"There are lessons to be learned from Donald Trump’s second impeachment and acquittal."
By a vote of 57-43, the US Senate acquitted former President Donald J. Trump on a single impeachment charge of inciting an insurrection. Trump’s acquittal was a foregone conclusion even before the case was submitted to the Senate’s judgment when Republican Senator Rand Paul forced a vote on whether to even convene the Senate as an impeachment court arguing that it was unconstitutional to impeach a former President or any out-of-office impeachable official for that matter.
Of the 50 Senate Republicans, 45 including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell contended that it was unconstitutional since impeachment is a clear and distinct punishment for sitting impeachable officials – not those who have left office. Of course, the Paul motion failed, thus the impeachment hearing proceeded leading to Trump’s acquittal since 2/3 of the entire body or 67 senators was needed to convict the former President.
“This may be the first time,” Paul said after that vote formalizing the actual impeachment hearings, “that a lose was actually a win.” With his acquittal, Trump will go down in history as the first US President to be impeached and acquitted twice. He is also the first to be tried for impeachment after leaving office.
The acquittal comes more than a month after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol as lawmakers were counting the electoral results that certified Trump's loss. Five people died in the riot, including a police officer. Two other officers later killed themselves.
The US and, of course, the world heaved a sigh of relief after this very partisan, acrimonious undertaking just three weeks into the Biden presidency. It was political theater at its best as the partisans on both side of the divide milked every minute of this drama to their advantage upping the ante for continuing warfare, as it were, over the course which the world’s most powerful nation will take as the pandemic continues to ravage countries worldwide forcing the global economy to its knees.
In the US this has led to a near standstill on its vaccination roll out and a stand off over its third stimulus package. It has also exacerbated debate over jobs, immigration and other domestic woes even as the Biden administration has yet to get a firm handle on its relations with the world specially on the matter of a global response to the pandemic and the world economy. Except for its re-entry into the WHO and the Paris (climate change) accord, the administration as yet to unveil its world view, so to speak, after the tumultuous Trump years. It has only issued perfunctory statements on the Myanmar coup, for example, and a fair warning on China’s growing influence (if we don’t watch out the Chinese will eat our lunch) nothing significant
has come out of the White House. In fact, Jen Psaki, the White House Press Secretary, was heavily criticized for dodging a question on Israel and its peace accords with several of its Arab neighbors after she said “we are just three weeks on the job” or words to that effect. That is how unsteady the US ship-of-state is at the moment made even more problematic by the highly divisive Trump impeachment. But all that is over now.
There are, however, lessons to be learned from this impeachment. First, while impeachment is a constitutionally guaranteed act to remove an impeachable official from office, there must be a clear and unchallenged showing that such an official has committed the acts specifically enumerated as actionable. In the US, it is for acts of treason, bribery and other “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
In other jurisdictions like the Philippines, the same has been expanded to include not only treason and bribery but graft and corruption and betrayal of the public trust all of which should be shown as rising to the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
The single charge of “inciting an insurrection” while powerful with images of the rioters entering the US Capitol, breaching police lines and desecrating public office leading to the death of five people was not properly and responsibly articulated to rise up to the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” The impeachment managers struggled to use Trump’s speech on that fateful January 6 march to connect the riot that ensued failing to show proof, for example, that the former President was apparently absent, in a sense, for failing to get the security agencies to inject themselves to stop the mayhem. They were stopped in their tracks and stumped when the defense lawyers showed footages as well of Democratic leaders from Biden to then-Senator Harris and other top officials urging in more forceful language people to “fight” and put up bail for their own “rioters “ who had earlier torched cities in the run up to the November elections.
Our own impeachment experience in the case of former President Estrada rested on a single charge as well “bribery” in relation to the Muslim Educational Fund and a number of antecedents such as the BW stock manipulation and acceptance of money from illegal gambling. Again, while the prosecutors managed to show glimpses of acts which could lead to bribery and possibly betrayal of public trust in the end the question remained: did those reach the threshold of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” We never got to the point of proof beyond reasonable doubt as that was supposed to be the threshold. In fact, the defense was actually on the verge of showing that the crimes attributed fell way short of such threshold. An acquittal was a distinct possibility. But we never got there as Erap decided to quit after days of public protests.
Whether we will ever see an impeachment proceeding to its full and final completion remains to be seen as there is only one pending before the House of Representatives where such initiative emanates at this time – that of Associate Supreme Court Justice Marvic Leonen. Abangan.