What a great civics lesson the impeachment and trial of President Trump affords us.
Forget Article I of the Constitution that granted the Legislative branch broad powers over impeachment, declaration of war and the purse strings.
Forget Article II establishing the executive branch, which is currently being stretched by the absolutist powers Trump claims under the mantras of “commander-in-chief” and “executive privilege.”
The founding fathers designed three branches to check each other. The House has done its job. The judiciary is in slow motion on its judgments. So the Senate now faces a trial to determine the fate of the President.
Given the Republican majority, it has been assumed that Trump would win acquittal under the “he did it….so what” defense.
The Republican defense rests on no first-hand witnesses to the “quid quo pro” bribe and the withholding of almost $400 million of aid to Ukraine until that country announced an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden—Trump’s likely opponent in 2020.
This despite the finding of the non-partisan Government Accounting Office that Trump did indeed break the law by withholding aid to Ukraine.
But — surprise — the founding fathers actually provided for more than the original three branches for checks and balances.
The Bill of Rights—the first 10 amendments to the Constitution—were drafted, designed and detailed to protect citizens from an intrusive government.
The most important of those amendments—the first—guaranteed freedom of religion, speech, press, petition and peaceful assembly.
And the press—not the courts, not the House, not the Senate, and certainly not the White House—has become the great defender of democracy in this scandalous era.
Three years’ worth of stories—each more damning than the previous—has proved the Founding Fathers’ wisdom regarding the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of the press.
There was Rachel Maddow’s interview with the Rudi Giuliani associate, Lev Parnas, who argued that “everybody knew about it.” The Ukraine quid pro quo, that is. The revelation was a distinct echo of Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s sworn testimony before the House that “everybody was in the loop.”
Parnas kept notes, email, audio, video and multiple photographs of damaging evidence. And his lawyer continues to submit these as evidence to refute Trump’s earlier lie: “Parnas? I don’t know him…So what if there are photographs. I have photographs with hundreds of people.”
Kudos to the press on that blockbuster interview. Then came the video of a dinner with Trump’s own voice incriminating him.
The biggest story—yet—just hit Sunday night. The bombshell New York Times story revealed a draft portion of a book written by Trump’s former National Security Advisor John Bolton.
Bolton describes first-hand knowledge and conversations with the President about the Ukraine “bribery” scheme. Bolton opposed it, calling it “a drug deal” and asserting that Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, was a “grenade waiting to go off.”
Throughout his career, Bolton was known to have kept ubiquitous notes, so he likely has an extensive paper trail to back up his facts.
Back to the Senate trial. And the question of witnesses.
It now appears likely that the requisite four Republican senators needed to call witnesses will be forthcoming. Perhaps even more. All because of the press.
Unbelievably, the White House has known about the contents of the Bolton book since late December and did not notify the Senators.
The Senate may now ask for a “hostage situation” in regards to new witnesses. Biden for Bolton. Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney for House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff.
The Democrats will likely ask Chief Justice John Roberts to require Bolton and others to testify–citing an immediate bearing on the case.
The Republicans will push a court decision—again, stalling for time.
Trump will tweet. Bolton will be trashed. And the press will continue with more revelations.
Schiff warned the Senators, “Do you want to know the truth now? Or later?”
It will come out. Thanks to the press and the First Amendment.
“It’s the press, stupid” will be the historians’ assessment of 2020 American politics.
Colleen O’Connor is a native San Diegan and a retired college professor.