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EDITORIAL: Witnesses a must at Trump impeachment hearings

York Dispatch Editorial Board
FILE - In this Jan. 16, 2020, image from video, presiding officer Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts swears in members of the Senate for the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. No cell phones. No talking. No escape. One-hundred U.S. senators will soon be stationed at wooden desks, under the threat of imprisonment, as they silently listen to the arguments in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. While senators groan about the restrictions _ and will likely violate them at times _ they say the long-standing rules are crucial as they execute their most solemn duty: considering whether to remove the president of the United States. (Senate Television via AP, File)

As Donald Trump’s defense team continues to make its case this week for why the compromised and corrupt president should not be removed from office, they’re enjoying a benefit the president’s accusers lacked: the sympathetic attention of Republican senators.

The case laid out last week by Democratic House managers in Trump’s impeachment trial before the U.S. Senate was compelling, if far from complete. Thank the president’s wholesale — and unprecedented — refusal to respond to congressional subpoenas for documents and witnesses. Still, the House team firmly established that the president sought to use his office to benefit himself personally by withholding a White House visit and nearly $400 million in congressionally approved foreign aid from Ukraine.

But when it came to the Senate Republicans whose majority vote will decide the president’s fate, House managers’ arguments fell on deaf ears.

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Those ears might well perk up were they greeted by expert testimony from White House witnesses. Senators owe it to themselves and their nation to demand these witnesses appear.

There is little doubt the impeached president will remain in office. Lawmakers too timid to even gently criticize the president’s multitude of misdeeds are certainly not about to break ranks and vote to remove him from office.

But to end the trial without hearing from relevant witnesses would be not only an insult to the American public, two-thirds of whom believe they should be called, but a dereliction of duty.

One of the defense team’s most laughable arguments — made again during an opening statement on Saturday — is that the witnesses who have thus far testified had no direct interaction with Trump. Of course not! He barred those who do from testifying. (The diplomats and others who appeared before the House Judiciary Committee did so in defiance of Trump’s edict — the latest example of their selfless service to country.)

In this image from video, White House counsel Pat Cipollone speaks during the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. (Senate Television via AP)

But the defense lawyers make a good point, albeit unintentionally. Senators sitting in judgement of Trump need to hear from those with firsthand knowledge of the president’s thinking; especially former National Security adviser John Bolton, acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Trump’s personal lawyer and all-around Ukraine meddler Rudy Giuliani.

To hastily sign off on a Trump acquittal would be to willfully ignore the plentitude of evidence that has yet to be considered — and which continues to come to light.

Recently disclosed documentation and recordings from Giuliani henchman Lev Parnas, for example — including a recording of Trump brusquely calling for the dismissal of Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch back in April 2018 — appear to punch holes in Trump’s already paper-thin defense. 

But the party that spent 2½ years and nearly $8 million during six investigations of the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi (only to find no wrongdoing) demonstrates not a whiff of curiosity over the president’s admitted abuse of his office. That’s outrageous!

Democrats had hoped that GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and, perhaps, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee might joint them in demanding witnesses. They should.

In failing to call witnesses, Senate Republicans ill-serve their constituents, their country and their institution. In the defense of a callow, shallow president, they not only cede their constitutional oversight authority, they deprive future Congresses from exercising that role. Because the precedent that the executive branch of government need not submit to congressional oversight will be difficult to reverse.

It is a foregone conclusion that Republicans will reject the articles of impeachment; they’ve been turning a blind eye to Trump’s lies, insults, hateful policies, abuses of power and degradations of office for three years now. And presidential bootlickers like Sen. Lindsay Graham are ready to acquit Trump yesterday. 

But doing so without demanding witness testimony cedes what little authority — not to mention self-respect — they’ve managed to maintain.