No harm, no foul? No way
“No harm, no foul” means even though someone has participated in misconduct, that person should be excused because nothing and no one has come to harm. Under this rule, you can get away with trying practically anything and will not be punished if caught before someone or something gets hurt. Unfortunately, that does not prevent you from trying to do something evil again and again. Even in basketball that rule is suspect, but in our democracy it is ludicrous.
And if you happen to be the president, once we know that you attempted to subvert the law and the Constitution, how do we prevent it from happening again? Whatever you think of Donald Trump and the Ukraine fiasco, you would have to love him more than the rule of law not to be very concerned. Under our democracy, we look to the Founders’ checks and balances to keep us safe. An impeachment trial was one of those checks on presidential power running amok. Did they ever consider, however, the possibility of a sham trial without documents or witnesses? I doubt it. I am sure that they thought it impossible that a majority of senators, who took oaths to obey the Constitution and conduct a fair trial, would force a political result in a trial about abuse of power. But that is what just happened.
I am not as concerned about the underlying issue — i.e., was the president guilty as charged or not — as I am about the damage done to the process and to the future of our republic by this Senate’s dereliction of duty. They have, by forcing a result while knowing that there were documents unread and witnesses unheard who could reveal the full story, permanently changed the rules. The president’s lawyers claim that abuse of power is not an impeachable offense, something 100 distinguished law professors and legal historians declared wrong, wrong, wrong. We have fallen down a rabbit hole where evil is excused because the evildoer had the power to block access to witnesses and documents that would have confirmed the evil and power is to be used, or abused, as he sees fit.
Perhaps the extreme partisanship we are living with has bent our moral compasses. The facts in the current case are not even disputed; they are simply waved away. Even some of the senators who voted to suppress witnesses do not dispute that the president DID use his office to pressure a foreign country to interfere in our election by investigating his rivals. That he did is clear even without the testimony of the people blocked from testifying or the documents that link him solidly to the crime. The Senate acquittal, if you can really acquit someone after a trial without relevant data and witnesses, was based on a disgraced law professor’s novel theory that stated that so long as the president believes himself to be acting in the national interest, he can do whatever he wants — and that getting re-elected is in the national interest.
But despite this nonsense, why would those senators ignore their constitutional and moral obligations? Maybe because the president has the power to ensure that they will lose office next time around, and very few senators leave office poorer than when they were elected. Power and money can be powerful motivators, not infrequently trumping (pun intended) their moral and legal imperatives.
Seventy-five percent of the American people wanted to hear from witnesses, especially witnesses blocked by the president from testifying before the House of Representatives. Senatorial subpoenas carry real weight, and people like Lev Parnas and John Bolton have real information to share, as has been made clear by their post-indictment public statements and book excerpts. They never got the chance, and we never got to see how deep this evil went. Why? Between them they implicated the highest levels of our government in what was clearly an extortion attempt, including, among others, the secretary of state, the vice president, the president’s lawyer, a congressman and a cabinet member. Did you want to hear about that under oath?
What to do? As the old election slogan goes, throw the bastards out. Hold accountable anyone who shirked his or her duty or failed the oath of impartiality and fairness in the so-called trial. And include in that reckoning anyone who used elective office to become a shill for what the president’s representative once called “alternative facts.” Let’s elect truth-telling people who really represent us, not people who want their share of the current criminal enterprise that is running Washington.
The impeachment trial was a diversion from the real issues. Last year we added over $1 trillion to our national debt, almost all of which went to major corporations and wealthy individuals. This year our deficit will be OVER $1 trillion. This administration keeps trying to reduce our health care coverage and is steadily weakening our environmental protections. Fossil fuel companies get huge tax breaks that they use to lobby for fewer restrictions on their climate-destroying emissions. And extorting a foreign leader to provide a “favor” is nothing compared to the terror that the power of the presidency obviously put in those chicken-livered, so-called jurors.
So, speaking personally, I am giving financial and personal support to challengers of those feckless senators who shirked their duty and voted to close off debate in the impeachment trial without subpoenaing witnesses or documents. I am also supporting opponents of our local representatives who shouted “not true” in defense of a president who had already admitted to those facts.
Lee Keet lives on Lake Colby in Saranac Lake.