On Dec. 18, the U.S. House of Representatives passed two articles of impeachment, the first accusing President Donald Trump of abuse of power and the second of obstruction of Congress. Both articles are “related to his efforts to have Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announce probes involving former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, as well as a debunked conspiracy theory about the 2016 election,” according to CNBC. The Senate impeachment trial, which will decide whether Trump will be removed from office, began on Jan. 16.
In a Jan. 7 Octagon poll of 88 students, 31% said they strongly support removing Trump from office, 27% said they somewhat support it, 29% had no opinion, 7% somewhat disagree with it and 6% strongly disagree.
To discuss the impeachment and trial, four students participated in a roundtable on Jan. 15: seniors David Situ and Aaron Graves, junior Avinash Krishna and sophomore Lilah Shorey.
Q: Let’s start with the impeachment. What do you think about the articles, and do you think they warranted impeachment?
Situ: There’s definitely a case to be made that they are real charges and are impeachable offenses. While I do think there’s some legitimacy to these charges, I don’t think that impeachment was the right choice right now. Considering that we’re so close to the election, I’m in the small camp that’s like, “Yes, these charges are real, but we should let the election really decide.” At this time, it’s not really going to solve the issue. Also, what if he gets reelected?
Krishna: You could make the argument that impeachment is probably going to reelect Trump because it will support his narrative and fire up his base. But the argument the Democrats make is, “Impeachment is important, and we have to do it because it’s our moral duty to uphold the Constitution.” So it’s not really that they think he’s actually going to get removed because he probably isn’t. They feel like they have to do it.
Situ: That’s definitely a fair point, but if we’re looking more long term, I don’t think that impeaching him right now is the best choice. It’s going to upset his voting base, and it’s going to have some bad consequences later on if he does get impeached.
Shorey: I feel like another reason (they impeached him) is to show his supporters, “Hey, look, he just got impeached for all this bad stuff he’s done,” but the problem is I don’t think his voter base is going to care about that.
Situ: That’s why I don’t think this actually changes anybody’s mind, which is why I don’t agree with it. It’s highly unlikely that the Senate is actually going to (remove) him.
Krishna: I just don’t think that’s what it’s about.
Situ: I get standing for principle, but at the same time, I don’t know if standing for principle is the right choice right now.
Krishna: So is impeachment just about changing people’s minds?
Situ: For me, that’s what it should be doing. There’s also the fair case that he potentially committed these crimes and should receive punishment for them. But a lot of people don’t like that Trump was elected, and considering the direction he pushes his policies toward, (Democrats) don’t want to see that continuing. If (they) remove him, then that’s just going to create more backlash and more anger in the people who would support him.
Krishna: For sure. The articles are really, really smart. The obstruction of justice is really, really smart because that’s really broad. (House Speaker Nancy) Pelosi deliberately delayed the trial — it’s all calculated. Even if it’s hard to do, the Democrats are playing it really well.
He did a lot of other things that are impeachable, but they’re harder to prosecute, so Democrats are like, “Well, you know, here’s some options. They’re not necessarily as cut and dry, but they’re easier to pitch on, so we’re going to introduce these articles.”
Graves: They just want to put something out there. The more articles they put in, the more of a witch hunt it looks like.
I don’t think he has any real notable offenses in terms of those two articles, so I don’t think they warrant impeachment. There’s no real clear-cut evidence to support it from what I’ve seen. Presidents before him have done similar things.
Krishna: That’s fair, using precedent. I think they warrant impeachment, but I can see why you disagree.
Graves: Every president has had a screw-up. Planning (to cut) and actually cutting aid are two very different things. We’re not letting the president threaten someone?
Krishna: It’s coercion, though! Isn’t that different? You are a (less powerful) country, and you are basically caught in between two of the world’s biggest powers — Russia and the U.S.
Graves: So if we did it against a slightly (more powerful) country, it wouldn’t be that bad?
Krishna: What (powerful) country would need aid? They don’t depend on the U.S. for aid, so it doesn’t matter. It wouldn’t be coercive enough.
But with Ukraine, that aid package of $130 million — that’s a lot for that country that’s suffering from the Cold War even now. And now that $130 million is being cut off just because, “Oh I want to investigate a political rival.”
Graves: Think about it from the average Southern American’s perspective: I’m not a fan of giving aid to any (foreign country) because there are people here in need, so if the president says, “I’m not going to do this,” one, there’s no substance to it, and two, I don’t really mind. So in the eyes of the people, they don’t really care.
I don’t think threatening to take away someone’s aid is an impeachable and possibly convictable offense.
Q: How do you think this will affect Trump’s presidential campaign?
Situ: I’ll get to Trump in a second, but obviously this has played a very large part in the Democratic debates. A big issue for a lot of people is electability: “Can our choice actually beat Trump?,” which is a very fair question. I definitely don’t think some of the current candidates would get the votes needed to beat Trump. So for me, it’s an important issue.
For the Trump campaign, I honestly don’t think it matters. I don’t think any Republicans are going to try and run against him. Also, him getting impeached is actually helpful in the sense that he can use it to talk with his supporters, like, “Look, I’m getting impeached — it’s a scam! They’re trying to get me!” So it actually kind of factors (positively) into his campaign.
Shorey: I agree. It makes his supporters angrier and stronger, and they’re going to come together more. It’s not going to really change many people’s minds, which is a big issue. Even if he does get removed from office, which is probably not going to happen, none of the people who support him are even going to change their minds about voting him in for president again.
Graves: At this point, his voter base doesn’t really give a darn about any major media outlet — they’ll criticize him for how he holds his water glass. So if (Democrats pursued) the impeachment articles to hinder his 2020 reelection campaign, I don’t think it’s going to work that well. If anything, it’s just going to get him more support because his voters are more inclined to stay with him, and people on the fence are like, “You know, this other party is going after him for minute issues, so I don’t think they’re really the party to run with. If anything, they’re being corrupt.”
Krishna: Trump is portrayed in the media in a light that basically makes it so that any kind of statement is almost immediately disregarded because, “It’s the distrustful media. Look at all these horrible things they’re saying about it.”
Graves: When they put out a story with false accusations, sometimes right after they’ll put up an apology, saying, “Oh, we messed things up. Sorry about that.” When you see that over and over again from certain outlets, it’s like, “Hmm.”
Krishna: That’s true. What about the criticisms like, “In only three years, he’s lied like 16,000 times,” or something like that?
Graves: Try to find me a politician that hasn’t lied that many times.
Krishna: Maybe I can’t. But I think he does it more often. I feel like it’s more often than not just Obama, but even other Republicans like (Senate Majority Leader Mitch) McConnell or (former President George W.) Bush. He constantly spits out these blatant conspiracies. Obviously, Ukraine did not meddle in our election. But he’s like, “Oh, I’m going to (put out) this conspiracy theory because it fires up my voter base.”
Graves: Well, if he’s putting out a conspiracy theory, can you really categorize that as a blatant lie?
Graves: What if he does believe in it, though? Then you can’t call that a lie.
Krishna: Then isn’t he a fundamentally bad president for the country?
Graves: Because his views on certain issues don’t align with other people’s, that doesn’t mean he’s a bad president.
Krishna: You could call anything a view.
Graves: Yeah, you can call anyone a bad president.
Krishna: You could call lying about the Vietnam War a view because (former President Lyndon B. Johnson) was ignorant. The amount of casualties and how bad it actually was for American troops — the whole public was unaware of how bad it was.
Graves: You’re supporting my saying that all other politicians lie, not just Trump.
Krishna: You can’t impeach somebody just on lying. That’s not what I’m saying. There’s lots of other things.
Graves: But what’s right and what’s wrong is left up for the people and the Electoral College to decide. That’s democracy.
Situ: The best way to move forward is to come together and communicate more. It just seems like, “Democrat or Republican? You’re either with us, or you’re not.” That’s really an issue going forward. We have some pressing world issues like climate change. We need to have a more unified front on that than just us versus them, yes or no.
“The best way to move forward is to come together and communicate more. It just seems like, ‘Democrat or Republican? You’re either with us, or you’re not.‘”
Q: Speaking of the partisan divide, McConnell said that impeachment and removal from office “is a political process. There’s nothing judicial about it” and that the outcome will be largely partisan, according to NPR. Do you agree in this instance and on a wider scale?
Situ: In this case, it is definitely 100% partisan. If you look at the House votes, it’s pretty much split (along) party lines. That’s looking like how it’s going to turn out in the Senate, too. Obviously, the charges are probably pretty real, but, still, it is a pretty political process. We’re not really seeing any Republicans going, “Oh, yeah. No, I agree with Democrats,” or Democrats saying, “No, these charges aren’t real.”
Krishna: This process is obviously inherently partisan because these people aren’t actual judges, so they don’t have any obligation to be impartial. They are allowed to use their partisan influences to sway their decisions. They’re basically using Bill Clinton’s impeachment as a framework, and if that’s any indication, it’s definitely going to be a partisan (trial).
Graves: Yeah, it’s always going to be partisan, except for Watergate.
Krishna: Watergate was one of the best examples of political unity.
Graves: They saw the facts, they saw what he did, and they did what they thought was right for the country.
Krishna: They didn’t even have to wait (or go to trial). They were like, “We denounce this guy,” and Nixon resigned. That’s amazing. We can find common ground in various things.
But with processes like impeachment, Trump is the face of the Republican Party, and Pelosi is the face of the Democratic Party. So can it really (be bipartisan)?
Q: Should Trump’s Senate trial follow the precedents set by Clinton’s, such as voting on whether to call witnesses after the trial begins?
Situ: A big part of the issue is that there’s nothing really specific about what’s supposed to be happening with impeachment, and (impeachment) has not happened very often. That’s an issue for some people — what does impeachment actually mean? So I don’t think there’s anything wrong with following the Bill Clinton framework. I don’t think there’s necessarily anything right with doing that, either. I don’t really have a strong opinion. I just don’t think there’s a lot of evidence or basis to go either way.
Krishna: For me, (the Senate trial) is split between a judicial and (political) process. Part of the judicial element is having witnesses. But McConnell saying, “We have the right to completely not call witnesses, and it’s totally our decision” makes it hard to reach an actual decision.
Shorey: I’m fine with them using (former President Andrew) Johnson’s or Clinton’s (trial) as a framework because they should call witnesses. If (the senators) don’t have any information, and they just go in and vote, what’s the point? You have to present some evidence. They should have at least some witnesses; (otherwise) it seems like a cover-up.
Situ: Regardless of how the trial is structured, I don’t think it’ll end up being a “fair” trial. Everybody’s already decided what their vote is. I don’t think any information will change anything.
Graves: With both parties more or less knowing the outcome, we should set a new precedent so that for future cases, it’ll work better.
“With both parties more or less knowing the outcome, we should set a new precedent so that for future cases, it’ll work better.”
Krishna: Also, precedent should evolve. We shouldn’t base (all impeachment trials) off of one (trial). Especially something of such magnitude, we shouldn’t be like, “Oh, yeah, this kind of works.”
Graves: Yeah, we have to make sure it works every time.
Q: Do you think the assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani was related to the impeachment?
Situ: It’s hard to say. One of the primary justifications Trump has claimed is that there was an imminent attack or there’s top-secret information regarding some military plans. Obviously, he hasn’t released what that information really was, so it’s hard to judge whether this was the right move. If it was real and imminent, then I don’t see it being related. But at the end of the day, we’re never going to know.
Krishna: It was definitely motivated. Maybe not by impeachment, but (by the) 2020 (election) in general because I think he used it to say, “Hey, voter base, I attacked Iran. We’re doing good. We’re killing terrorists.” So I think it was just a political stunt. Heads of state do this all the time. They try to rally up their base by having some kind of military victory.
“(The assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani) was just a political stunt. Heads of state do this all the time. They try to rally up their base by having some kind of military victory.”
I read lots of news reports on this, and basically the intelligence wasn’t properly given not only to Congress but to people from Trump’s own intelligence community. I think Secretary of Defense Mark Esper didn’t even know the justification behind the attack on Soleimani before. And if he doesn’t know, who does? It’s just one guy at the top, with no restrictions on his power. So it’s very concerning.
Graves: They’re two completely different events.
Krishna: Remember, this is in the context of a few weeks ago. The impeachment (hearings) were much more controversial, much more in the national discourse at the time. It really did detract attention from the impeachment (hearings).
Graves: I don’t think he’s worried about detracting attention. The embassy in Iraq was attacked, and Trump wanted to retaliate to show strength from his party and his voter base.
Krishna: That’s possible, but the timing is suspicious.
Graves: So you think had there been no attack on the embassy, he would have done something like that anyway?
Krishna: He used the attack on the embassy basically to say, “See, they attacked the embassy, so we can totally kill their top dude.” And then directly after that they killed 186 people on a passenger flight, so a lot of bad things occur from that. It’s not just that we killed this guy, and now Americans are great again. A lot of consequences (can) happen that are unforeseeable, and it was very rash action.
The timing is very convenient. If (the situation had) been continuing for a long time, why now, at the peak of the impeachment (hearings), does he suddenly decide to kill the top commander?
Graves: They have not had a window for a while. This was the perfect time for it.
Krishna: They tried to kill somebody else too. It wasn’t just this guy. They failed in killing (Abdul Reza Shahlai, a high-ranking commander in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps). They tried to kill a bunch of people.
Graves: They could hit all their targets in a short timespan. They don’t always know where they are.
Situ: Apart from whether it was related to the political process, the way in which it was done was concerning. There was a lack of communication and notification, like Avi said. So that’s what makes it even harder for me to decide if this was just 100% based on impeachment.
Shorey: I don’t know if it’s 100% based on impeachment. Like Avi said, it’s fueling his campaign for 2020. Wartime presidents are loved, and people who do military victories are loved. I bet he was just trying to get a step up. They’re like, “Oh, we love him. He’s saving us from the terrorists.”
I remember seeing something on CNN like “What Republicans think are the most important issues,” and one of the No. 1 things was terrorism. So if he’s killing a terrorist, it’s going to rile up all of his supporters.
Q: Do you support removing Donald Trump from office?
Situ: I agree that the charges are probably real, and there’s definitely a case to be made for going somewhere with these charges and trying to get him properly punished.
But at the same time, I don’t know if that’s the right move long term because it’s going to have some pretty bad effects down the road, especially with the 2020 election. That is why the 2020 election should be the ultimate decider. Do people really want to keep Trump, or are there enough people who’ve decided (not)? That’s a better way to establish whether or not he should continue being president.
Graves: Actually, I kind of do (want Trump to be removed) because I love (Vice President) Mike Pence, and we need a good Christian leader.
Krishna: Isn’t that just as bad as removing Trump through this partisan (impeachment) process?
Graves: I didn’t say if it was good or bad, but I want it to happen. I don’t think they have enough evidence here to impeach him, but if they gathered enough evidence, I would support it. Something that isn’t just words, like a blank threat. There would have to be some sort of evidence or witness to step up.
I don’t want someone to be convicted just because I don’t like them.
Krishna: For sure.
Graves: That would just be The Terror in the French Revolution.
Krishna: There are some situations in which impeachment can be bad. Like Bill Clinton’s impeachment was (based) on this tiny thing — that was a bad impeachment. That was really dumb, what Republicans did to try to oust Clinton.
But in this situation, there’s just so many different (potential charges). You can talk about all the charges you could claim he should be indicted on, but these two are clear-cut abuses of power and obstruction of justice. It’s so important to uphold the Constitution because if this isn’t impeachable, then what is? If we don’t (remove) him now, then this erodes our checks and balances system, which I find really concerning. I definitely think he should be removed.
Shorey: I agree with removing him. I’m for abiding by the Constitution completely. As much as I think this will rile up his supporters and maybe be bad for Democrats in the end, we should be in the pursuit of justice. He definitely went against the Constitution and did some really bad, shady stuff. He should be held accountable for it.
“As much as I think this will rile up his supporters and maybe be bad for Democrats in the end, we should be in the pursuit of justice.”
Situ: At the end of the day, while I do agree with the idealism of, “He committed these crimes, perhaps, or abused his power (and should be held accountable),” in the long-term interest of our country and perhaps the world, I don’t think getting rid of him is the right move right now. It’s just going to further fragment the nation into the two political camps, which will create more problems down the road as we try to deal with some world issues like climate change.
Right now, it doesn’t seem like anyone’s going to change their mind, and I don’t think we’re doing anything to take steps to change that. Same with gun control or abortion. I don’t think with the state we’re in, we’re ever going to find a way to resolve the conflicts or work toward some kind of compromise. This definitely doesn’t take us toward that future.
Not impeaching him and then seeing him get defeated in the 2020 election would (improve partisan relations). That’s a really big statement showing that people tried Trump because they wanted something different, and in the end, they actually prefer going with someone more progressive. That would be a testament that our country wants to move in that direction.
Krishna: Although let’s be honest — Trump 2020 will probably take the dub.
Situ: That is a very, very real possibility.
—By Larkin Barnard-Bahn
Originally published in the Feb. 4 edition of the Octagon.