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Give President Trump a thorough and just trial in the Senate

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., joined by

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., joined by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., left, and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, right, dismisses the impeachment process against President Donald Trump saying, "I'm not an impartial juror. This is a political process," as he meets with reporters at the Capitol in Washington on Tuesday. Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite

The House of Representatives made history Wednesday evening in voting to impeach President Donald Trump, a dramatic and appropriate exclamation point to a process that is not quite three months old. But many Americans already are exhausted by it. Remarkably few minds seem to have changed as to the president's culpability. Many just want the process to be over.

We get it. The inquiry at times has been enervating, not inspiring. Trump's impeachment has become another log swallowed by partisan fire. But we all must resist the temptation to view it that way. The issues here are grave. Their resolution will have much to say about the future of our democracy.

All of us should remember that democracy is difficult. It requires participation from all citizens. It cannot function when people close their minds and eyes and ears. That's also true of our elected representatives. Some have not acted with competence or open-mindedness.

Considerable evidence has been collected, and a fact pattern established that predates Trump's attempts to condition some $400 million of military aid to Ukraine on that country's president announcing an investigation of potential 2020 presidential foe Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Three years ago, Trump invited Russia to get involved in the 2016 election. And it did, to great effect, and Trump never condemned that interference. More recently, he asked China to probe the Bidens.

The other article, which alleges that Trump obstructed Congress in its Ukraine investigation, is in some ways the more serious charge. Trump's refusal to provide any documents or make available any witnesses from the executive branch to testify before Congress is troubling. It, too, has precedent — the 10 instances of presidential obstruction found by special counsel Robert Mueller in his probe of Russia's election meddling. This article goes to the heart of our democracy, our system of checks and balances. If Congress does not challenge Trump's abominable behavior, it will destroy its power to conduct necessary oversight and give carte blanche to other presidents to seek personal favors from other countries without penalties of any kind.

The process has been akin to a grand jury proceeding, and what the House found is certainly enough to warrant a trial in the Senate. The evidence must be aired and evaluated by the 100 senators and the nation. Hopefully, more evidence — one way or the other — also will be presented and more witnesses will testify. Only then can Trump's fate be decided.

We have had misgivings about the process. We wish House Democrats had moved more deliberately, to strengthen both articles. They should have pursued Trump's stonewalling in court, where a Supreme Court ruling might have forced Trump to deliver documents and allow testimony from, for example, former National Security Adviser John Bolton and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. Further defiance would have cemented the case for Trump's obstruction.

Republicans have refused to acknowledge facts, instead spinning unmoored counter-narratives incubated in an irresponsible alternative media environment that have no basis in truth and have been debunked repeatedly. Democrats have stumbled at times in making coherent arguments, and must acknowledge that Hunter Biden's presence on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company while his father was vice president was problematic. Both parties must accept conclusions by Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz about the FBI's Russia investigation that they have ignored or decried; Republicans must accept that the probe was legitimate and not tainted by bias, and Democrats must acknowledge that the agency made many errors in securing wiretaps of Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

What looms in the Senate is more troubling. A senator's oath as an impeachment juror requires a promise to "do impartial justice." Yet right from the start, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised "total coordination" with the White House and said there is "zero chance" Trump  will be removed from office. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Lindsey Graham said he has made up his mind that Trump should be acquitted, and he rejected the idea that he must be a "fair juror." All this after the GOP screamed "bias" during the Democratic-run inquiry in the House. One moderate Republican, Rep. Francis Rooney of Pennsylvania, said he has been criticized by Trump supporters for saying he cannot judge the president until he hears all the facts and evidence. That's a scary sign of the nation's mindset.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi should delay sending articles of impeachment to McConnell until he agrees to principles that assure a fair trial with witnesses. Republicans can't have it both ways. They can't say Trump is not guilty because there is no direct evidence he withheld military aid to press Ukraine to announce a Biden investigation, then say they're not interested in calling as witnesses the very people who could supply direct evidence, whether it implicates or exonerates the president. Additional witnesses should be limited to those whose testimony relates to Trump's actions — like personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, whose direct access to Trump, admission this week of his disturbing role in the ousting of Marie Yovanovitch as ambassador to Ukraine, and continued peddling of conspiracy theories regarding Ukraine and the Bidens, demand public airing and examination.

Our nation is fragile. Members of  the Senate need to stop worrying about the next election. Only  a thorough and just trial in the Senate has a chance to convince Americans that whatever the outcome, this nation adhered to its constitutional principles.

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