Now the decision is ours

The President Trump impeachment episode ended as everyone knew it would. The Democratic House of Representatives impeached him, and the Republican Senate found him not guilty of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. 

What did we learn?

A few things. And some that are yet unclear.

One thing we learned is that most members of the House thought he was guilty as charged. We knew that. The House is under majority Democratic control.

Something we didn’t know until the Senate trial took place, and just before the verdict was rendered, is that most senators thought so too. 

All 45 Senate Democrats and the two Independents voted for conviction. The surprise was that several Senate Republicans agreed that the House, and the House witnesses and a number of national media outlets, put together facts compelling enough to convince them that the president did in fact try to withhold aid from Ukraine to force President Zelensky to announce he would investigate the Bidens.

Republican Sen. Mitt Romney actually voted for conviction on that count. Others, like GOP Sens. Lamar Alexander, Ben Sasse, Rob Portman and Mario Rubio said they believed Trump did what he was accused of regarding Ukraine. Had those four joined Romney on the vote, a majority of the Senate would have found him guilty.

But Alexander, Sasse, Portman and Rubio did not find that Trump’s conduct rose to the level of impeachment. What he did was wrong, they stated, but it did not warrant his removal from office.

And even if those four had voted with Romney for conviction, the final vote would have been 52-48. The Constitution requires a two-thirds Senate vote (67) to convict on an impeachment charge.

Several Republicans, like Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Iowa’s Joni Ernst, now say they think Trump has learned a lesson, and will not engage in such conduct again. 

I think they’re wrong.

Trump now knows the legal consequences of his conduct: there are none. 

What’s to stop him from a repeat performance?

On July 24 of last year, Special Counsel Robert Mueller publicly testified to a Congressional committee on the report he prepared regarding Trump’s relations with Russia. Mueller said that while he could not find evidence that Trump conspired with Russia during the 2016 election, neither could he exonerate him. He outlined 10 instances in which further investigation might prove more conclusive.

On July 25, one day after Mueller’s testimony, Trump made his phone call to Ukraine’s Zelensky in which he asked Zelensky to announce an investigation into the Bidens, thereby inviting foreign insertion into American elections. 

Just one day later.

A comparison is sometimes made between Trump and former President Bill Clinton, both of whom were impeached but found not guilty by the Senate. 

That’s true so far as it goes.

But Clinton admitted his guilt and asked the American people for forgiveness. 

Not Trump. He claims the July 25 phone call to Zelensky was “perfect.”

This past week, he doubled down, by firing Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, both of whom had testified to a House committee investigating the Ukraine matter. Both men had done so in response to subpoenas from the House. Vindman was director for European Affairs for the National Security Council.

Incredibly, Trump also fired Vindman’s twin brother, Yevgeny Vindman, a chief ethics lawyer at the National Security Council. He had not testified before Congress. Apparently he was fired because he was Alexander’s twin brother.   

Others in the administration who failed to obey Trump’s order to ignore congressional subpoenas in the investigation have either resigned or been fired as well.

The appearance is reminiscent of Stalin’s and Hitler’s purges in the 1930s, except Trump’s underlings were not shot.

When Alexander Vindman testified to the House committee this past Nov. 19, he closed his opening statement with a message to reassure his father, who had brought the Vindman family to the United States from the Soviet Union four decades earlier:

“Dad, my sitting here today in the U.S. Capitol, talking to our elected officials is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America in search of a better life for our family. Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth.”

I hope I’m wrong — I mean that. But I see no evidence yet that the impeachment episode will make Trump any less contemptuous of the Constitution than he has been, and is now.

Americans have a decision to make this November. We will show whether we condone his leadership or reject it. 

As always, the buck stops with us.

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