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The ABCs of impeachment

BY Lyle Stewart Jan 30, 2020

I’ve been rivetted to CNN the past couple days for its marathon coverage of the Senate impeachment trial of US President Donald Trump. Aside from the thorough education in US constitutional law as it pertains to impeachment, I’ve been struck by just how airtight the case is against Trump. And thus, even more dumbfounded that it is all but certain he will be acquitted after the Senate trial (which, by the time this reaches readers, may already have happened).

Another thought struck me about the differences between our British parliamentary system and the American model – about what might have happened a year ago had an impeachment trial been a possibility in the wake of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s SNC-Lavalin scandal.

Let’s break this down. The US House of Representatives voted to impeach President Trump in December. To remove him from office, it takes a two-thirds vote by the US Senate after a trial is conducted to prove that Trump committed offenses under what is known as the ABCs of impeachment: Abuse of power; Betrayal of national security; and/or Corruption in elections.

The strength of the Democrats’ case against Trump is that he clearly broke all three tests in pressuring the president of Ukraine last summer to undertake a bogus investigation into his leading political opponent – Joe Biden – before the upcoming presidential election. I won’t review the evidence, which is overwhelming, except to say that it is abundantly supported by documentary materials, testimony by his leading officials involved in the scheme, and by his own words and actions.

It doesn’t take much imagination to see the abuse of power for his personal gain. The shocking thing is Trump’s reckless ability to believe that using a thoroughly debunked conspiracy theory spread by Russian security agencies to the effect that it was Ukraine – and not Russia – that interfered in the 2016 elections that he indeed won with Russian help. The tragic element is that at a moment that Ukraine – an American ally – was under attack by Russian military forces, Trump withheld vital military aid as a way to blackmail a desperate Ukrainian president into acquiescing to the demand that he help sway the 2020 elections by discrediting Joe Biden.

Now let’s pivot back to Canada. A year ago, Justin Trudeau was mired in the shock revelations he had pressured then-Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to allow SNC-Lavalin to avoid criminal bribery charges. The reason, he reminded her, is that prosecuting the Montreal-based engineering giant would harm his Liberal Party’s electoral prospects in Quebec – a crucial political battleground in last fall’s election.

So, let’s review – it appears quite certain that Prime Minister Trudeau tried to interfere in an independent criminal prosecution. And that he did so for his personal political gain. These allegations are quite similar to the drama now unfolding in the US Senate. Because of the differences in our system, Trudeau did not have to face the ignominy of an impeachment proceeding. However, he was humbled by voters in being returned to power with a minority government.

Ultimately, the Republican majority in the US Senate will likewise undoubtedly vote to acquit President Trump. It would take 20 Republican senators to cross party lines to reach the two-thirds majority required to remove him from office. What remains to be seen is whether American voters will remember the proven “high crimes and misdemeanors” from his impeachment trial during the US election in November.

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Lyle Stewart has been working as a journalist for over 30 years. He believes that information is the ultimate check on the abuse of power and that independent media outlets such as the Nation are crucial to democratic governance.