What if impeachment fails?

The evidence is piling up to implicate President Donald Trump directly in an illegal scheme to use U.S. tax-supported government resources to bribe Ukraine, a weak and vulnerable ally, into giving direct support to the president’s future personal political campaign.

Today, attention in Washington is on the immediate, furious fight between Democrats and Republicans over the political fate of President TrumpDonald John TrumpLawmakers prep ahead of impeachment hearing Democrats gear up for high-stakes Judiciary hearing Warren says she made almost M from legal work over past three decades MORE and ultimately the political futures of members of Congress.

Yet, the long-term consequences of the final impeachment vote — the vote for removal, which is likely to take place in the Senate in coming months — are vastly more important to democracy in the United States than any immediate political repercussions.

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The various conspiracies in defense of Trump’s policy toward Ukraine are crumbling under the evidence presented by professional government experts and Trump-appointed representatives to the impeachment investigation.

Trump’s alleged Ukraine scheme far exceeds the national significance of the Nixon-related domestic break-in or Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonWhite House spokesperson: Pelosi, Democrats 'hate Trump's success' Democrats express confidence in case as impeachment speeds forward Trump's exceptionalism: No president has so disrespected our exceptional institutions MORE’s sexual relations with an intern and is a legitimate issue for an impeachment process.

In the face of convincing evidence that Trump directed the bribery scheme in the Ukraine, the consequences of finding that his actions do not reach the level of impeachment set very dangerous standards for the future.

Guilt without impeachment creates a precedent that a president can solicit, bribe with tax dollars, or encourage a foreign government to interfere in a U.S. election without penalty.  Both parties should very seriously ponder if that is acceptable for future U.S. Presidents.

The relationship of the president to U.S. law is another serious consequence. It is a violation of U.S. law for citizens to solicit or accept campaign assistance from a foreign national. This includes money donations and any “other thing of value” in federal, state and local elections. Misappropriation of government funds or property for personal benefit is also illegal.

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The presidency will be placed above the law if Donald Trump is guilty but not held to be personally accountable for violations of American law. Again, that is a very dangerous precedent.

The failure to hold the most senior national leader to account for improper and illegal acts also will discourage future professional government employees and military service members who see government wrong-doing and want to report it, particularly when a president pushes to expose the whistleblower for reprisals.

If Republican senators continue to stand in unison with President Trump on impeachment, the Democrats will be tempted to find compromise. The idea of some sort of admonishment or sanction of the president could be in play. That would be a historic mistake.

Surprisingly, Trump zealots in Congress like conspiracy-obsessed Rep. Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesNunes: 'Sickening' that Schiff obtained his phone records Trump's exceptionalism: No president has so disrespected our exceptional institutions Schiff: Blowback to obtaining phone records 'has only come from the far right' MORE (R-Calif) and Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanTrump, first lady take part in National Christmas Tree lighting The Hill's Morning Report - Dem impeachment report highlights phone records Lawmakers to watch during Wednesday's impeachment hearing MORE (R-Ohio) — who verbally assaults witnesses like a an insecure coach in a losing half-time speech — seem to pay no attention to the long-term implications to their personal reputations and their legacy of blindly following a frantic and erratic president trying to save his own political skin.

If the president is guilty of violating the law, undermining U.S. national security and bribing an ally for personal gain, are the loyalists ready to follow the path of past Trump supporters like Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortGiuliani draws attention with latest trip to Ukraine GOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties GOP fantasies about Ukrainian election 'interference' blow up Trump's impeachment defense MORE, Rick GatesRick GatesJustice Dept releases another round of summaries from Mueller probe What if impeachment fails? Democrats ask judge for quick ruling on McGahn subpoena MORE, Michael CohenMichael Dean CohenKaren McDougal sues Fox News over alleged slander Justice Dept releases another round of summaries from Mueller probe Five things to watch for at Trump's NATO meetings MORE, Michael Flynn, Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneSchiff says investigators seeking to identify who Giuliani spoke to on unlisted '-1' number What if impeachment fails? Juan Williams: Trump has nothing left but smears MORE and George PapadopoulosGeorge Demetrios PapadopoulosFeinstein endorses Christy Smith for Katie Hill's former House seat What if impeachment fails? Democrat seeking Katie Hill's former seat nabs endorsement from firefighters association MORE and others who walked off the professional gang plank for Donald Trump? Are they going to risk becoming labeled "Russian stooges" for ignoring documented Russian attacks on American democracy while endorsing a pro-Russian conspiracy theory on Ukraine?

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If the evidence of presidential guilt is conclusive, senators who vote that the president’s actions do not reach the level of impeachment will be doing so for an immediate political gain for Trump and themselves without full consideration of the long-term consequences to the nation of their decision.

History will ultimately judge them.

Hopefully, the elected representatives of the American people will look beyond their personal political interests and act in the long-term interest of the nation.

James W. Pardew is a former U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria and career Army intelligence officer. He has served as deputy assistant secretary-general of NATO and is the author of "Peacemakers: American Leadership and the End of Genocide in the Balkans."