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 TrumpHR McMaster says president's policy to withdraw troops from Afghanistan is 'unwise' Cast of 'Parks and Rec' reunite for virtual town hall to address Wisconsin voters Biden says Trump should step down over coronavirus response 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 ClintonD-Day for Trump: September 29 Trump job approval locked at 42 percent: Gallup If Trump doesn't know why he should be president again, how can voters? 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 NunesSunday shows preview: With less than two months to go, race for the White House heats up Sunday shows preview: Republicans gear up for national convention, USPS debate continues in Washington Sunday shows preview: White House, congressional Democrats unable to breach stalemate over coronavirus relief MORE (R-Calif) and Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanHouse passes resolution condemning anti-Asian discrimination relating to coronavirus Republicans call for Judiciary hearing into unrest in cities run by Democrats Trump, GOP seek to rebut Democratic narrative on night one 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 ManafortBannon trial date set in alleged border wall scam Conspicuous by their absence from the Republican Convention Ukraine language in GOP platform underscores Trump tensions MORE, Rick GatesRick GatesFive takeaways on Bannon's indictment Senate intel leaders said Trump associates may have presented misleading testimony during Russia probe: report Top Mueller prosecutor: 'We could have done more' in Russia investigation MORE, Michael CohenMichael Dean CohenEric Trump says he will comply with New York AG's subpoena only after Election Day Former model accuses Trump of sexually assaulting her at 1997 U.S. Open Michael Cohen: Trump taxes would reveal 'wealth is not as significant' as he says MORE, Michael Flynn, Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneJustice IG investigating Stone sentencing: report Romney says Trump's protest tweets 'clearly intended to further inflame racial tensions' Bannon trial date set in alleged border wall scam MORE and George PapadopoulosGeorge Demetrios PapadopoulosTale of two FBI cases: Clinton got warned, Trump got investigated Trump says he would consider pardons for those implicated in Mueller investigation New FBI document confirms the Trump campaign was investigated without justification 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."