The impeachment of an American president is a tragedy, one that should not be made worse by a sham trial in the Senate.
Americans of all parties need a complete and fair vetting of whether President Donald Trump abused his power, by pressuring Ukraine to produce political dirt on a rival, and obstructed Congress from investigating.
This is needed not to score political points but to ascertain whether there is rot in the White House that must be removed. A legitimate trial is also needed to affirm that presidents — current and future — remain accountable to Congress.
An incomplete and insincere Senate trial would leave critical questions about Trump unanswered. It would also raise serious questions about whether the Constitution’s system of checks and balances — including impeachment — are irreparably harmed.
Especially in a presidential election year, Americans need more facts, clarity and faith that their system of government is performing, and safe from foreign interference and internal corruption.
Senators swear to uphold the Constitution, not their party, and to be impartial in an impeachment trial. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., already tainted appearances of fairness by stating last month that “I’m not impartial about this at all.” That highlights the urgent need for the Senate to have a credible process.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said it’s essential to hear testimony from witnesses with personal and direct knowledge of the president’s alleged abuses of power. That includes documents and witnesses the White House withheld during the House investigation, “so that as jurors we have all of the relevant information to pursue the truth and do impartial justice.”
“The American people rightly expect the Senate to allow all of the evidence and facts regarding the charges against the president to be considered during the trial, and I hope some Republicans will join Democrats to make sure the Senate approaches this moment with the seriousness it requires,” she said.
If there’s a truncated trial with no witnesses, “in effect what the Senate will have said to the presidency is, ‘as long as your party controls the Senate, we’re not going to hold you accountable,’ ” said Cornell Clayton, director of the Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service at Washington State University.
Some believe Trump has been treated unfairly. Now that he’s officially impeached by the House, the Senate is an opportunity to provide a fair trial. But that won’t be done by short-circuiting the process. A sham trial could actually hurt Trump’s standing with the 10 to 15% of undecided voters, Clayton said.
Compromising the Senate trial, and the obligation of Congress to impartially judge whether a president broke the law and jeopardized national security, would be the greater injustice. That would be unfair to 329 million other Americans, who are already skeptical about the ability of Congress to place country over party.
They deserve a fair and thorough impeachment trial reflecting the gravity of what’s at stake.