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Trump impeachment and trial: All parties should feel ashamed

I remember, as a high school student, watching in class and at home as the impeachment process unfolded against then-President Richard Nixon. The country was raptly attentive to the proceedings. It was somber, and the climate in the country was one of genuine crisis and concern. The charges were serious; the evidence, overwhelming. Serious crimes, understandable to even a high school student, were alleged.

I also remember, as a practicing lawyer in New York state, watching the impeachment and trial of President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonBiden's climate plans can cut emissions and also be good politics Trump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College Obama: 'Hopeless' to try to sell as many books as Michelle MORE. The atmosphere was far more political, yet serious and understandable. Crimes were alleged against the president that were identifiable; the crime of perjury was real, and most Americans could grasp it and come to their own conclusions, based on the evidence that was presented.

The Clinton impeachment and trial were highly partisan and probably would have not occurred if President Clinton simply had told the truth about his affair. The fact that he was not removed from office speaks not only to the politicization of the process but also what exactly meets the threshold of a “high crime and misdemeanor.” While Clinton's case certainly raised the bar for the removal of a president, it lowered the bar for the attempt.

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The Trump impeachment, on the other hand, is quite hard to analogize to prior impeachments and trials. The two articles against President Donald Trump do not allege a codified crime. It is hard for a layman, let alone a lawyer, to understand and wrap the mind around it.

Democrats today are quick to remind the media and the public that impeachment and removal is not a criminal procedure but a political one. That does not give much comfort to a nation which expects something different for the rare and drastic process of removing a president, especially when Democrats have been talking about impeaching and removing this president long before his phone call with the president of Ukraine.

I have many problems with the House impeachment of the president and the Senate’s trial thus far. First, House Democrats rushed to impeachment without laying the groundwork and producing evidence that they now demand that the Senate uncover and produce — including “necessary” and “material” witnesses. I also have trouble with the Senate’s decorum, and with Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts’s hands-off handling of the process.

The House produced an “indictment” of the president by passing two counts, or articles. Once the House acts, its case should be ready for trial. The House did not produce a full, complete record on which the Senate could proceed to trial. As one who practiced law for many years, I know that had I proceeded to trial on such an incomplete record, a judge would have thrown out my case and likely would have sanctioned me for unprofessional behavior. It is not the job of a court to fix the prosecution’s blunders. The case rises and falls on the evidence as it exists at the time it is presented by the prosecution. So what was the rush?

The rush to impeach was the fact that 2020 is an election year and some of the Senate jurors are running against the very president they seek to convict. It was all about a calendar and, thus, the presentment of articles of impeachment was shoddy and incomplete. A rush to judgment never turns out well for the accusers. We saw that in 2018 during the horrendous Justice Kavanaugh hearings.

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Members of the Senate took an oath prior to the start of the impeachment trial to uphold "impartial justice.” Chief Justice Roberts administered  that oath to senators, who stood at their desks on the Senate floor, right hands raised.  The senators then walked down to the front of the chamber as their names were called to sign the oath book. 

Every day, thousands of Americans take a similar oath in local, state and federal courts to sit as jurors deciding the fate of life, liberty and property. Senators were given similar admonitions as those citizen-jurors: They cannot discuss the case with fellow Senate jurors. They cannot operate electronic devices. They can take notes but not share notes with other senators.

Unlike citizen-jurors, senators are allowed to come and go during the trial, can eat candy and drink water or milk at their desks, and — worst of all — they can talk to the press about the case in process during recesses. If a citizen-juror acted like a Senate juror, he or she would be removed and held in contempt of court.

Many senators — Democrat and Republican alike — have made a mockery of this trial on the potential removal of a president. Many have left the Senate chamber for long periods of time; many have rushed from the chamber on a recess to talk to the press about the case which they took an oath to mete out with “impartial justice,” only to make partisan political and legal statements about what they have heard.

It seems to me that some senators have honored their oath in the breach and have comported themselves in a manner that is not an example for citizens, or a good reflection on themselves or the Senate.

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The chief justice’s admonition the other night to both parties with regard to decorum came in the early-morning hours, past 1 a.m. His rebuke was about ten hours too late. The chief justice has allowed Democrats to bring motion after motion as an excuse to speak to all things other than the motion before the Senate. The chief justice should have cut them off, as he would do in the Supreme Court, and keep the proceedings germane to the topic at hand.

The House impeachment inquiry and the Senate trial thus far have been disgraceful and nothing of which our country, regardless of party, should be proud in substance, procedure or decorum.

This case should never have been brought — and should be dismissed at the earliest opportunity — because of the House’s failure to state causes of action that rise to the constitutional standards of a “high crime or misdemeanor.”

The true intent of Democrats’ impeachment of President TrumpDonald John TrumpPennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down GOP bid to stop election certification Biden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Sunday shows preview: US health officials brace for post-holiday COVID-19 surge MORE can be summed up and evidenced by a rare moment of candor and truth on the part of House impeachment manager Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffOVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Trump pardons Flynn | Lawmakers lash out at decision | Pentagon nixes Thanksgiving dining hall meals due to COVID-19 Democratic impeachment leaders blast Trump's pardon of Flynn Trump pardons Michael Flynn MORE (D-Calif.), who said: “The president’s misconduct cannot be decided at the ballot box, for we cannot be assured that the vote will be fairly won.”

Impeachment and removal of a president of the United States is not a sword to impale a political opponent. It is a shield to protect the public from proven and present abuses.

Bradley A. Blakeman was a deputy assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2004. A principal of the 1600 Group, a strategic communications firm, he is an adjunct professor of public policy and international affairs at Georgetown University and a frequent guest on Fox News and Fox Business.