Opinion: In Congress, both sides are in a state of denial
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine stated this week that it is “inappropriate, in my judgment, for senators on either side of the aisle to prejudge the evidence before they have heard what is presented to us, because each of us will take an oath, an oath that I take very seriously to render impartial justice.”
Congress, though, has been anything but impartial when it comes to impeachment. Indeed, both the Democrats and Republicans have been in a hyperpartisan state of denial.
The question before Congress is whether to take the largest constitutional step in our nation’s history and remove a sitting president. From the beginning, our elected representatives should have developed the facts and analyzed the law with the uniform goal of getting this right. They have, instead, simply ignored anything inconsistent with predetermined party-line narratives.
The Democrats, for their part, cannot accept that Joe and Hunter Biden's connections to Burisma matter. While there’s no evidence that either Biden engaged in corruption, Joe’s conflict of interest, itself, meets the very low threshold for being relevant to Trump's defense. The vice president of the United States — a constitutional officer — withheld a billion dollars in congressionally authorized aid from Ukraine unless it fired a prosecutor who had investigated his son’s company.
Sorry Democrats: This is not nothing.
While this conflict doesn't make Trump’s acts proper, it is at least material to the question of whether he should be the first president — ever — removed from office. The Democrats have proclaimed, day after day, that Trump was using his office to “dig up dirt” on a “political rival.” But the political rival was the previous vice president, who was running the United States’ Ukrainian policy. And the dirt related to a conflict of interest in existence when that rival withheld a billion dollars of taxpayer money from Ukraine. This is different from Trump conditioning aid on Ukraine investigating Bernie Sanders’ finances or spying on Elizabeth Warren's campaign.
Democrats nonetheless uniformly ignore the fact that Trump’s pressuring of Ukraine did not happen on a blank slate.
The first principle of due process is that the arbiter of a dispute must evaluate all facts relevant to the accused's defense. The Democrats are, instead, systematically erasing them from the analysis.
The Republicans, meanwhile, are clinging to the delusion that Trump “did nothing wrong.” But their frantic repetition of those words does not make them true.
Notwithstanding the complications from the Bidens’ connections to Burisma, Trump’s actions were scandalous. The president of the United States should not — under any circumstances — withhold vitally important military aid from an ally while pressing for targeted investigations into his chief political rival.
Sorry Republicans: This, too, is not nothing.
While it’s an open question, before the Senate trial, whether Trump’s acts were grave enough to warrant removal from office, they were undeniably reckless and improper. The Republicans, nonetheless, stridently march forward in their allegiance to the party line, insisting Trump’s acts were par for the presidential course.
If Trump was genuinely concerned about the Bidens he should have, at most, requested broad and evenhanded investigations into Ukrainian corruption, conducted through proper channels. Given that there was no evidence the Bidens committed any wrongdoing — but, rather, simply had a conflict of interest — the prudent course was to leave the whole thing alone.
The Republicans, however, simply brush this aside and — in a stunning act of collective self-deception — insist, again and again, that Trump did nothing wrong.
Both the Democrats and the Republicans need to come to grips with reality. The relevant facts on impeachment are complicated, messy and as yet inconclusive. And the constitutional standard for what qualifies as a high crime or misdemeanor in this context is murky.
Whether to remove the president is the biggest constitutional question of this generation. The stakes are too high for Congress to be in a state of denial.
William Cooper is a California attorney with experience litigating constitutional issues.