The last few weeks produced a year’s worth of newsworthy events. Among other things was the Commander-in-Chief interfering with the effective application of good order and discipline in the military under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). The president pardoned three men convicted or accused (and awaiting trial) for war crimes — two Army officers and one Navy Chief Petty Officer. In doing so he further demonstrated a total lack of understanding of the military by tweeting (of course) that he did so because “we train our boys to be killing machines and then prosecute them when they kill!” Such statements totally ignore the fact that what separates our military from most others is that in training to fight for our country, our military also learns to do so with discipline, under a code of conduct that prohibits indiscriminate killing, especially of civilians and works to protect the honor and dignity of our nation’s morals, espoused in a speech by General Douglas MacArthur, as “duty, honor, country.” Note that all three men were brought up on charges of crimes under the UCMJ by their own soldiers and Sailors, not by higher ranking officers trying to make some politically correct example of them, as the president implies.
Hanging over everything of course, is the impending impeachment of the President of the United States. In the course of events, three particularly troubling things are happening that in my opinion fundamentally threaten the nature of our democracy.
Very troubling is the conscious use of Russian propaganda on the part of Republican U.S. Senators to try and defend the president’s shakedown scheme against Ukraine to help his own reelection in 2020 using taxpayer money. Otherwise knowledgeable and intelligent Republican Senators such as John Neely Kennedy (LA) and Ted Cruz (TX) and others publicly say that we do not know whether the Russians meddled in the 2016 election, rather it was the Ukrainians. Such garbage could have been written by the former KGB officer Vladimir Putin himself. A unanimous intelligence community agrees it was the Russians. Period. They agree it was not Ukraine, a fact FBI Director Christopher Wray reiterated just last week. The alleged Ukrainian “meddling” is most often a reference to a single op-ed piece written by the Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States criticizing then candidate Trump for saying that Crimea (stolen from Ukraine by force by Russia) “belongs” to Russia. Since Ukraine and Russia continue in a hot war, it might not be too far of a stretch to say that there were some hard feelings towards Mr. Trump saying, essentially, that Ukraine should be a part of Russia again. Another statement straight out of Putin’s talking points.
It is shameful that Republican Representatives and Senators perpetuate such lies on the citizens of the greatest nation on Earth.
But it get worse.
The long anticipated Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General (IG) report on the origins of the investigation into meddling in the 2016 election came out. This report, according to Mr. Trump and his supporters, would unmask the “deep state” and clearly show that the FBI and DOJ were out to keep Mr. Trump from becoming president through a vast “liberal” conspiracy. It did none of those things. None. On the contrary, while the IG’s report found some troubling procedural problems that need to be corrected or changed, it explicitly says that the basis of the investigation was solid, within DOJ guidelines, had no bias behind any of the decisions made and was fully appropriate.
The president’s reaction? He lashed out as usual. Among other things he referred to the people in the FBI as “scum.” Perhaps we as a country have come to expect that from a President of the United States, but I have not. But, I am no longer surprised. What deeply troubles me is that Attorney General William Barr, the DOJ and FBI boss, echoed the president’s remarks. Instead of supporting the FBI or the work of the independent IG, in an interview with NBC News he said about the report and investigation:
“I think our nation was turned on its head for three years based on a completely bogus narrative that was largely fanned and hyped by a completely irresponsible press. I think there were gross abuses and inexplicable behavior that is intolerable in the FBI.”
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal he said of the investigation “It was a travesty, and there were many abuses.” So much for the credibility of an independent IG and so much for the Attorney General working for the people of the United States rather than being the president’s personal shill, I mean attorney.
Deeply troubling. But it gets worse yet.
The president is about to be impeached (appropriately in my opinion, but that’s a post for another day). The Senate will then conduct a trial on the two Articles of Impeachment to either remove Mr. Trump from office, or acquit him.
All 100 of the sitting Senators act as jurors and take an oath. It is not the oath of office, but an oath as a juror. According to Rule XXV of the Senate Rules On Impeachment Trials the oath is:
“I solemnly swear (or affirm) that in all things appertaining to the trial of ___, now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws, so help me God.”
The Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) went on TV and declared that he is “in total coordination with the White House counsel” on the rules and parameters of the trial — such as calling witnesses or not — and opined that the president would be acquitted and that all Republicans would so vote. Senator McConnell gets to set the rules of this trial and is also a juror. Fair and impartial? It is like the jury foreman in a case getting together with the defense attorney before the trial to determine how they will acquit the defendant.
Other Republican Senators have expressed similar opinions, most notably Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC). On Sunday’s Face the Nation he said that he was going to vote to acquit the president and that “I don’t need any witnesses. I am ready to vote on the underlying articles.” Earlier last week he said that he did not even intend to review any of the facts raised before the House of Representatives during the investigation leading to the Articles of Impeachment. So much for following one’s oath.
Impeachment is a serious and sobering step. The Senate deserves to treat it as such. Instead we continue to hear Republicans moan and groan about “hoaxes” “witch hunts” “undermining the 2016 election” and other whiny defenses of the president. Please note that not one of them disputes the facts as presented in the House.
Our democracy is in trouble as the president continues to argue that he is above the law. He claims that he cannot be investigated by law enforcement or by the Congress. Nobody or no entity or no organization can do so. His lawyers have even argued in court that if the president actually did shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in New York (as he famously said during his campaign) that he could not be prosecuted.
In recent days, Mr. Trump’s “personal lawyer” Rudy Guiliani, just back from a “fact finding” trip to Ukraine, is bragging to anyone that will listen that he “forced out” U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanavitch because she was getting in the way of his schemes.
The president is being impeached for Obstruction of Congress and Abuse of Power. It is clear that he did not just abuse power, rather that he continues abusing power today. Events are unfolding that impact our elections. Not the one in 2016, but the upcoming 2020 elections. We already know that Mr. Trump thinks his position is so weak that he must cheat to win. He took advantage of Russian meddling and he has often publicly stated that he will take help again from other nations if it will help him win.
The past is past. We need to protect our future.