US hearings leading nowhere

The Australian Editorial
Monday November 25 2019

Donald Trump’s combative insistence in a Fox News interview that he “wants” to be tried for impeachment in the US Senate is no surprise. After the conclusion, for now, of public hearings by the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives intelligence committee, his confidence is high. The hearings have seen antagonistic diplomats presenting as non-partisan but clearly nursing grudges against Mr Trump and hyperventilating by the Democrats, cheered on by a largely partisan US media that has treated the event as an anti-Trump blood sport. Yet for all that, no “high crime and misdemeanour” has emerged, as demanded by the constitution, to justify short-circuiting the President.

While Mr Trump is open to criticism for appearing to have sought to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rival Joe Biden and son Hunter that does not mean he committed an impeachable offence.

Neither does it mean the process, after being waved through the Democrat-controlled house, as it will be, is destined for anything but failure in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Holding presidents to account is one of the gravest issues in the US system. Bill Clinton committed a crime by lying under oath (Ed - on a sex-related issue). Democrats then said that was not impeachable. Richard Nixon resigned when recordings revealed he had obstructed justice by ordering a cover-up of the Watergate break-in (Ed - to spy on the Democrat Party's plans by using wiretaps and stolen documents).

Mr Trump asked a foreign government to investigate Mr Biden for corruption but the probe never happened. He allegedly threatened to withhold $US400m in military aid. That didn’t happen, either.

A US president’s foreign policy should not be part of impeachment discussions.

No witness has testified that Mr Trump did anything impeachable. No one, for example, heard him first-hand order a quid pro quo in which Kiev would dig up dirt on the Bidens in exchange for aid. Ambassador Gordon Sondland said he was told specifically by the President that he wanted no quid pro quo. That was lost in the biased coverage. Democrats may yet regret following the impeachment route.

Update The Australian

Thu 19/12/2019 11:47 AM Qld time (December 18 Washington DC time)

Donald Trump has become the third US president to be impeached after the House of Representatives passed an historic vote to impeach him for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

The vote sets up an impeachment trial in the Senate next month and ensures that the controversy will be hotly debated throughout next year’s election campaign.

After six hours of rancorous debate the final vote was split along party lines with only two Democrats opposing Article One of the impeachment resolution and no Republicans supporting it. The vote passed 230 to 197.

The House voted on two articles of impeachment, one for alleged abuse of power by the president in seeking to leverage US military aid to Ukraine and a visit to the White House (by Ukrainian President Zelensky) to pressure Ukraine to launch a public investigation into Democrat Joe Biden and his son Hunter. The other article is for alleged obstruction of Congress in blocking the impeachment inquiry.

Polls show that Americans are almost evenly divided on the merits of impeachment, with no clear trends either for or against impeachment during the three month inquiry.

The impeachment means that the Senate will conduct a courtroom-style trial over several weeks in January presided over by Chief Justice John Roberts.

Republicans want to limit the witnesses who will testify at that trial although Democrats are pushing for testimony from high profile White House officials including acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and sacked national security adviser John Bolton.

The Republican-controlled Senate will almost certainly acquit Mr Trump, ensuring he will remain in office to contest the next election.

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