Bill Press: How will history judge us on impeachment?

Bill Press: How will history judge us on impeachment?
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Whether you like President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump second-term plans remain a mystery to GOP Trump to hold outdoor rally in New Hampshire on Saturday Eighty-eight years of debt pieties MORE or not, it’s important to take time out from Twitter to consider the monumental significance of the big picture: We are making history, and we are rewriting the history books. Trump is only the fourth out of 45 presidents to face the possibility of impeachment by Congress. And today he stands likely to become only the third American president in our history to be impeached.

Again, like Trump or not, it’s critical for all of us to recognize the importance of the moment and consider how history will judge how we handled both aspects of the impeachment battle: both the seriousness of the issues raised against the president and the legitimacy of arguments raised in his defense.

There’s been an avalanche of claims and counterclaims surrounding Trump’s impeachment inquiry, ranging from “he’s guilty of a slam-dunk impeachable offense” to “it’s a total hoax.” But one thing is clear: Trump is accused of misdeeds far, far more serious than those leveled against either of the other two presidents impeached.

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Basically, the House impeached Andrew Johnson in 1868 just because they didn’t like him. They tried unsuccessfully to impeach him on various other charges, but finally rounded up enough votes for impeachment when he broke the law at the time by firing the secretary of War without consulting Congress first. Which was stupid. Of course, the president alone should have authority to hire and fire members of his Cabinet. Indeed, had that law not been changed, Trump would already have been impeached several times over.

Looking back on it now, the impeachment of Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonPoll finds Biden with narrow lead over Trump in Missouri Trump's mark on federal courts could last decades Obama, Clinton join virtual celebration for Negro Leagues MORE in 1998 was even more stupid and even more indefensible. Republicans didn’t like a lot of Clinton’s policies, but in the end, believe it or not, the Republican-controlled House under Newt GingrichNewton (Newt) Leroy GingrichMORE impeached the president of the United States for lying under oath about a consensual act of oral sex with another adult. I dare you to find justification for that in the Constitution.

Historians agree that the impeachment of Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were minor league. By contrast, Trump’s impeachment is big league. He’s accused of exactly what the Constitution warned about: abusing the powers of the presidency. And here’s the deal: There’s not doubt about what Trump did!

The facts are not in dispute. Trump himself has admitted them. Trump personally ordered that $400 million in military aid to Ukraine and a White House visit for the president of Ukraine be blocked until Ukraine agreed to open two investigations. One, into already-discredited reports of corrupt business deals by former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump second-term plans remain a mystery to GOP Susan Rice: Trump picks Putin over troops 'even when it comes to the blood of American service members' Does Donald Trump even want a second term? MORE, his potential opponent in 2020. The second, into the totally zany idea that Ukraine, not Russia, tried to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. In other words, Trump invited a foreign government to intervene in an American election — which is precisely the abuse of power our Founding Fathers had in mind when they added Section 4, on impeachment, to Article II of the Constitution.

In response to which, Republicans have thrown up a blizzard of bizarre defenses, including: (1) It was Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiOusted Manhattan US Attorney Berman to testify before House next week Sunday shows preview: With coronavirus cases surging, lawmakers and health officials weigh in Hillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill banning federal government use of facial recognition tech | House lawmakers roll out legislation to establish national cyber director | Top federal IT official to step down MORE’s fault. (2) Trump never actually said the magic words “quid pro quo.” (3) Who cares? They got the money anyway. (4) Obama did even worse. (5) Yes, it was wrong, but it’s not an impeachable offense. All of which Republicans should be ashamed of hiding behind.

The final chapter is yet to be written, but this much is clear: Trump’s guilty of an impeachable offense. And Republicans have failed to defend him, because they can’t.

Press is host of “The Bill Press Pod.” He is author of “From the Left: A Life in the Crossfire.”