the Senate majority leader to control his caucus. McConnell’s senatorial house of cards has steadfastly served to protect the president, but it might begin to fold after Bolton’s testimony. Even Trump’s ardent public enablers privately appear to view his behavior as cringeworthy.
I believe Speaker Pelosi has the judgment and the courage to put this strategy, and her party’s mettle, to the test.
Bruce Udolf, a lawyer in South Florida, oversaw corruption investigations and prosecutions as a federal prosecutor in Miami, and was an associate independent counsel during the Whitewater investigation of President Bill Clinton. Follow him on Twitter: @BruceUdolf
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