“Mr. Dershowitz is an expert on civil liberties and criminal law and procedure, not constitutional law generally”

Dershowitz

Steven Harper is a lawyer, graduate of Harvard Law School, and an adjunct professor of law at Northwestern University.  While at Harvard he took a class with Alan Dershowitz, a member of Donald Trump’s impeachment defense team.  I think it is fair to say that Harper speaks for the overwhelming majority of legal scholars in the country.  Sure, Dershowitz might find someone who supports his defense of Trump, but this would be like a climate-change denier trying to find a legitimate climate scientist who says climate change is a hoax.

Here is a taste of Harper’s post on Dershowitz at The New York Times:

Two months before President Bill Clinton’s impeachment hearings began in 1998, Larry King asked Mr. Dershowitz whether he agrees that “some of the most grievous offenses against our constitutional form of government may not entail violations of the criminal law.”

“I do,” he answered. If those offenses “subvert the very essence of democracy.”

In the same interview, Mr. Dershowitz also said: “It certainly doesn’t have to be a crime if you have somebody who completely corrupts the office of president and who abuses trust and who poses great danger to our liberty. You don’t need a technical crime. We look at their acts of state. We look at how they conduct the foreign policy. We look at whether they try to subvert the Constitution.”

But on Sunday, Mr. Dershowitz was acting as one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers when he said to George Stephanopoulos that abusive or obstructive conduct is not impeachable and that an “actual crime” is required. And although the evidence demonstrates that Mr. Trump has committed crimes, Mr. Dershowitz asserted that, unless those crimes are explicitly stated in articles of impeachment, they cannot lead to Mr. Trump’s removal from office.

Mr. Dershowitz said that he was defending Mr. Trump to protect the Constitution, but serious constitutional scholars didn’t buy his argument. Another of my former professors, the constitutional law expert Laurence H. Tribe, responded with an op-ed essay in The Washington Post. “The argument that only criminal offenses are impeachable has died a thousand deaths in the writings of all the experts on the subject,” he wrote. “There is no evidence that the phrase ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ was understood in the 1780s to mean indictable crimes.”

Mr. Tribe likewise debunked Mr. Dershowitz’s argument that the president could not be impeached for “abuse of power,” noting, “No serious constitutional scholar has ever agreed with it.” Among those scholars is the Republicans’ designated constitutional law expert, Jonathan Turley. He testified before the House Judiciary Committee that impeachment could result from conduct that was not technically a criminal act.

Mr. Dershowitz is an expert on civil liberties and criminal law and procedure, not constitutional law generally. Facing widespread criticism and trying to reconcile his 1998 statements with his new position, he now says that Congress doesn’t need a “technical crime” to impeach, but there must be “criminal-like” conduct, or conduct “akin to treason and bribery.” To the extent his earlier statement “suggested the opposite,” he retracts it.

Read the entire piece here.  I am not an expert on the legal profession, but it seems like this is the equivalent of picking a historian of China to provide expert testimony on Alexander Hamilton.  I am sure Jonathan Spence would be great in court, but if you had to pick a true expert wouldn’t you go with someone like Joanne Freeman or Ron Chernow?

On John Roberts and Pettifogging

Pettifogging

Watch Chief Justice John Roberts here.  (For some reason You Tube will not let me access its embedding codes today).

Pettifogging: “worrying too much about details that are minor or not important.”  It was often used a derogatory statement about lawyers.

Charles Swayne was a U.S. District Court judge for the Northern District of Florida.  He was appointed by Benjamin Harrison in 1889 and confirmed by the Senate in 1890.  The House of Representatives impeached him on December 13, 1904 for “filing false travel vouchers, improper use of private railroad cars, unlawfully imprisoning two attorneys for contempt outside of his district. (Sounds like pettifogging to me! 🙂 ) Swayne admitted to the charges and called his lapses “inadvertent.” The Senate found him “not guilty” on February 27, 1905.

You can read the excerpt from the trial, including the use of the word “pettifogging,” here (p.188).

You can also read an edited excerpt of the proceedings from Hinds’ Precedents of the House of Representatives.

A few thoughts:

First, we can always use more civil discourse.  Of all the House Managers, Nadler is the most obnoxious.  Cipollone and Sekulow seems to be performing for Donald Trump.

Second, John Roberts came to the Trump impeachment trial prepared.  He anticipated this kind incivility and was ready with the “pettifogging” quote from the 1905 Swayne trial.  Nice work.  We will see what he has up his sleeve today.

Third, is Roberts right when he says that the Senate is the “world’s greatest deliberative body” because “its members avoid speaking in a manner and using language that is not conducive to civil discourse?” This is how the framers may have envisioned the Senate, but American history suggests that Roberts may be too optimistic about this legislative body.  Here is Yale historian Joanne Freeman in Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to the Civil War:

…the Senate was generally calmer than the House.  Smaller in size, with its acoustics in working order and its members a little older, more established, more experienced, and sometimes higher on the social scale, it was a true forum for debate….Debate in the Senate was thus more of a dialogue–long winded, agenda-driven, and something of a performance, but a dialogue just the same. That doesn’t mean the Senate was a haven of safety.  It wasn’t  There were plenty of threats and insults on the floor. Henry Clay (W-KY) was a master.  His attack in 1832 on the elderly Samuel Smith (J-MD), a Revolutionary War veteran and forty-year veteran of the Senate, was so severe that senators physically drew back, worried that things might get ugly.  Clay called Smith a tottering old man with flip-flopping politics; Smith denied it and countered that he could “take a view” of Clay’s politics that would prove him inconsistent; and Clay jeered “Take it, sir, take it–I dare you!”  Smith defended himself, but when he later sought the advice of John Quincy Adams (clearly Fight Consultant Extraordinaire), Smith was do deeply wounded that he was on the verge of tears.

Chief Justice John Roberts Needs to Attend Oral Arguments Tomorrow on a Religious Liberty Case

ROberts

Is Roberts getting sleepy?

Mitch McConnell is going to let this first day of the impeachment trial go late into the night.  I wonder if he knows that John Roberts needs to get up early tomorrow morning for oral arguments on the Supreme Court case Espinoza v. Montana.  I would think that the GOP might want the Chief Justice to be well rested and fresh for these particular oral arguments.

Here is the excerpt from the SCOTUS calendar:

And on January 22, the justices will hear oral argument in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, a dispute over a Montana law that created tax credits to provide scholarships for families who send their children to private schools, including religious schools. The Montana Supreme Court struck the law down, ruling that it violated the state’s constitution because it helped religious institutions. Three low-income mothers who used the scholarships to send their children to a Christian school in Kalispell, Montana, went to the Supreme Court, arguing that excluding religious schools from the scholarship program violates the federal Constitution.

Read more about this case here.

Engel on Trump’s Impeachment Trial: “guilty, yet acquitted”

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Mitch McConnell is calling the shots in the Senate impeachment trial

I am really excited about chatting today with presidential historian Jeffrey Engel, director of Southern Methodist University’s Center for Presidential History.  Engel is the co-author of Impeachment: An American History and is often seen commentating on presidential impeachment at CNN.

Engel’s visit to The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast–Episode 62– will be released shortly.  Stay tuned.

In the meantime, here is Engel at today’s Washington Post.  His piece is titled “The key to understanding President Trump’s impeachment trial“:

Criminal trials weigh evidence to determine whether wrongdoing occurred. By contrast, the Senate impeachment court is charged with weighing a president’s worth. Less restrained by rules and due process than a traditional court, it reviews an impeached president’s record not merely to determine whether his actions harmed the people he’d sworn to protect, but instead to ask whether he has proved himself likely to endanger them in the future. After all, the Constitution gives the Senate no means of punishing a guilty president other than to relieve him of his responsibilities and bar him from holding a post of public honor or profit for the rest of his days…

With apologies to the representatives and staffers on the House side of the Capitol who sweated every word and clause of their impeachment articles, senators therefore don’t even need to read them. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) may be impolitic in announcing his verdict even before swearing his requisite oath to administer impartial justice, but if he believes that the nation is best served by Trump’s continuation in office for reasons beyond those covered in Trump’s trial, he has the constitutional right to do so. By the same token, House managers need not try to insert evidence from Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation or of Trump’s other alleged misdeeds (such as violation of the emoluments clause or campaign finance law) into a trial ostensibly about Ukraine. Senators may of their own volition consider this evidence in determining Trump’s continued fitness for office. A judge in a criminal case may bar jurors from hearing improperly obtained evidence because legal principles matter more than one defendant’s fate, but with the national interest to consider, this Senate court can consider everything.

This is why Trump is likely to remain in office even if irrefutable evidence of treason, bribery or commission of a high crime appears. Senators may know to their marrow that he committed every crime detailed in his impeachment, yet if they believe that the American people would be best served by Trump’s continued service, they may nonetheless justifiably vote to sustain his presidency. At least one-third of this unique court undoubtedly likes the direction he is taking the country. He’ll therefore be guilty, yet acquitted.

Read the entire piece here.

Gerson: “This is a world where ethical rules count for nothing. A world where character is for chumps.”

Mitch and Trump

Here is the latest from Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson:

With the impeachment trial of President Trump beginning in earnest, right-wing populism has come full circle. Trump was elected on the theory that American politics had become corrupt and broken. Now he is calling upon his party and his followers to normalize corruption and brokenness as essential features of our political order. It is a bold maneuver by a skilled demagogue. Trump has cultivated disrespect for politics as a dirty business and now seeks to benefit from dramatically lowered public standards.

The question at stake in the Senate trial is plain: Is the use of public funds as leverage to gain private, political benefits from a foreign government an impeachable abuse of presidential power? The matter is so simple that Trump’s Republican defenders are reduced to babbling incoherence in trying to avoid it. When asked whether Trump’s solicitation of foreign interference in the 2020 presidential election was proper, Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) responded, “Well, those are just statements, political. They make them all the time. . . . People do things. Things happen.”

“Things happen.” This is a revealingly ludicrous response to a charge of public corruption. No, trying to cheat in a presidential election is not like losing your keys or getting caught in the rain without your umbrella. Those are the kinds of “things” that just happen. The evidence that Trump cut off military aid to a friendly government in the middle of an armed conflict to compel that government to announce the investigation of a political rival is overwhelming. Several administration officials found this action so unethical, dangerous and disturbing that they expressed their alarm to relevant authorities. Those who dismiss such accusations as a political vendetta or a coup attempt are engaged in willful deception.

And because Trump denies any wrongdoing — pronouncing his own actions “perfect” — senators who vote for his vindication are effectively blessing such abuses in the future. Their action would set an expectation of corruption at the highest levels of our government.

Read the rest here.

Gerson’s words take on added significance in the wake of the release of Midnight Mitch’s rules for the Senate impeachment trial.

Mike Pence’s Irresponsible Use of History

Ross

In case you missed it, Vice President Mike Pence wrote an op-ed at The Wall Street Journal calling for Democratic Senators to show “courage” in the form of a willingness to “stand up” and “reject” the “partisan impeachment” of Donald Trump.

Pence invoked John F. Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book Profiles in Courage.  In chapter six of that book, Kennedy praised the apparent courage of Senator Edmund Ross (R-Kansas).  During Andrew Johnson’s impeachment trial 1868, Ross broke with the Republican Party and voted against removing Johnson from office.  Pence wrote, “Ross was determined to render a fair judgment, resisting his own party’s stampede.”

But there is a major problem with Pence’s historical analogy.  University of Texas historian Jeremi Suri explains at CNN:

[Pence’s] account is historically dishonest on every count and it reveals the contortions the White House is willing to perform to protect its power at all costs — precisely the attitude that helped to trigger impeachment in the first place. When a president and his closest advisers pathologically lie to the public, and Pence’s article is yet another example, how can the American people (and our allies) believe anything coming out of the White House? How can a president lead when he has violated all foundations for public trust?

n this op-ed, Pence has distorted basic American history and civics into Soviet-style propaganda, where the facts are intentionally turned upside down. Numerous historians have written about President Andrew Johnson’s impeachment, and Senator Ross’ role in his trial — including Manisha SinhaBrenda Wineapple, David Greenberg and David Stewart. They all agree — and no serious historian disagrees — that Ross intended to vote for Johnson’s conviction, but suddenly changed his mind. Ross did not experience an epiphany of conscience or a surge of courage. Evidence suggests he was bribed.

Read the entire piece here.

This piece by David O. Stewart is also worth considering.

What Did the Founding Fathers Say About Impeachment?

House Managers

House managers in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump filed their brief to the Senate today.  The brief describes Trump’s behavior with Ukraine “the Framers’ worst nightmare.”

So what did the Framers of the United States Constitution say about impeachment?

Here is a nice summary from the United States Constitution Center:

One of the most hotly debated clauses in the Constitution deals with the removal of federal government officials through the impeachment process. But what did the Founders who crafted that language think about the process and its overall intention?

The need for the ultimate check, and in particular the removal of the President, in a system of checks and balances was brought up early at the 1787 convention in Philadelphia. Constitutional heavyweights such as James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, James Wilson and Gouverneur Morris debated the Impeachment Clause at the convention, and Alexander Hamilton argued for it in The Federalist after the convention.

Today, impeachment remains as a rarely used process to potentially remove the “President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States” if Congress finds them guilty of “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

In all, 19 federal officials have been brought up on impeachment charges by the House of Representatives since 1789, with eight people convicted after a Senate trial. Two Presidents – Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton – faced Senate trials but were not found guilty by a two-thirds majority of the Senate.

The threat of impeachment remains a power check, at least in theory, against the abuse of power, and it is sometimes discussed in times of political controversy, as well as in cases where there is a clear issue with personal conduct in office. Of the eight persons impeached and convicted in Congress, all were judges who faced charges including perjury, tax evasion, bribery, and in one case, supporting the Confederacy.

At the 1787 convention, delegate Edmund Randolph quickly brought up the subject as part of his Virginia Plan. William Patterson’s rival New Jersey Plan had its own impeachment clause. National Constitution Center scholar-in-residence Michael Gerhardt explained the differences in his book, “The Federal Impeachment Process: A Constitutional and Historical Analysis.”

Read the rest here.

Who Presided Over Andrew Johnson’s Impeachment Trial?

Chase

On Thursday, Chief Justice John Roberts began presiding over the Donald Trump impeachment trial.

Over at The Washington Post, Michael Rosenwald writes about Salmon P. Chase, the Chief Justice who presided over Andrew Johnson’s impeachment trial in 1868.  Here is a taste of his piece, “The chief justice who presided over the first presidential impeachment trial thought it was political spectacle“:

Johnson was on trial for, among other things, violating the Tenure of Office Act in 1867, which said the president couldn’t fire important government officials unless he got the go-ahead from the Senate. Johnson had fired the secretary of war, Edwin M. Stanton, without consulting the Senate. Cue impeachment.

Chase thought the whole thing was much ado about nothing.

“Chase had profound misgivings about the trial,” Niven wrote. “He considered the articles more of partisan rhetoric than substantive evidence for a conviction.”

In a letter to Gerrit Smith, a fellow abolitionist and former congressman, Chase wrote that “the whole business seems wrong, and if I had any opinion, under the Constitution, I would not take part in it.”

Chase suspected the whole business would become a public spectacle.

Read the entire piece here.

Andrew Johnson’s 1866 Anti-Impeachment Tour

Johnson

This sounds familiar.

Over at The Washington Post, Ronald Shafer describes Andrew Johnson’s attempt to rally supporters against his possible impeachment.  Johnson took the road to make his case.

Here is a taste:

“Congress, factious, domineering, tyrannical Congress has undertaken to poison the minds of the American people,” the embattled president declared in fiery speeches. His political foes have been aided, he charged, by their “hirelings” in a “mercenary and subsidized press.”

The president was Andrew Johnson, who in 1866 was already facing impeachment threats just a year after succeeding assassinated Republican President Abraham Lincoln. So Johnson sought to rally his supporters in speeches outside of Washington in much the way President Trump has done for months.

Johnson, a Tennessee Democrat, was under attack from Radical Republicans in Congress for his post-Civil War unity policy of bringing Southern white supremacists back into government. Although he was anti-slavery, he vetoed bills giving black Americans new rights, but Congress overrode his vetoes.

In the late summer of 1866, the 57-year-old president began an 18-day speaking tour to promote what he called “My Plan.” The trip’s purpose ostensibly was to travel to Chicago to lay a cornerstone for a monument honoring late U.S. senator Stephen Douglas. But “the unmistakable object,” the Philadelphia Press said, “is of course to influence the fall elections.” Johnson hoped to help elect more Democrats and moderate Republicans to Congress.

The route would take the president by train from Washington through Upstate New York, then as far west as St. Louis and back through Maryland. The press called it “Andy’s Swing Around the Circle.”

Read the rest here.  The tour did not help.  The House impeached Johnson on February 24, 1868.  He was the first president ever to be impeached.

Jonathan Turley: Trump WAS Impeached

Trump impeachment

Was Trump impeached?

Last weekend Harvard Law professor Noah Feldman argued that Donald Trump will not be officially impeached until the House transmits the articles of impeachment to the Senate.

Jonathan Turley disagrees.

Some of you may remember Turley.  He is the George Washington University law professor who argued before the House Judiciary Committee on December 4, 2019 that there was not enough evidence to impeach Donald Trump. (The other three law professors called to testify–Pamela Karlan of Stanford, Michael Gerhardt of UNC-Chapel Hill, and Feldman–argued that Trump’s phone call to Ukrainian president Zelinsky was an impeachable offense).

In a recent Washington Post op-ed titled “I testified against Trump’s impeachment. But let’s not pretend it didn’t happen,” Turley writes:

Last Saturday in West Palm Beach, Fla., in remarks to a group of young supporters, President Trump road-tested a talking point that appeared to be aimed at changing the narrative around his December impeachment: “You had no crime. Even their people said there was no crime,” he said of congressional Democrats, before adding: “In fact, there’s no impeachment. There’s no — their own lawyers said there’s no impeachment.”

Trump was clearly baiting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) after she refused to send her chamber’s two just-passed articles of impeachment to the Senate before leaving town for the holidays. The move caused something of a stalemate with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and precipitated a curious debate about whether Trump is actually impeached. It’s unclear what Pelosi and McConnell may do in their game of constitutional chicken between now and when the House reconvenes in January, but one thing is clear: Trump was impeached.

As I testified earlier this month before the House Judiciary Committee, I was opposed to this impeachment. While I said that this president could be legitimately impeached on these two articles, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress (while rejecting other potential articles like bribery), the record is the thinnest of any modern impeachment to go to the Senate, which could result in a trial as cursory as its investigation. Trump’s suggestion that he remains unimpeached appears based on a theory recently floated by my colleague, Harvard Law School’s Noah Feldman, that “Trump Isn’t Impeached Until the House Tells the Senate.” But while this theory may provide tweet-ready fodder for the president to defend himself and taunt his political adversaries, it’s difficult to sustain on the text or history or logic of the Constitution.

Read the rest here.

Jerry Falwell Jr.: Mark Galli and *Christianity Today* Ignore “the teaching of Jesus”

falwell-jr

Check out Falwell Jr.’s interview with Newsmax.  For someone who says that faith has nothing to do with politics he sure sounds like it matters here.

A taste:

“It’s sort of one of those lost magazines from the past, like Newsweek, and Life and Time,” Falwell Jr. told “National Report” host Bob Sellers in an interview. “It’s sort of fallen.

“The readership’s dropped — and not many Christians I’ve talked to have ever read it.”

Falwell Jr. also ripped Mark Galli, the magazine’s editor in chief who wrote the editorial, for ignoring “the teachings of Jesus.”

“Basically, Jesus taught we’re all sinners,” Falwell Jr. told Sellers. “None of us are better than anybody else — but there’s this group of pharisaical Christians who think their sins are not as bad other people’s sins.

“So, they sit in judgment,” he added. “They’re the religious elite, just like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day.

“They think more highly of themselves. They’re self-righteous.”

Read more here.

Was Donald Trump Impeached?

Cassidy-ImpeachmentGOPMemo

Noah Feldman of Harvard Law School is one of the legal scholars who testified before the House Judiciary Committee.  He was one of the three (of four) lawyers who concluded that Trump’s phone call to Ukraine and his obstruction of Congress were impeachable offenses.

In his most recent column at Bloomsberg News, Feldman argues that the House has not yet impeached Donald Trump.

Here is a taste:

If the House does not communicate its impeachment to the Senate, it hasn’t actually impeached the president. If the articles are not transmitted, Trump could legitimately say that he wasn’t truly impeached at all.

That’s because “impeachment” under the Constitution means the House sending its approved articles of to the Senate, with House managers standing up in the Senate and saying the president is impeached.

As for the headlines we saw after the House vote saying, “TRUMP IMPEACHED,” those are a media shorthand, not a technically correct legal statement. So far, the House has voted to impeach (future tense) Trump. He isn’t impeached (past tense) until the articles go to the Senate and the House members deliver the message.

Once the articles are sent, the Senate has a constitutional duty to hold a trial on the impeachment charges presented. Failure for the Senate to hold a trial after impeachment would deviate from the Constitution’s clear expectation.

For the House to vote “to impeach” without ever sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate for trial would also deviate from the constitutional protocol. It would mean that the president had not genuinely been impeached under the Constitution; and it would also deny the president the chance to defend himself in the Senate that the Constitution provides.

Read the entire piece here.

James Dobson Weighs-In on the *Christianity Today* Editorial

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Here is the latest from the court evangelical and family values champion:

I have read a new editorial published by Christianity Today that promotes impeachment of President Donald Trump. The editors didn’t tell us who should take his place in the aftermath. Maybe the magazine would prefer a president who is passionately pro-abortion, anti-family, hostile to the military, dispassionate toward Israel, supports a socialist form of government, promotes confiscatory taxation, opposes school choice, favors men in women’s sports and boys in girl’s locker rooms, promotes the entire LGBTQ agenda, opposes parental rights, and distrusts evangelicals and anyone who is not politically correct. By the way, after Christianity Today has helped vacate the Oval Office, I hope they will tell us if their candidate to replace Mr. Trump will fight for religious liberty and the Bill of Rights? Give your readers a little more clarity on why President Trump should be turned out of office after being duly elected by 63 million voters? Is it really because he made a phone call that displeased you? There must be more to your argument than that. While Christianity Today is making its case for impeachment, I hope the editors will now tell us who they support for president among the Democrat field. That should tell us the rest of the story.”

Statement made in my individual capacity.

Commentary:

  1. I answered most of Dobson’s critiques of Mark Galli’s editorial in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.
  2. When a president is removed from office, the vice-president assumes the presidency.  That would be Mike Pence.
  3. The framers of the United States Constitution instituted impeachment to discipline a president who committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” between elections.  Impeachment, in other words, does not overturn a presidential election.  I have seen too many court evangelicals and other pro-Trump pundits make the “overturning the election” argument.  It is wrong.
  4. Trump did not make a phone call that “displeased” Mark Galli.  He made a phone call that asked a foreign nation to investigate a political rival.  In other words, Donald Trump asked Ukraine to interfere in an American election.  The facts are clear.  Over 500 law professors and over 1500 historians agree. This was an abuse of power.

ADDENDUM

Historian Patrick Connelly offers a quote from Dobson made in September 2016 at Christianity Today: “If Trump turns out to be an incorrigible demagogue, we can hope he will be reined in by the political process. There are checks and balances in our system of government.”

Senior Editor of Conservative *National Review* Calls for Impeachment and Removal

Trump impeachment

Ramesh Ponnuru says Congress needs to prove 4 things to impeach a POTUS:

  1.  That the facts of the case are true.
  2.  That the facts amount to an abuse of power.
  3.  That the abuse is impeachable
  4.  That is prudent to remove the president.

Read his recent piece at The National Review to see how he responds to these four points.  A taste:

On October 3, Trump was asked to clarify what he had wanted the Ukrainian government to do. “They’d start a major investigation into the Bidens,” he answered. Representative Debbie Lesko (R., Ariz.) nonetheless told a CNN reporter on December 13 that Trump had not asked “a foreign power to investigate a political rival.” Her office later “clarified” that she meant to deny only that Trump had wanted the investigation because Biden is a political rival. The fact that they both want to be president in 2021 was, on her view, just a coincidence.

Take the clarification seriously, and what Representative Lesko was trying to do was to defend that second wall. Sure, the president sought an investigation of Biden, but only as a means of making sure that U.S. aid was not going to a corrupt state. Senator John Kennedy (R., La.) has said that the possibility that Trump was concerned about corruption means that he cannot be proved to have had a corrupt intent.

The argument requires a willful suspension of disbelief. Gordon Sondland, the Trump-appointed ambassador to the European Union, has testified that Trump “didn’t want to hear about” Ukrainian efforts against corruption and that concerns over corruption had not led to the withholding of aid from any other country within his portfolio. The Department of Defense had certified that Ukraine was taking steps against corruption before the administration withheld aid to it.

Fighting corruption would not have required Trump to encourage Zelensky to work with Rudolph Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, who has said that he was working in Ukraine to advance his client’s personal interests; it would have counseled against Trump’s doing that. Nor would the effort have required the secrecy with which it was conducted, or have required dropping around the same time it was starting to attract publicity. Kurt Volker, Trump’s envoy to Ukraine, has testified that Giuliani said that official Ukrainian statements against corruption were insufficient unless they specifically mentioned the investigations touching on the Bidens and on the 2016 campaign.

There is essentially no evidence that either investigation is worth conducting. The theory that Joe Biden acted corruptly holds that he leaned on the Ukrainian government to fire a prosecutor who was looking into a company that had his son on the board. That prosecutor’s former deputy has said that there was no active investigation, and the Obama administration was on record urging the prosecutor to assist a British legal action against the company’s owner.

Read the entire piece here.

The “*Christianity Today* Crowd” and the Evangelical Landscape in America

Trump-Bachmann-Pence-religious-right

I want to pick up on something I wrote at the end of an earlier post on Christianity Today‘s call for the removal of Donald Trump.  I referred to a Washington Post piece I published on July 17, 2017 titled “Trump threatens to change the course of American Christianity.”  In that piece I wrote:

Historians will write about this moment in terms of both continuity and change. On one hand, court evangelicals are part of a familiar story. For nearly half a century, evangelicals have sought to influence the direction of the country and its laws through politics. But Trump has forced them to embrace a pragmatism that could damage the gospel around the world, and force many Christians to rethink their religious identities and affiliations.

And this:

Not all evangelicals are on board, of course. Most black evangelicals are horrified by Trump’s failure to understand their history and his willingness to serve as a hero of the alt-right movement.

The 20 percent of white evangelicals who did not vote for Trump — many of whom are conservative politically and theologically — now seem to have a lot more in common with mainline Protestants. Some in my own circles have expressed a desire to leave their evangelical churches in search of a more authentic form of Christianity.

Other evangelicals are experiencing a crisis of faith as they look around in their white congregations on Sunday morning and realize that so many fellow Christians were willing to turn a blind eye to all that Trump represents.

If the court evangelicals were students of history, they have learned the wrong lesson from evangelical political engagement of the 1970s and 1980s. Trump’s presidency — with its tweets and promises of power — requires evangelical leaders to speak truth to power, not to be seduced by it.

Only time will tell how the landscape of evangelicalism will change as a result of Trump’s presidency.  But Mark Galli’s editorial today at Christianity Today has brought to light divisions in American evangelicalism that have existed since Trump got elected, but have been hidden since the 81% story hit the news.  Not all evangelicals are court evangelicals or Trump evangelicals.

As I argued earlier tonight, I still think the majority of evangelicals will vote for Trump, but Galli’s editorial will let the general public know more about the 19% of evangelical Christians to whom I dedicated Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump in June 2018.

Galli has given voice to what court evangelical Robert Jeffress once called the “Christianity Today crowd.”

What Does the *Christianity Today* Editorial Mean for the 2020 Election

 

I just watched CNN’s coverage of the Christianity Today editorial calling for the removal of Donald Trump.  I hope that CNN will eventually bring in some people who know what they are talking about.

CNN is framing the editorial as a “crack” in Donald Trump’s evangelical support.  I think we need to be careful about such an analysis.  Christianity Today represents an educated, thoughtful evangelical readership.  I am guessing a small majority of Christianity Today readers DID NOT vote for Donald Trump in 2016.  The readers of this magazine probably backed someone like Marco Rubio in the GOP primary.  If they voted for Trump, they did so because they did not like Hillary and Trump was the lesser of two evils.

So will Mark Galli’s editorial have any influence on the number of white evangelicals who vote for Trump in 2020?  It might make a small change, but most white evangelicals will probably still vote for Trump.

On the other hand, this editorial may just peel enough evangelicals away from Trump to make some kind of difference.

We will see what happens.

*Christianity Today*: “Trump Should Be Removed from Office”

trump-evangelicals

I got up very early this morning to go the hospital.  My daughter got her tonsils out.  All went well and she is resting comfortably enjoying her ice-cold fluids and typing out messages to us on her cell phone.

While I was in the waiting room, around 6:30am, I wrote this post on why moderate evangelicals, such as those connected with Christianity Today, were not speaking-out about the Trump impeachment.  (I have been criticized all day for my use of the word “moderate,” but I really couldn’t think of better term right now.  I wanted to use the term “mainstream evangelicals,” but I am afraid the word “mainstream” may now belong to the court evangelicals and other evangelical supporters of Donald Trump).

In an interview with Yonat Schimron of Religion News Service, Mark Galli, the editor of Christianity Today, said that the magazine was not covering Trump’s impeachment because: “It’s very much a political story, and it’s hard to find a uniquely Christian angle to it, which is what would be required for us to comment on it.”  He added: “Certainly there are ethical issues at play, but there are ethical issues at play in every political story. If we commented on each one, we’d be Politics Today.”

Here is how I responded to Galli’s remarks:

Mark Galli’s answer is disappointing.  I think a lot of moderate evangelicals look to Christianity Today for advice on how to think Christianly about political issues.  The impeachment of a United States president is pretty important, so I don’t think Christianity Today is in danger of becoming Politics Today if it brings some Christian thought to bear on this story.

After my early morning in the hospital, I took a long nap this afternoon.  When I woke-up, I saw that Christianity Today, in a Galli editorial, is calling for Donald Trump’s removal from office.

Wow!

Galli’s editorial gives me hope.  He begins:

In our founding documents, Billy Graham explains that Christianity Today will help evangelical Christians interpret the news in a manner that reflects their faith. The impeachment of Donald Trump is a significant event in the story of our republic. It requires comment.

The typical CT approach is to stay above the fray and allow Christians with different political convictions to make their arguments in the public square, to encourage all to pursue justice according to their convictions and treat their political opposition as charitably as possible. We want CT to be a place that welcomes Christians from across the political spectrum, and reminds everyone that politics is not the end and purpose of our being. We take pride in the fact, for instance, that politics does not dominate our homepage.

That said, we do feel it necessary from time to time to make our own opinions on political matters clear—always, as Graham encouraged us, doing so with both conviction and love. We love and pray for our president, as we love and pray for leaders (as well as ordinary citizens) on both sides of the political aisle.

He then makes a statement that essentially supports the first article of impeachment:

But the facts in this instance are unambiguous: The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents. That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.

But what about all those Supreme Court justices and the great economy?  Here is Galli:

Trump’s evangelical supporters have pointed to his Supreme Court nominees, his defense of religious liberty, and his stewardship of the economy, among other things, as achievements that justify their support of the president. We believe the impeachment hearings have made it absolutely clear, in a way the Mueller investigation did not, that President Trump has abused his authority for personal gain and betrayed his constitutional oath. The impeachment hearings have illuminated the president’s moral deficiencies for all to see. This damages the institution of the presidency, damages the reputation of our country, and damages both the spirit and the future of our people. None of the president’s positives can balance the moral and political danger we face under a leader of such grossly immoral character.

Unlike the court evangelicals I wrote about in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, Galli wants to make sure Christianity Today remains consistent with what it said during the Bill Clinton administration:

This concern for the character of our national leader is not new in CT. In 1998, we wrote this:

The President’s failure to tell the truth—even when cornered—rips at the fabric of the nation. This is not a private affair. For above all, social intercourse is built on a presumption of trust: trust that the milk your grocer sells you is wholesome and pure; trust that the money you put in your bank can be taken out of the bank; trust that your babysitter, firefighters, clergy, and ambulance drivers will all do their best. And while politicians are notorious for breaking campaign promises, while in office they have a fundamental obligation to uphold our trust in them and to live by the law.

And this:

Unsavory dealings and immoral acts by the President and those close to him have rendered this administration morally unable to lead.

And here we go:

Unfortunately, the words that we applied to Mr. Clinton 20 years ago apply almost perfectly to our current president. Whether Mr. Trump should be removed from office by the Senate or by popular vote next election—that is a matter of prudential judgment. That he should be removed, we believe, is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments.

And Galli, on behalf of Christianity Today, concludes:

To the many evangelicals who continue to support Mr. Trump in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this: Remember who you are and whom you serve. Consider how your justification of Mr. Trump influences your witness to your Lord and Savior. Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency. If we don’t reverse course now, will anyone take anything we say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for decades to come? Can we say with a straight face that abortion is a great evil that cannot be tolerated and, with the same straight face, say that the bent and broken character of our nation’s leader doesn’t really matter in the end?

We have reserved judgment on Mr. Trump for years now. Some have criticized us for our reserve. But when it comes to condemning the behavior of another, patient charity must come first. So we have done our best to give evangelical Trump supporters their due, to try to understand their point of view, to see the prudential nature of so many political decisions they have made regarding Mr. Trump. To use an old cliché, it’s time to call a spade a spade, to say that no matter how many hands we win in this political poker game, we are playing with a stacked deck of gross immorality and ethical incompetence. And just when we think it’s time to push all our chips to the center of the table, that’s when the whole game will come crashing down. It will crash down on the reputation of evangelical religion and on the world’s understanding of the gospel. And it will come crashing down on a nation of men and women whose welfare is also our concern.

“It’s time to call a spade a spade.”

It doesn’t get any clearer. Trump is indeed changing the landscape of 20th-century Christianity.

What are the Court Evangelicals Saying About Yesterday’s Impeachment and Trump’s Responses?

Watch:

So far none of the court evangelicals have said that Trump is right about Dingell because the former Michigan congressman did not accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior before he died. But I would not put it past any one of them to say this.

Sarah Pulliam Bailey has it covered at The Washington Post.  Read it here.

Here of some of the tweets in Bailey’s piece and a few more (with commentary):

Bailey quoted me in her piece:

Evangelical supporters of Trump have been talking about “forces” undermining Trump, framing the impeachment proceedings in “spiritual battle” language, said John Fea, a historian at Messiah College.

In November, Franklin Graham, president and chief executive of the Billy Graham Evangelical Association, told Eric Metaxas on his radio show, “Well, I believe it’s almost a demonic power that is trying . . .” And Metaxas interrupted and said, “I would disagree. It’s not almost demonic. You know and I know, at the heart, it’s a spiritual battle.”

Last week, Trump hosted about 50 evangelical leaders in the White House to pray for him, especially drawing pastors from the Pentecostal tradition where teaching on “spiritual warfare” is prominent.

“If Trump is indeed God’s anointed, impeachment and his potential removal is of utmost concern to those with this worldview,” Fea said.

Why doesn’t Graham go all the way and say that he is the most “pro life pro faith president in American history? 🙂

Once again, a Trump supporter refuses to argue based on the facts of the case.  If you want to say impeachment is a “sham” then you need to make a solid constitutional case for why Trump’s dealings with Ukraine and his failure to cooperate with Congress are not impeachable offenses.  Impeachment has nothing to do with whether a president is pro life, pro faith, a defender of religious freedom, or presiding over a strong economy.  (On the latter point, it find it interesting that so many court evangelicals are now economic determinists.  I thought they didn’t like Karl Marx).  Jack Graham, like the rest of the court evangelicals, are in Trump’s pocket. How else can we explain the fact that he will not say anything negative about this president and simply ignore his indiscretions.  Either shut-up about politics, or apply biblical truth to public life (and this POTUS) in an even-handed way.

See my comment above.  Ralph, please make an argument based on the facts of the case.

This document is absurd.  A quick response:

  1. The House of Representatives impeached Donald Trump and no one else.
  2.  Stop trying to politicize what it means to be a God-fearing, family loving and patriotic!  This “family values” rhetoric has been around since the late 1970s and  Trump’s behavior and policies in office have made it virtually meaningless.  I wonder what Moore and Rodriguez think about the moral quality of the rhetoric coming from this White House? Do they really want evangelical children to listen to Donald Trump or read his tweets? Should we all tell our children to be like Trump and publish children’s books extolling his character? And don’t even get me started with “family values” after what Trump did to migrant families at the border.
  3. This document makes vague references to “due process” and “rule of law.”  It does not say ANYTHING about the facts of the case.  (See my response to the Jack Graham tweet above).  Rather than approaching impeachment and Trump’s behavior with deep historical and theological reflection, this statement just echoes the talking points of the GOP members of the House Judicial and Intelligence committees.  Christian leaders should do much, much better than this.  I’m not holding my breath.
  4. This document assumes that those who impeached Trump do not believe in “free elections” to determine political leadership.  Actually, if it wasn’t for “free elections” the Democrats would not have won the House in 2018.  The people spoke.  The 2018 election was a referendum on the first two years of the Trump presidency.  THIS is democracy at work.  But I assume Moore and Rodriguez mean that Trump’s impeachment somehow undermines the results of the presidential election of 2106.  First, the undermining of the elections was done BY THE RUSSIANS well before impeachment.  Second, impeachment is meant to discipline a POTUS during the time in-between elections.  Based on the logic of Moore and Rodriguez’s statement, the impeachment of Bill Clinton also undermined the people’s voice in the election of 1996.  The near-impeachment of Richard Nixon undermined the people’s voice in the election 1972.
  5.  The statement reads: “They impeached millions of Americans…who believe that it’s precisely the job of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the United States government to intensely obstruct one another in order to check and balance our freewheeling democracy….” I have no idea what this means.
  6. The statement assumes that one cannot believe “every life is sacred in and out of the womb” and still support impeachment.  That’s nonsense.  Trump’s impeachment has nothing to do with abortion or any other kind of life issue. He was impeached for abusing power and obstructing Congress.

Gary Bauer has a unique ability to nicely summarize the court evangelical position in 560 characters.