After months of hearings, mountains of evidence and mostly second-hand witness testimony, the impeachment inquiry and trial of the president this past week ground slowly to its inevitable conclusion of acquittal. It did so without convincing a majority of the U. S. Senate or the country that whatever actions transpired over Ukraine defense funding, they didn’t rise to the level of an impeachable offense.
On the other hand, the American people now have proof that Congressional Democrats will stop at nothing to overturn the 2016 election of Donald Trump. Constitutional scholars described the Democrats’ “weaponization” of the impeachment process as a dangerous precedent where future policy differences could be interpreted as “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
The two articles of impeachment, “abuse of power” and “obstruction of Congress,” were masterpieces of vagueness. Neither defined a crime by any legal standard.
Even last-minute leaks of unsubstantiated claims by ex-National Security Advisor John Bolton fell mostly on deaf ears as many had reached the conclusion that the charges leveled against Trump, even if true, weren’t serious enough to remove a sitting president from office nine months before standing for election.
The lack of due process afforded the president and the purely partisan nature of the impeachment vote were reason enough to end the process quickly. Indeed, the only real drama unfolded 11 days after the trial began when a vote was scheduled to allow the calling of witnesses. Strictly a procedural vote requiring a Senate majority to pass, most Republicans saw it as a delaying tactic not affecting the ultimate trial outcome. If passed, it certainly would have extended the trial weeks or months as wrangling over witnesses and testimony ensued — providing opportunities for Democrats to level additional unsubstantiated accusations against the president.
Unsurprisingly, this thrust U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, into the national spotlight. Seen as a possible swing vote on impeachment, her vote on this issue was uncertain as she had previously indicated interest in hearing from additional witnesses. She became the focus of intense pressure from both sides of the aisle.
This became a litmus test for the validity of impeachment as well as for Murkowski personally. After all, if U.S. House impeachment managers couldn’t convince the moderate Murkowski on expanding their inquiry, it would be another indication of the weakness of their case. And just like her vote not to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, a vote to allow additional witnesses would send a message to her home state supporters that she was, once again, out of step with her Republican colleagues.
To her credit, Murkowski remained above the fray and said she would consider all sides prior to the vote. In the end, in contrast to Senate Democrats, she remained thoughtful and deliberative, issuing this statement, in part, “… I will vote against considering motions to subpoena. Given the partisan nature of this impeachment from the very beginning and throughout, I have come to the conclusion that there will be no fair trial in the Senate.”
Later expanding her comments in a floor speech, she said “… the U.S. Constitution provides for impeachment but does not demand it in all instances. The voters will pronounce a verdict in nine months, and we must trust their judgment.”
The final vote to allow additional witnesses and evidence ultimately failed 51-49 with the final vote on acquittal an anti-climax. Unfortunately, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, chose to disparage Senate Republicans by questioning their motivations for rejecting impeachment by stating: “We knew this was an uphill fight. We’re not in the majority; we have a president who strikes fear in the hearts of Republicans.”
That statement must have surprised Murkowski, who has shown no fear when she crossed Trump on more than one occasion previously. While Murkowski is no fan of the president, she is true to herself. Her vote proved she still has the courage to represent the interests of her Alaskan constituents and uphold her constitutional responsibilities as one of Alaska’s two senators.
And it proved something else. The Democrats’ cynical and political use of impeachment backfired and has only bolstered the possibility of Trump’s reelection.
• Win Gruening retired as the senior vice president in charge of business banking for Key Bank in 2012. He was born and raised in Juneau and is active in community affairs as a 30-plus year member of Juneau Downtown Rotary Club and has been involved in various local and statewide organizations. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.