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Defending an impeached president

Defending an impeached president
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The Republican Party faces substantial political risks in standing by President TrumpDonald TrumpFreedom Caucus member condemns GOP group pushing 'Anglo-Saxon political traditions' MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell's new free speech site to ban certain curse words Secret Facebook groups of special operations officers include racist comments, QAnon posts: report MORE during the House impeachment inquiry and whatever may result from it. That is why it is not unimaginable that a significant number of Republicans will eventually break ranks and join Democrats in concluding that Trump must be removed from office.   

Further, if the House votes to impeach the president based on a clear articulation of compelling evidence, but the Republican-controlled Senate fails to convict along a party-line vote, Republicans will likely pay a significant price in 2020.

The fact is, there is growing bipartisan concern over the president’s behavior and over the already known facts and self-incriminating admissions by the president and his enablers.

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In other words, for those who believe that impeachment is not only just but a matter of constitutional responsibility, it also can be politically prudent to dispassionately and responsibly advance a strong case for impeachment.

House Democrats are proceeding toward impeachment by focusing narrowly on the allegations arising from the whistleblower and others emanating from the heart of Trump’s own administration that he solicited foreign interference in the U.S. election in order to benefit his reelection campaign. 

This unfolding constitutional process will draw widespread public attention to the facts and applicable laws. If the House votes to impeach, Senate Republicans will have a very painful choice. It is now not unthinkable that some or many will vote to convict. But threatening to stonewall the conviction of an impeached president, this president, is not the same as actually doing so. 

Heaven knows what else will be learned that strengthens the case that arises from the House impeachment inquiry, then a Senate trial, which Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPew poll: 50 percent approve of Democrats in Congress Pelosi on power in DC: 'You have to seize it' Progressives put Democrats on defense MORE (R-Ky.) indicated will happen if the House impeaches.

The other tough choice facing many Republicans will be whether to hold their noses and go on record defending Trump’s fitness for office. Whether or not legislators stand by Trump will be on people’s minds at the polls in November 2020 when they will decide which legislators should be rehired for their jobs.

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The widely-held assumption that a fight over impeachment inevitably puts Democrats in jeopardy is incorrect. That said, Democrats face risks, primarily in the tenor of how they conduct themselves and their ability to make an objective case understood by the American people.

President Clinton’s impeachment was initiated less than a month before the 1998 midterm elections in which Democrats picked up five seats in the House despite the prospect of impeachment hanging in the air. 

The House vote to impeach without any hearings occurred in December — after the Democrats’ unexpected gains. It was too late to be considered by voters, and it was also after the marital infidelities of the House speaker and several pro-impeachment members of Congress became public.

The Senate trial took place in January 1999, and both articles of impeachment failed with small but significant Republican votes opposing conviction and some Democrats favoring. These factors somewhat blurred the partisan divide. Then Clinton’s approval rating was 73 percent. Now Trump’s is not an awful lot more than half that.

In the closing arguments, President Clinton’s defense counsel, the late Charles Ruff, framed what he said was the only question before the assembled senators: “Would it put at risk the liberties of the people to retain the president in office?” It is an apt and fair question to ask the Senate to answer on the record about President Trump. Ultimately, it will be American citizens exercising their right to vote who will determine whether and which legislators did their duty.

The number of people who feel that the House is right to pursue impeachment is growing because of mounting evidence of Trump’s deeply disturbing behavior and because of the likelihood that only through impeachment will the facts be more fully known and salient to the public.

In truth, legislators charged with the heavy and sad responsibility to investigate can have faith in our constitutional system and the American people at the polls. 

Nicholas W. Allard served as legal counsel for Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) on the Senate Judiciary Committee and later as chief of staff for Sen. Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y).