A Bolton Bomb Drops on the Eve of the First Full Day of Trump’s Impeachment Defense

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I wonder if this will move any GOP Senators to vote for witnesses.  It should.

Here is Maggie Haberman and Michael Schmidt at The New York Times:

President Trump told his national security adviser in August that he wanted to continue freezing $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens, according to an unpublished manuscript by the former adviser, John R. Bolton.

The president’s statement as described by Mr. Bolton could undercut a key element of his impeachment defense: that the holdup in aid was separate from Mr. Trump’s requests that Ukraine announce investigations into his perceived enemies, including former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son Hunter Biden, who had worked for a Ukrainian energy firm while his father was in office.

Mr. Bolton’s explosive account of the matter at the center of Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial, the third in American history, was included in drafts of a manuscript he has circulated in recent weeks to close associates. He also sent a draft to the White House for a standard review process for some current and former administration officials who write books.

Multiple people described Mr. Bolton’s account of the Ukraine affair.

The book presents an outline of what Mr. Bolton might testify to if he is called as a witness in the Senate impeachment trial, the people said. The White House could use the pre-publication review process, which has no set time frame, to delay or even kill the book’s publication or omit key passages.

Read the rest here.

“Take Her Out.” What Does the Recently Released Recording Say About Trump?

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Here is a taste of Coby Itkowitz and Rosalind Helderman’s reporting at The Washington Post:

President Trump is allegedly heard on a recording demanding the firing of then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch during a private dinner with top donors in April 2018, according to an audio file obtained by ABC News.

“Get rid of her! Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. Okay? Do it,” Trump is heard saying, according to ABC News, which said it reviewed the tape.

The recording, which The Washington Post has not independently verified, appears to corroborate an account of the evening by Lev Parnas, a former associate of Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani. In a recent interview, Parnas said he told Trump that evening that Yovanovitch was working against him.

“I do remember me telling the president the ambassador was bad-mouthing him and saying he was going to get impeached, something to that effect,” Parnas told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow last week.

Read the entire piece here.

So what does this mean?

  1. Trump DOES know Lev Parnas.  Up until this point, Trump said he did not know anything about the man. It seems like Trump knew Parnas well enough to command him to “take out” Marie Yovanovitch.  This means Trump, once again, lied about knowing Parnas.
  2. But let’s say Trump is telling the truth about not knowing Parnas.  (I don’t see how this is possible in light of this recording, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt for a moment).  This means that he is ordering a random guy who Rudy Giuliani brought to dinner to “take out” a U.S. ambassador.  Mobsters usually have “buffers” when they give these kinds of orders.

What Can Evangelicals Learn from Adam Schiff?

They can learn something about moral clarity. They can learn something about doing the right thing.  They can learn something about patriotism.

“If the truth doesn’t matter, we’re lost.”

Here is what Fox News had to offer in the wake of Schiff’s speech.

There is nothing here on the content or the merits of the House defense.  They are talking about television ratings and CNN.  They are making vague references to our “Constitution.”  Is this all the Fox News crowd has to offer–gotcha lines and sarcastic jokes?  I am guessing we will see more of this on Saturday when Trump’s defense lawyers take the stage.  Will Cipollone and Sekulow be able to present a counter-narrative to the one presented by the House Managers over the last several days?  Will they even try? Is there a fact-based alternative narrative?

It is only a matter of time before Robert Jeffress gets on Fox News with Lou Dobbs to trumpet the court evangelical defense of Trump.  Expect multiple appeals to Trump’s visit to the March for Life.  They are already weighing in:

Episode 61: Impeachment 101

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Are you watching Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial?  Are you trying to make sense of it all?  We want to help.  In this episode we talk with CNN presidential historian and Southern Methodist University professor Jeffrey Engel on the history of impeachment. Engel sheds light on the debates over impeachment in the Constitutional Convention, the historic meaning of “bribery” and “high crimes and misdemeanors,” and the inevitable political and partisan nature of American impeachments.

When Political Loyalty Trumps Moral Clarity

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We are in the third day of the Donald Trump Senate impeachment trial.  Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has already gone on record saying that the entire trial is a “partisan charade.”

Other GOP Senators have also weighed-in:

Whether you call the Senators “jurors” or “judges,” something is not right about a Senator writing tweets like this during such an important trial.  This impeachment trial is not a hoax.  The Constitution says that the House of Representatives has the authority to impeach the president.  This has happened.  Some Senators may not like that this has happened, but it did.  Senators now have a responsibility to sit quietly, listen to evidence, and make a decision about whether or not to remove the president.

This impeachment trial is just the latest example of how political partisanship distorts critical thinking and basic morality.

I don’t see how any Senator can be confronted with the evidence we have heard over the last two days and not think that Donald Trump has done something immoral. We can debate whether or not what Trump did was an impeachable offense, but can we truly say that he acted in a morally upright way in this whole Ukraine mess?  Was this really a “perfect call?”

Why won’t these GOP Senators speak-up?  Why won’t they publicly admonish Trump for his blatant immoral behavior?  Why have they remained silent or commented on Trump’s immorality with phrases like “Well, that’s just his style” or “if it was me, I wouldn’t have used those words.”  Why do they take media opportunities to defend Trump?  I hope people like Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, Cory Gardner, Tom Cotton, Marco Rubio, roy Blunt, Richard Burr, Rick Scott, Rob Portman, James Lankford, Pat Toomey, Tim Scott, John Thune, Bill Cassidy, and Lamar Alexander will answer these questions for me.  Mitt Romney is a Mormon.  Sasse, Rubio, Blunt, Lankford,, Tim Scott, Rick Scott, and Thune are evangelical Christians.

Most of these Senators can think critically and make decisions based on evidence.  Many of them have a sense of right and wrong.  But their critical faculties and moral capacities are held captive by political partisanship.  Party loyalty weakens independent thinking.  Party loyalty undermines moral clarity.

Some Context for Adam Schiff’s Hamilton Quote

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Adam Schiff opened the first day of arguments in the Trump impeachment trial with a quote from an enclosure in an August 18, 1792 letter from Alexander Hamilton to George Washington.  His choice of texts is getting a lot of attention today.

Hamilton’s enclosure was part of his reply to a July 29, 1792 letter from Washington.
While the president was home at Mount Vernon he heard from fellow Virginians (probably George Mason and Thomas Jefferson) who were critical of the way the Federalist administration was conducting policy and interpreting the Constitution.  Washington asked Hamilton to respond to twenty-one popular criticisms of the Federalist-controlled government.

Washington’s criticism No. 14 read: “That the ultimate object of all this is to prepare the way for a change, from the present republican form of Government, to that of a monarchy; of which the British Constitution is to be the model.”

This was a pretty common Anti-Federalist critique.  It was also common among the members of the Jeffersonian opposition to the Federalist administration after ratification in 1789.  These men believed that the Constitution gave too much power to the national government and relied too heavily upon British political customs.  They feared that Washington, Adams (VP), Hamilton (Secretary of the Treasury), and the members of the Federalist-controlled Congress would replace the President of the United States with some form of monarchy.

These Jeffersonian fears are understandable.  Washington often acted like a king.  And everyone knew that Hamilton was an Anglophile.  During the Constitution Convention Hamilton argued that the newly created executive should have a life term.  This, he believed, was the only way of maintaining order and preventing the people from having too much power.  James Madison, who summarized Hamilton’s six-hour speech at the Constitutional Convention, wrote:

As to the Executive, it seemed to be admitted that no good one could be established on Republican principles.  Was not this giving up the merits on this subject.  The Hereditary interest of the King was so interwoven with that of the Nation, and his personal emoluments so great, that he was placed above the danger of being corrupted from abroad–and at the same time was both sufficiently independence at home, one of the weak sides of Republicans was their being liable to foreign influence & corruption.  Men of little character, acquiring great power become easily the tools of intemedling Neibours, Sweden was a striking instance.  The French & English had each their parties during the late Revolution which was effected by the predominant influence of the former.  What is the inference from all these observations?  That we ought to go as far in order to attain stability and permanency, as republican principles will admit.  Let one branch of the Legislature hold their places for life or at least during good behaviour.  Let the executive also be for life.

Of course Hamilton’s ideas were not adopted. The framers decided that the executive would serve a four-year term. But some thought Hamilton had not fully abandoned his earlier commitment to an executive for life.

Below is an excerpt from Hamilton’s response to George Washington  Hamilton argues that Jeffersonian worries about the Federalists turning the presidency into a monarchy are absurd. The real threat of tyranny is not the current administration and its policies, but the possibility that a leader might emerge who would tap into the passions of the people.  I have highlighted the passage used by Adam Schiff this afternoon.

The idea of introducing a monarchy or aristocracy into this Country, by employing the influence and force of a Government continually changing hands, towards it, is one of those visionary things, that none but madmen could meditate and that no wise men will believe.

If it could be done at all, which is utterly incredible, it would require a long series of time, certainly beyond the life of any individual to effect it. Who then would enter into such plot? For what purpose of interest or ambition?

To hope that the people may be cajoled into giving their sanctions to such institutions is still more chimerical. A people so enlightened and so diversified as the people of this Country can surely never be brought to it, but from convulsions and disorders, in consequence of the acts of popular demagogues.

The truth unquestionably is, that the only path to a subversion of the republican system of the Country is, by flattering the prejudices of the people, and exciting their jealousies and apprehensions, to throw affairs into confusion, and bring on civil commotion. Tired at length of anarchy, or want of government, they may take shelter in the arms of monarchy for repose and security.

Those then, who resist a confirmation of public order, are the true Artificers of monarchy—not that this is the intention of the generality of them. Yet it would not be difficult to lay the finger upon some of their party who may justly be suspected. When a man unprincipled in private life desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents, having the advantage of military habits—despotic in his ordinary demeanour—known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty—when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity—to join in the cry of danger to liberty—to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion—to flatter and fall in with all the non sense of the zealots of the day—It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may “ride the storm and direct the whirlwind…”

The truth unquestionably is, that the only path to a subversion of the republican system of the Country is, by flattering the prejudices of the people, and exciting their jealousies and apprehensions, to throw affairs into confusion, and bring on civil commotion. Tired at length of anarchy, or want of government, they may take shelter in the arms of monarchy for repose and security.

Hamilton is saying that the real threat to republicanism is a populist demagogue.  You can see why Schiff thought this passage was appropriate for an impeachment trial.

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

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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?

The Use of Biblical Typologies for Political Gain

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Over at Baptist News Global, Rob Sellers, professor of theology and missions emeritus at Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon Seminary in Abilene, Texas, offers a nice overview of the way that Trump’s evangelical supporters use biblical typologies (King Cyrus, King David, Caesar, Jesus) to advance their political agenda.  (Click here for some background on the image above.  For some reason Bob Smietana’s byline is on this article).

Here is a taste of Sellers’s piece:

Efforts to give Trump the standing of Abraham Lincoln or Ronald Reagan are strained, if not nonsensical, yet they don’t come close to matching the illogical contortions required to compare the president to positive, or even heroic, models in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. This growing tendency should concern all Americans who claim to revere the Bible and desire to live into its vision.

These biblical comparisons to Trump fall into two categories. One, not surprisingly, is those human figures who in their lifetime were a king, emperor or even a queen. Is it only coincidental that all of these counterparts are elite, wealthy and powerful royalty? Where are the ordinary, middle-class citizens, much less the impoverished, marginalized and powerless commoners, with whom this president is identified?

As if to correct the perception that Trump can only reflect the “top one percent” of ancient society, the other, much more startling typology is Jesus himself – a suffering servant “despised and rejected” (Isaiah 53:3), yet whose person and work were acclaimed in messianic phrases, both confessional and laudatory. These references especially satisfy Trump, who sees himself, especially during the impeachment proceedings, as a persecuted victim who is absolutely worthy of adoration and praise.

Read the entire piece here.

On John Roberts and Pettifogging

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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

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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

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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?

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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.

Who is Jay Sekulow?

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The New York Times is profiling the lawyer who will be leading Trump’s impeachment defense.  Read it here.

Now allow me to add a few things to this profile based on our work here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home

First, Sekulow has strong court evangelical connections.  He was (and still may be) friends with Steven Strang, the editor of Charisma Magazine, a Christian magazine that represents Pentecostal and charismatic Christians in the United States.  Many of the so-called evangelical “prophets” who think Trump is the new King Cyrus are regularly featured in Charisma. (See our section on Strang and Independent Network Charismatics in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump). In 2005, Time named Strang one of the “25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America.”

In 1989, Strang was editing Charisma and Sekulow was a thirty-two-year old lawyer coming out of bankruptcy.  Somewhere around May 1, Strang gave Sekulow a copy of Oral Roberts’s latest book How I Learned Jesus Was Not Poor.  Roberts, of course, was the controversial Pentecostal televangelist and president of Oral Roberts University.  Here is a taste of the dustjacket of How I Learned Jesus Was Not Poor: “Christians today commonly believe that Jesus was poor.  And they believe that God wants them to be poor, too.  Oral Roberts says nothing could be further from the truth.  Jesus was not poor, and He wants Christians to prosper in every way, including financially.”  Strang wrote a short message to Sekulow on the first blank page of Roberts’s book.  It read: “This book is a little different in its approach.  But after you read it, I’m sure you’ll agree he has some unique insights into what the Bible says about this important subject.”

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This is exact copy of the book Strang gave to Sekulow

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So perhaps you are wondering how I got this book.  Read this post to find out.

Second, Sekulow, who mostly handles religious liberty cases, has done very well for himself.  (Perhaps Oral Roberts and the prosperity gospelers were right).  In a June 28, 2017 post I suggested that “defending religious liberty is good for business.”  According to a 2005 article in Legal Times, Sekulow used over $2.3 million from a nonprofit organization he controlled to buy two homes and lease a private jet.

And here is a taste of a 2017 article on Sekulow from The Guardian:

More than 15,000 Americans were losing their jobs each day in June 2009, as the US struggled to climb out of a painful recession following its worst financial crisis in decades.

But Jay Sekulow, who is now an attorney to Donald Trump, had a private jet to finance. His law firm was expecting a $3m payday. And six-figure contracts for members of his family needed to be taken care of.

Documents obtained by the Guardian show Sekulow that month approved plans to push poor and jobless people to donate money to his Christian nonprofit, which since 2000 has steered more than $60m to Sekulow, his family and their businesses.

Telemarketers for the nonprofit, Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (Case), were instructed in contracts signed by Sekulow to urge people who pleaded poverty or said they were out of work to dig deep for a “sacrificial gift”.

“I can certainly understand how that would make it difficult for you to share a gift like that right now,” they told retirees who said they were on fixed incomes and had “no extra money” – before asking if they could spare “even $20 within the next three weeks”.

In addition to using tens of millions of dollars in donations to pay Sekulow, his wife, his sons, his brother, his sister-in-law, his niece and nephew and their firms, Case has also been used to provide a series of unusual loans and property deals to the Sekulow family.

Attorneys and other experts specialising in nonprofit law said the Sekulows risked violating a federal law against nonprofits paying excessive benefits to the people responsible for running them. Sekulow declined to detail how he ensured the payments were reasonable.

“This is all highly unusual, and it gives an appearance of conflicts of interest that any nonprofit should want to avoid,” said Daniel Borochoff, the president of CharityWatch, a Chicago-based group that monitors nonprofits.

The Washington Post also covered this story.

Third, Sekulow jams with John Elefante (former of Kansas front man) and John Schlitt (former lead singer of the Christian rock band Petra) in a group called The Jay Sekulow Band.  Watch them cover the Doobie Brothers’s “Jesus is Just Alright”:

 

I Think the Circus Just Came to Washington

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Alan Dershowitz

In case you haven’t heard, Trump has added Ken Starr, Alan Dershowitz, and Robert Ray to his defense team.  I think the days of Dershowitz receiving dinner invitations on Martha’s Vineyard are over.  The shunning will only get worse.

In case Trump needs more lawyers, Robert Shapiro, F. Lee Bailey, and Barry Scheck are still alive.  (Unfortunately for Trump, Johnnie Cochran and Robert Kardashian have passed away).

Let the show begin.  This trial is going to be reality television at its “finest.”

International Bonhoeffer Society Calls for Ending of the Trump Presidency

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The International Bonhoeffer Society is an organization of scholars who study the life and writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and theologian who the Nazi’s hanged after learning of his role in a plot to assassination Adolph Hitler.

On January 15, 2020, the Society issued the following “Statement of Concern” regarding the presidency of Donald Trump:

As grateful recipients, and now custodians, of the theological, ethical, and political legacy of the German pastor-theologian and Nazi resister Dietrich Bonhoeffer, we believe all persons of faith and conscience should prayerfully consider whether our democracy can endure a second term under the presidency of Donald Trump. We believe it cannot. In 2017, we issued a statement expressing our grave concerns about the rise in hateful rhetoric and violence, the rise in deep divisions and distrust in our country, and the weakening of respectful public discourse ushered in by the election of Donald Trump. We articulated the need for Christians to engage in honest and courageous theological reflection in the face of the threat posed by his leadership. Over the last three years, the need for such discernment has grown more urgent.

A hallmark of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s legacy is his insistence that we see the great events of world history from “the view from below” (1942). That is, he urges us to see from the perspective of those who suffer. The policies of the Trump administration both threaten and disempower the most vulnerable members of our society, including people of color, members of the LGBTQ communities, Muslims and other religious minorities, immigrants, refugees, the poor, the marginally employed, and the unemployed. Moreover, Donald Trump has now taken ill-advised military action that raises the specter of war. One of the greatest lessons learned from the history of the Christian churches during Germany’s Third Reich is that it is crucial to respond to threats to human life, integrity, and community when they first appear, and to continue to challenge them.

As Bonhoeffer scholars, religious leaders, and confessing Christians, we have a special responsibility to name crises and discern responsible actions of resistance and healing. We confess our own complicity in the social order that has produced Donald Trump’s presidency, for many of the social and economic injustices we confront predate it. As we take responsibility for these injustices, we resist the policy goals of this administration that have contributed to everdeepening divisions and growing vulnerability among the marginalized sectors of our population, including the dehumanizing treatment of migrants, systematic attempts to strip rights from LGBTQ persons, the increased rapacious destruction of the environment, the marginalization and assault on communities of color especially through voter suppression, and the economic policies that have contributed to the largest disparity of wealth in the nation’s history. We believe that an honest reckoning with these realities must lead to dismantling the dehumanizing ideologies and systemic inequities in which they are rooted.

We believe that one crucial step in this reckoning is ending Donald Trump’s presidency. We do not make this statement lightly. Bonhoeffer’s writings have been influential for Christians from a wide range of churches and political views, but we feel called to address the grave moral concerns we have outlined here that call every one of us to account. During this new year, debates and discussion will continue to be held concerning the best way for America to move forward. We believe that the United States has the human resources to provide capable and willing leaders, and that together a more just and respectful future can be forged. Acknowledging that all human community and leadership is a mixture of blessing and brokenness, health and dysfunction, we stand with all those who believe this country deserves and needs a constitutional and peaceful change in leadership. And we commit ourselves to listen to the call and obey the commands of Jesus as we enter the year 2020.

We make this statement, in part, because we know that Dietrich Bonhoeffer – a theologian and martyr – is often cited in times of political contention. We offer the following theological lessons from Bonhoeffer’s work as a glimpse into the ways he understood his faith and his responsibilities as a citizen in his own times, and to encourage discernment about how these words might resonate for us today:

  • He spoke of God’s freedom and human freedom as “freedom for others” not “freedom from others.” (1932)
  • He preached that the gospel is “the good news of the dawning of the new world, the new order … God’s order,” and therefore it is good news for the poor. (1932)
  • He warned that leaders become “misleaders” when they are interested only in their own power and neglect their responsibilities to serve those whom they govern. (1933)
  • He warned that when a government persecutes its minorities, it has ceased to govern legitimately. (1933)
  • He reminded Christians that the church has an “unconditional obligation toward the victims of any societal order, even if they do not belong to the Christian community.” (1933)
  • He wrote, “For peace must be dared. It is the great venture. … The hour is late. The world is choking with weapons. … The trumpets of war may blow tomorrow. For what are we waiting?” (1934)
  • He believed that Jesus’s commands in the Gospels – like love your neighbor as you love yourself, welcome the stranger, and love your enemies – are to be obeyed in the social and political realm. He wrote: “From the human point of view there are countless possibilities of understanding and interpreting the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus knows only one possibility: simply go and obey.” (1936)
  • He wrote, “Behold God become human … God loves human beings. …Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are. … What we find repulsive … namely, real human beings … this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.” (1941)
  • He wrote from prison, “… one only learns to have faith by living in the full thisworldliness of life. …then one takes seriously no longer one’s own sufferings but rather the suffering of God in the world. Then one stays awake with Christ in Gethsemane. And I think this is faith; this is [metanoia/repentance]. And this is how one becomes a human being, a Christian. … How should one become arrogant over successes or shaken by one’s failures when one shares in God’s suffering in the life of this world?” (1944)
  • He wrote from prison, “How do we go about being ‘religionless-worldly’ Christians, how can we be [ecclesia/church], those who are called out, without understanding ourselves religiously as privileged, but instead seeing ourselves as belonging wholly to the world?” (1944)

Signed by the Board of Directors, International Bonhoeffer Society – English Language Section,

Jennifer M. McBride, President
Lori Brandt Hale, Vice President
John Matthews, Secretary
H. Gaylon Barker, Treasurer
Christian Collins Winn
Stephen Haynes
Matt Jones
David Krause
Michael Mawson
Dianne Rayson
Robert Vosloo
Reggie Williams
Philip Ziegler
Keith Clements, Emeritus
Barry Harvey, Emeritus
J. Patrick Kelley, Emeritus
Michael Lukens, Emeritus 

NOTE: I added the links to these names.

Sojourners covered this story here.

It is worth noting that one of America’s most popular Bonhoeffer biographers, Eric Metaxas, is a Trump supporter.  His biography has been widely criticized by Bonhoeffer scholars.  The most recent critique of Metaxas came from Rhodes College professor Stephen Haynes.