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Long Islanders want to hear from impeachment witnesses 

Long Islanders reacted as President Donald Trump's impeachment trial began in the U.S. Senate. (Credit: Morgan Campbell)

Barbara Pabisz, of Lindenhurst, voted for President Donald Trump in 2016. But as Trump's impeachment trial proceeds in the U.S. Senate — and the White House resists efforts by Democrats to subpoena witnesses and new documents — Pabisz, 62, said she was sure of one thing:

“I just think there is so much arguing back and forth we need to find out what the truth is and deal with it,” said Pabisz, a veterinary technician. “I think they should subpoena the witnesses … I wouldn’t be happy without it. Everything should be put on the table and let’s find out what happened.”

That view was echoed in multiple interviews with randomly selected Long Islanders last week.

Some were ardent Trump supporters or passionate detractors, some weary of a political environment that felt to them like a political mosh pit. Some saw the trial as a distraction or a coup, while others saw the country’s future hanging in the balance.

But most said they were willing or eager to hear from witnesses with firsthand information about the president’s actions, despite his defense team’s desire for a speedy trial and quick acquittal in the GOP-run Senate.

National polls show a majority of voters share that opinion.

A national Washington Post -ABC News poll in December found 7 of 10 respondents wanted the Senate to hear from witnesses.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released last Wednesday showed about 72% of adults — including 84% of Democrats and 69% of Republicans — agreed the Senate trial should allow witnesses "with firsthand knowledge" of the charges against Trump.

Trump supporter Deborah Webster, 66, a retired health care worker who lives in Franklin Square, said she thought of the impeachment battle as a product of “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” But she said she hoped to hear from witnesses, “because I think his name should be cleared by whoever knows the truth.”

Diane Mazarakis, 62, of East Moriches, a retired civil servant, said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “has an obligation to be impartial in reviewing the evidence."

Mazarakis, who declined to say who she supported in 2016, said, "to dismiss or acquit without reviewing the evidence is abdicating the responsibilities of his position. It’s unconscionable for him to dismiss the evidence no matter where the evidence leads.”

If public officials misbehave, “they need to be held accountable because this is America, and we are Americans,” Mazarakis said.

Trump refused to release any documents or allow his close aides to testify at the House of Representatives' impeachment hearings last month. The Democratic-controlled House passed two articles of impeachment against Trump, charging him with abuse of power for pressuring Ukraine to take actions that would smear political rival Joe Biden, a Democratic candidate for president, and obstruction of Congress.

The Senate, now in the midst of a trial on those charges, will vote soon on whether to subpoena those witnesses and documents. Four Republican senators would have to cross party lines for subpoenas to be issued.

Khan Malik, 34, of Medford, a U.S. Air Force veteran who works in tech support for a software company, sees high stakes in the impeachment battle.

Malik recalled that his family came to the United States from Pakistan after his father was imprisoned for writing a political poem. He sees the impeachment trial as an assertion of the rule of law and about upholding the norms of democracy.

“You have to fear what comes next,” Malik said. Nations “implode from within. We have to protect our democracy. It’s about making sure everyone is held accountable.”

Some of Trump’s staunch supporters say the witness they most want to see and hear is the whistleblower who first reported the July 25 phone conversation between Trump and the new president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, that triggered the impeachment inquiry.

During the call, Trump pressed Zelensky to investigate Biden, a former vice president, and his son Hunter, who reportedly was paid large sums as a member of the board of a Ukraine energy company.

Trump also pressed Zelensky to probe an unsubstantiated theory that Ukraine, rather than Russia, interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Nearly $400 million in already approved military aid to help Ukraine in its battle with Russian-supported separatists was held up on orders of the White House Office of Management and Budget, and released in September only after a whistleblower complaint became public.

More than a dozen U.S. officials and diplomats testified before the House, despite Trump’s opposition, about a prolonged administration pressure campaign directed at Ukraine.

“I want to hear from the whistleblower,” said Jimmy Stagno, 62, of Massapequa. “If a Democrat was the whistleblower and it was all hearsay, then it would mean nothing to me.”

Stagno, who works in ticket sales, said he would feel differently if the whistleblower were a Republican, although so far he was unconvinced Trump had overstepped his authority or would be removed from office. 

“Of course, this is America and I want to see the evidence," Stagno said. "I’m a Trump supporter and if he did wrong, he should be held accountable.”

The interviews with Nassau and Suffolk voters suggest the intensity of feeling about the president could make it difficult for any trial testimony to sway his most ardent supporters and detractors.

Thomas Dinnigan, 28, of Shirley, who works in construction, said he doesn’t have much time to follow the ins and outs of the trial but saw no reason to impeach Trump.

“He’s doing his job as a president," Dinnigan said. "The Democrats are just trying to get one of themselves into office.”

Carl Marra, 77, of Franklin Square, donned Trump's signature red "Make America Great Again" cap that he keeps on a coat rack in the Elmont office of his concrete and masonry company.

“I don’t think he should be impeached, because he’s doing well with the economy, the stock market and infrastructure," Marra said. "The Democrats are after him because they can’t beat him … he’s going to run in 2020 and he’s going to win the election hands down.”

Trump's detractors are as passionate about getting him out of office, and hope that the impeachment trial would help make clear why.

Lee Kessler, 72, a retired caseworker for Nassau County who lives in Roslyn Heights, said she hoped “we resolve that Trump is not the caliber person in ethics, morals, knowledge, values to be heading this country."

"He's a liar, a thief, a cheat," Wendy Herz, 60, a Roslyn Heights homemaker. "I think we're in a constitutional crisis if Mitch McConnell doesn't allow witnesses."

Savas Alatis, 62, of Middle Island, who said he used to like Trump before he “realized what he was like," had equally harsh words for McConnell.

"I almost hate Mitch McConnell as much as I hate Donald Trump," said Alatis, who has worked as a cinematographer and teacher. "He’s helping Trump pull off this horrible presidency by supporting everything he’s done.”

Cecil Peebles, 56, of Freeport, who works for a nonprofit helpingwomen find employment, said Trump “says and does whatever he wants to do with no accountability or repercussions and that’s not right.”

The division and the cynicism that colors attitudes toward politics has left some wondering why they should be interested in an outcome they see as preordained, and a distraction that overshadows much else of urgency in the country.

Retired golf course manager Rick Jurgens, 66, of Miller Place, said while he, too, would like to see witnesses with firsthand knowledge of what went on — and wants  accountability and facts — he fears the process dragging on “forever."

"It’s a distraction for the well-being of the country," Jurgens said. He doubts a Senate trial would “go anywhere. It’s going to get held up in the Senate so is there a need for me to get all excited about it one way or another? It’s been a lot of rhetoric and bantering back and forth and seems more of a political volleyball.”

Democrats, he said, would try to make the president “look poorly and the Republicans are doing their best to make him look better, or cover up.”

He paused. “It’s a distraction but probably a necessary evil. There very well could be grounds for impeachment.”

A registered Republican, he said he chose not to vote for anyone for president in 2016.

But next time, he said, he would vote against Trump.

Then there is Jonathan Quinn, a 23-year-old restaurant server from Middle Island, who represents another, probably significant, chunk of Americans. He describes himself as pretty clueless about President Trump’s impeachment. He’s not following it and has no opinion on how it should go, he said recently in a Medford shopping center.

“Honestly I don’t look into it because it’s horrifying to look into," Quinn said. "I keep my head low. All it does is start arguments.”

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