Senator King Will Vote Guilty on Both Articles of Impeachment

Published: Feb. 4, 2020 at 6:56 PM EST
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Today, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) announced that he will vote to find President Donald Trump guilty of both articles of impeachment when a final vote is recorded tomorrow. During a speech on the Senate floor, Senator King cited the President’s clearly proven effort to convince a foreign power to investigate a political rival in exchange for the release of Congressionally-appropriated funds, his blanket stonewalling of Congress’s impeachment authority, and the fundamental erosion of our system of checks and balances if the President is allowed to use his office to pursue personal political gain or ignore Congressional oversight with no consequence.

Senator King’s full speech can be read below.

Madam President, I’d like to share my remarks not only with my colleagues today, but more so with those who come after us, and I want to touch on four issues – the trial itself, the President’s actions as outlined in impeachment Articles 1 and 2, and finally, the implications of our decision this week on the future of our government and our country.

First, the trial. Weeks ago, I joined my colleagues in swearing an oath to ‘do impartial justice’ – and since that time, I’ve done everything possible to fulfill that responsibility: paid full attention, taken three legal pads’ worth of notes, reviewed press accounts, and had conversations with my colleagues, and citizens in my home state of Maine. The one question I got most frequently back home was how we could proceed without calling relevant witnesses and securing the documents that would confirm – or deny – the charges against the President which are at the heart of this matter. But for the first time in American history, we failed to do so. We robbed ourselves, and the American people, of a full record of this president’s misuse of his office. This failure stains this institution, undermines tomorrow’s verdict, and creates a precedent that will haunt those who come after us and indeed will haunt the country.

But, now we’re here -- left to make this decision without the facts concealed by the White House and left concealed by the votes of this body last Friday. This was not a trial in any real sense; it was instead an argument based upon a partial, but still damning, record. How much better it could have been had we had access to all the facts, facts which will eventually come out, but too late to inform our decisions.

As to the Articles themselves, I should begin by saying that I have always been a conservative on the subject of impeachment. For the better part of the last 3 years, I have argued, both publicly and privately, against the idea. Impeachment should not be a tool to remove a president on the basis of policy disagreements; the President’s lawyers are right when they argue that this would change our system of government and dangerously weaken any president.

But this reluctance must give way if it requires my turning a blind eye to what happened last summer. The events of last summer were no policy disagreement; they were a deliberate series of acts whereby the President sought to use the power of his office in his own personal and political interest, specifically by pressuring a government of a strategic partner – a partner, by the way, significantly dependent upon our moral and financial support – pressuring that government to take action against one of the President’s political rivals and thereby undermine the integrity of the coming American election.

And this last point is important. In normal circumstances, the argument of the President’s defenders that impeachment is not necessary because the election is less than a year away would be persuasive. I can understand that. But the President was attempting to undermine that very election – and he gives every indication that he will continue to do so. He has expressed no understanding that he did anything wrong, let alone anything resembling remorse. Impeachment is not a punishment, it’s a prevention, and the only way, unfortunately, to keep an unrepentant president from repeating his wrongful actions is removal. And this president has made it plain that he will listen to nothing else.

Article One charges a clear abuse of power in inviting foreign interference with the upcoming election. The President tasked his personal attorney to work with a foreign head of state, to induce an investigation – or just the mere announcement of an investigation – that could harm one of the President’s top political rivals. And to compel the Ukrainians to do so, he unilaterally withheld nearly 400 million dollars appropriated by Congress to help them fend off Russia’s naked and relentless aggression. The President’s backers claim that this was done in an effort to root out corruption – so why not use official channels? Why did he focus on no examples of corruption generally other than ones directly affecting his political fortunes? And why did he not make public the withholding of funds, as the executive branch typically does when seeking to leverage federal monies for policy goals?

No matter how many times the President claims, his phone call with President Zelensky wasn’t perfect – it simply wasn’t. He clearly solicited foreign interference in our elections; he disregarded a Congressionally-passed law; he imperiled the security of a key American partner; he undermined our own national security. And if he was simply pursuing our national interest rather than his own, why was his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani put in charge? Why was Rudy Giuliani mentioned in that phone call? Put bluntly: no matter the defense, and as a majority of the members of this body apparently now recognize, President Trump placed his own political interests above the national interests he has sworn to protect. And as I mentioned, he has shown no sign that he will stop doing so when the next occasion arises, as it surely will.

The implications of acquitting the President on Article One are serious: this President will likely do it again, and future presidents will be unbound from any restraints on the use of the world’s most powerful political office for personal political gain. We are moving dangerously close to an elected monarch – the very thing the Framers feared most.

Article 2, to me, is even more serious in its long-term implications. Article 1 concerns an incident – an egregious misuse of power, to be sure, but a specific set of actions in time – a scheme is the most appropriate description – which took place over the course of the last year. Article 2, however, which concerns the president’s wholesale obstruction of the impeachment process itself, goes to the heart of Congress’s Constitutionally-derived power to investigate wrongdoing by this or any future president.

I do not arrive at this conclusion lightly. I take seriously the White House counsel’s argument that there is a legitimate separation of powers issue here, that executive privilege is real (although I have to note it was never actually asserted in this case), and that there must be limits on Congress’s ability to intrude upon the executive function. But in this case, despite counsel’s questions about which authorizing resolution passed when or whether the House should have more vigorously pursued judicial remedies, the record is clear and is summarized in the White House letter to the House in early October – that the President and his Administration “cannot participate” in the impeachment process. To me, it is this ongoing blanket refusal to cooperate in any way – no witnesses, no documents, no evidence of any kind – that undermines the assertion that a categorical refusal – with overt witness intimidation thrown in – was based upon any legitimate, narrowly tailored, legal or Constitutional privilege.

No prior president has ever taken such a position – and the argument that this blanket obstruction should be tested in court is severely undercut by the Administration’s recent argument that the courts have no jurisdiction over such disputes – and that the remedy for stonewalling Congress, is – you guessed it – impeachment. They argued that in the federal court in Washington this week.

Interestingly, the first assertion of executive privilege was by George Washington, when the House sought background documents on the Jay Treaty. Washington rested his refusal to produce those documents on the idea that the House had no jurisdiction over matters of foreign policy, but interestingly, Washington did specify one instance where the House would have a legitimate claim on the documents’ release. What was the instance? You guessed it – impeachment.

If allowed to stand, this position – that the president, any president, can use his or her position to totally obstruct the production of evidence of their own wrongdoing eviscerates the impeachment power entirely and it compromises the ongoing authority of Congress to provide any meaningful oversight of the executive whatsoever.

For these and other reasons, Madam President, I will vote guilty on both articles of impeachment.

A final note. Madam President, the Congress has been committing slow-motion institutional suicide for the past 70 years, abdicating its Constitutional authorities and responsibilities one-by-one. The war power, effectively in the hands of the President since 1942; authority over trade with other countries, superseded by unilateral, presidentially-imposed tariffs on friends and foes alike; and even the power of the purse, which a supine Congress ceded to the President last year, enabling him to rewrite our duly-passed appropriations bill to substitute his priorities for ours.

And now, this.

The structure of our Constitution is based upon the bedrock principle that the concentration of power is dangerous, that power divided and shared is the best long-term assurance of liberty. To the extent we compromise that principle, give up the powers the Framers bestowed upon us, and acquiesce to the growth of an imperial presidency, we are failing. We are failing our oaths, we are failing our most fundamental responsibility, we are failing the American people.

History may record this week as a turning point in the American experiment – the day that we stepped away from the Framers’ vision, enabled a new and unbounded presidency, and made ourselves observers rather than full participants in the shaping of our country’s future. I sincerely hope that I am wrong in all this, but deeply fear that I am right.

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