The criminal justice system in the United States is not perfect. Neither is the Impeachment process provided in the United States Constitution. But like it or not, our founding fathers knew what they were doing and knew the justice system they created and the impeachment process they created are not perfect. The recent impeachment, trial and acquittal of President Trump proves that point, and whether we like the outcome or not the system did work and there was “no military coup” or civil war.
According to a Reuters-Ipsos poll of voters released on February 5 on their opinion over the U.S. Senate’s acquittal of President Donald Trump Americans are evenly split, mostly along party lines, even though more respondents than not think he probably did something wrong. According to the national opinion poll, 43% of U.S. adults supported the Republican-led Senate’s decision to keep Trump in office in a case stemming from his dealings with Ukraine and 41% opposed the acquittal with 17% saying they were undecided.
When asked about Trump’s acquittal, 48% of respondents said Trump “is probably guilty of the charges against him, and the Senate is protecting him,” while 39% said the president “is probably innocent of the charges against him, and the Senate made the right decision to acquit.” In other words, some respondents felt that even if Trump did something wrong, it was not enough to warrant his removal from office.
The survey of 1,006 adults was conducted after the Senate voted to acquit Trump of abuse of power and to acquit him of obstructing Congress.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM IN A NUTSHELL
Under the United States Constitution, in criminal jury trials, an accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” and are entitled to due process of law, no matter how heinous the crime. After a person is charged with a felony, a trial is held before a jury presided over by a judge, and it is at that time prosecutors are entitled to present evidence and witnesses to secure a verdict. A defendant cannot be compelled to testify, has a right to remain silent, and has a right to cross examine the prosecution’s witnesses and present evidence and call witnesses.
To convict in a criminal case, the prosecution must prove their case “beyond a reasonable doubt” which is the highest standard of evidence in the criminal justice system. The test is one of “reasonable doubt” meaning the facts or evidence presented lead the jury to a unanimous vote and only one logical conclusion: that the defendant is guilty as charged.
A common mistake made is the terms “acquittal” and “not guilty” are equated with “innocence”. Under the criminal law, there is a huge difference between being innocent and a verdict of not guilty or acquittal. Being found “not guilty” of a crime or being “acquitted” does not mean that the jury found or believes are innocent innocent of the crime. It means that the prosecution failed and either did not have enough evidence to support their charges or that they did not present sufficient evidence in a compelling enough way to convince the jury to “acquit” or find a person “not guilty”.
INFAMOUS ACQUITTALS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
Throughout history many a guilty person has been acquitted for crimes they no doubt committed. If jurors have no doubt as to the defendant’s guilt, or if their only doubts are unreasonable doubts, then the prosecutor has proven the defendant’s “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” and the defendant should be pronounced guilty. But sadly, jurors all too often do not have the courage to vote for convictions, do not believe the evidence or who prefer to ignore the evidence presented. Once acquitted of the crimes charged, the prosecution cannot file the charges again and there is no right of appeal.
Some of the more infamous acquittals in recent memory have included many celebrities, mothers, singers and athletes. OJ Simpson was accused of murdering his wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman and was acquitted by a jury. Casey Anthony killed her two-year-old and was acquitted. R&B singer R. Kelly was charged with having sex with a minor and producing child pornography and was acquitted by a jury. Actor Robert Blake who was charged with conspiracy to murder his wife and was acquitted. George Zimmerman fatally shot 17-year-old high school student Trayvon Martin on the night of February 26, 2012 and on July 13, 2013, a jury acquitted Zimmerman of second-degree murder and of manslaughter charges. In 2003 singer Michael Jackson was arrested on charges of molesting a 13 boy and the jury found the singer not guilty of all charges with many more victims coming forward over the years. None of those listed admitted to doing the crime and demanded a jury trial. OJ Simpson said he was going to find the murderer of his wife after he was acquitted.
IMPEACHING A PRESIDENT
In the Trump Impeachment Trial, he was acquitted by the Senate, but that does not mean he was found “not guilty” as many of his supporters want to believe. The sure volume of evidence presented was more than sufficient to convict Trump “beyond a reasonable doubt”, and some would say it was “clear and convincing evidence”, but the impeachment trial was not a criminal trial, but a political process outlined in the US Constitution. It was the Republican controlled Senate who declined to convict and remove Trump from office.
There are 4 major provisions in the United States Constitution relating to impeachment of a President. Those provisions are as follows:
Article I, Section 2, Clause 5 provides:
“The House of Representatives shall choose their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.”
Article I, Section 3, Clauses 6 and 7 provides:
“The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside and no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two-thirds of the Members present.”
Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States; but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.”
Article II, Section 2 provides:
“[The President] … shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.”
Article II, Section 4 provides:
“The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
The United States Constitution limits grounds of impeachment to “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors”, but there is no precise meaning or definition of the phrase “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” contained in constitution. Further, the constitution does not mandate that only criminal conduct can constitute sufficient grounds for impeachment. A “high crimes or misdemeanor” in practice is whatever the House of Representatives chooses to define it and to charge it.
“Articles of Impeachment” passed in the US House of Representatives are analogous to a grand jury felony indictment where a grand jury finds evidence of “probable cause” to charge a Defendant. “Evidence of probable cause” is evidence presented showing it is more likely than not that a crime has been committed and the evidence provides enough grounds to charge but not to convict the accused.
“Articles of Impeachment” are passed by a simple majority vote in the House of Representatives after which the articles are forwarded to the United States Senate for a trial presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. There is no level of proof of “preponderance of the evidence” required to convict on Articles Impeachment. However, the constitution is very clear that no person can be convicted of the articles and removed from office without a two-thirds vote of the Unites States Senate.
TRUMP’S ARTICLES OF IMPEACHMENT AND ACQUITTAL
On December 13, 2019, President Trump was charged with two Articles of Impeachment by the United State House of Representative with the required majority vote. The first article charged Trump with abuse of power for pressuring Ukraine to assist him in his re-election campaign by damaging Democratic rivals and passed by a vote of 230-197-1, with one senator voting “present.” The second article charges Trump with obstruction of Congress for blocking testimony and refusing to provide documents in response to House subpoenas in the impeachment inquiry and passed by a margin of 229-198-1.
You can read both articles of impeachment here:
On January 15, 2020, the House delivered the Article of Impeachment to the Senate. The impeachment trial of Donald Trump began in the U.S. Senate on January 16, and concluded on February 5.
“The Constitution requires Senators sitting as an impeachment tribunal to take a special oath distinct from the oath of office that all Members of Congress must take. This requirement underscores the unique nature of the role the Senate plays in impeachment trials, at least in comparison to its normal deliberative functions. The Senate practice … requires each Senator to swear or affirm that he will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws. ”
On January 16, 2020 when Trump’s Impeachment trial began, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath to senators, who were standing at their desks on the Senate floor with their right hands raised and Justice Roberts asked them:
“Do you solemnly swear that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of Donald John Trump, president of the United States, now pending, you will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws, so help you god?” and each Senator responded “I do!” After the oath, Senators walked down to the front of the Senate chamber as their names were called to sign the oath book.
Republican Senator’s Mitch McConnell, the Senate Floor Leader, and South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham both took the oath do to “impartial justice” even though they both announced they would vote to acquit Trump days and weeks before Trump’s trial began. Had the impeach been a criminal trial, both McConnell and Graham would have been disqualified by a judge for their biasness.
On January 5, 2020 after a 3-week Senate trial, where absolutely no witnesses were allowed to be called, Trump was acquitted of both articles of impeachment. Democrats fell far short of the two thirds majority vote required to remove Trump from Office. Senators voted 52 to 48 to acquit Trump of the abuse of power charge and voted 53-47 to acquit him on the obstruction of Congress charge. Utah Republican US Senator Mitt Romney was the only Republican to vote to convict Trump on the abuse of power charge.
STUNNING DEFENSE BY REPUBLICAN SENATOR LAMAR ALEXANDER
On January 31, 2020 Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander became the first Republican lawmaker to say President Donald Trump had committed misdeeds with respect to his actions with Ukraine, but that Trump should not be removed for it. The following Sunday on Meet the Press, Alexander said “I think he shouldn’t have done it. I think it was wrong. Inappropriate was the way I’d say — improper, crossing the line. … And then the only question left is who decides what to do about that.”
Alexander further refined his argument saying that Trump’s misconduct may have stemmed from a desire to do the right thing that was marred by his inexperience. Alexander suggested that the fact Trump has been so successful in accomplishing Republican priorities, it outweighs any wrongs Trump has committed. In other words, whatever ends, justify the means, even if it’s illegal.
STUNNING REMARKS BY REPUBLICAN SENATOR MARCO RUBIO
After voting to acquit Republican President Donald Trump of both Articles of Impeachment, Florida Senator Marco Rubio issued a statement explaining why he voted to acquit. The key lines from Rubio’s statement are as follows:
“New witnesses that would testify to the truth of the allegations are not needed for my threshold analysis, which already assumed that all the allegations made are true. … Just because actions meet a standard of impeachment does not mean it is in the best interest of the country to remove a President from office. … I will not vote to remove the President because doing so would inflict extraordinary and potentially irreparable damage to our already divided nation.”
What is astonishing is that Rubio did not feel that keeping Trump in office will likely “inflict extraordinary and potentially irreparable damage” to our Democracy if he is once again elected with outside interference from the Russians or any other country.
You can read the full statement here:
The jaw dropping take away from Marco Rubio’s statement is that Rubio was convinced Trump did the things in regard to Ukraine that were alleged in the Articles of Impeachment, but he still declined to convict Trump proclaiming we have a divided nation.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
We can now add the name of President Donald Trump to the list of shameful acquittals of guilty persons who have committed serious crimes and offenses. Hell, Trump even had one of OJ Simpson’s attorneys Alan Dershowitz represent him in the impeachment trial before the Senate to make embarrassing constitutional argument.
Trump defense Attorney Alan Dershowitz said:
“Every public official that I know believes that his election is in the public interest. And if a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.”
Dershowits no doubt put a smile on Richard Nixon’s face, wherever he is now. Nixon was asked by David Frost: “Would you say that there are certain situations where the president can decide that it’s in the best interests of the nation, and do something illegal? Nixon responded: “Well, when the president does it, that means it is not illegal.”
In the Senate Impeachment Trial, Trump was acquitted, but that does NOT mean he was “not guilty.” The evidence presented by the House Mangers was more than sufficient to convict Trump but the Republican Senators declined. Both Republican Senators Lamar Alexander and Marco Rubio admitted Trump was guilty of what he was charged with, but said Trump’s actions did not justify removal from office.
Trump is a man who did the crime but will not do the time. The big difference with Trump, he will always be known as the first impeached President who was acquitted along party lines while he was running for another term with his own party refusing to allow any witnesses. History will be the final judge of his innocence while in office. Another big difference is that voters have the right of an appeal to vote him out of office come November 6, and to convict him of high crimes and abuse of power.
One major consolation is that New York state prosecutors are still investigating whether the Trump Organization violated state law connected to hush-money payments made to two women who alleged affairs with President Donald Trump. The investigation began after federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York formally closed their criminal probe into the payments in July. Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, pleaded guilty in the federal investigation to several counts of bank fraud, tax evasion, and campaign-finance violations and is now serving a 5-year sentence.
There is an old saying that the wheels of Justice turn slowly. In Trumps case, the wheels of Justice are still turning. Trump’s luck of “not doing the time for doing the crime” is sure to run out, either sooner in 10 months if he is voted out of office or later in 5 years when he leaves office and is charged in New York State for crimes. Then again, Trump is 72 and nature and the Almighty will render the ultimate sentence of justice unto him and he will begin his sentence of eternity where he really belongs and be able to have conversations with people he likes and emulates such as Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini and so many other dictators in history.
For a related blog article see: