So what can be said for American fair trials now? Democracy demands a fair trial, the Constitution demands a fair trial, the people demand fair trials. But the President of the United States gets a trial without witnesses.
“Sham” cried the Democrats over and over again as Donald Trump was assured acquittal late Friday on impeachment charges. With the formal vote to exonerate him slated for Wednesday, he’s survived another trauma, the most grave he’s faced.
Next to sham, “coverup” was the most operative word in the Congressional corridors following the vote to disallow witnesses. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said on Wednesday that the country was headed for “the biggest coverup since Watergate.” Watergate legend Carl Bernstein echoed the sentiment. Referring to the reputation of the senate as the world’s greatest deliberative body, he said, “What a joke.”
Indeed it was. The Republican senators, at the behest of their leader, defied 75 per cent of Americans who, according to polls, wanted witnesses. Such witnesses, denied by votes from no less than 51 of the 53 Republicans, would surely have offered incriminating evidence of Mr, Trump’s plot to have the Ukraine government investigate his political rivals. The witnesses would have made it more contemptible for his Grand Old Party toadies to acquit him.
Cleared of this abuse of power, Democrats rightly wondered what guard-rails were left to restrain this president, whether it’s now carte blanche for King Donald. Given his vindictive streak they asked what’s to prevent him from engaging other governments in illicit activities on his political behalf.
There was never a doubt that the impeachment trial would end in acquittal. The Democrats knew this, given the Republican majority in the senate, from the outset. But they were intent on trying to show Americans their leader’s lawlessness.
They miscalculated. Instead of charging him with specific crimes such as bribery or extortion, their impeachment articles - abuse of power and obstruction of Congress - were vague. Their legal team, led by Congressman Adam Schiff, presented a compelling case, compelling enough that GOP senators such as Lamar Alexander, who cast a deciding vote, were in fact in agreement that Mr. Trump’s actions were wrong. But they had an out. They didn’t need to hear more evidence because while inappropriate the president’s actions did not constitute a crime of sufficient magnitude to warrant the capital punishment of impeachment, certainly not in an election year.
Though the public wanted witnesses, the Republicans also knew that this impeachment wasn’t resonating strongly in the heartland. What Mr. Trump did lacked shock value primarily because he’s engaged in so much shocking behaviour Americans were somewhat numb to it. Engaging in subterfuge with a Ukraine leader for political gain was hardly a gobsmacker.
It doesn't mean Mr. Trump won’t pay a price. He now carries the stigma, even with senate acquittal, of being one of only three presidents to be impeached in the House of Representatives. More revelations of what he did on the Ukraine file, of how he lied and covered it up, are likely forthcoming.
Leaks from a book by former national security adviser John Bolton reveal new details of his scheming to withhold military assistance to Ukraine until it opened an investigation into Joe Biden and his son Hunter. It’s why Democrats were particularly anxious to have Mr. Bolton testify.
Mr. Schiff was a powerhouse for them, destroying most every argument the Republican defence team put forward. But it wasn't enough to sway the Trump loyalists who clearly are intimidated by their president’s wrath.
What happened is another bold illustration of how Mr. Trump has taken the presidency by the throat and redefined it. As historian Douglas Brinkley put it, “he's dynamited the institution of the presidency.”
As the impeachment vote shows, he’s turned his party into a swarm of lackeys. He’s ransacked the reputation of other institutions such as intelligence and national security agencies. He’s overhauled communications with his daily twitter barrages and attacks on the media. With his staggering output of falsehoods and misinformation he’s waged an unconscionable war on truth. With his attacks on allies and outreach to authoritarian leaders, he’s overturned traditional diplomacy.
His manhandling and obstruction of the justice system have been amply apparent in the impeachment proceeding and many other controversies. He's taken a wrecking hammer to Congressional oversight.
It’s presidential supremacy the likes of which has rarely if ever been seen, and it’s just received another booster shot.
In his last pitch to the impeachment trial Mr. Schiff warned that “you cannot normalize this kind of behaviour.” He then watched as the senate, in bending to Mr. Trump’s power, proceeded to do so.