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Fair impeachment trial is the only way forward

Impeachment manager Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., speaks during

Impeachment manager Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., speaks during the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Tuesday. Credit: AP

The public will pass ultimate judgment on President Donald Trump and members of Congress involved in the impeachment proceedings. As you watch the unfolding drama, keep some things in mind.

Democrats don't like Trump. They've made that clear. Take that issue off the table. And take the Mueller report off the table. What is happening in the Senate must stand or fall on its own merits.

If Tuesday's arguments over trial rules are any indication, you will continue to hear outright fabrications and attempts at misdirection from the president's defenders. Take that off the table as well. That will only interfere with your ability to examine this trial with open eyes and a sober mind. Stick with the facts.

This trial is about one specific situation — the president's dealings with Ukraine. House Democrats have constructed a strong case, even without the witnesses and documents Trump has blocked. Trump did, in fact, ask Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to announce an investigation of a possible political opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter, and Trump did block critical military aid to Ukraine to pressure Zelensky.

That has been established beyond reasonable doubt. Not even Trump's fiercest supporters have made a persuasive counter-argument. The issue for the Senate, then, is to decide whether Trump's actions warrant removing him from office?

His desire to kneecap a political rival by extorting a foreign country was wrong; it violated a federal statute designed to stop exactly what he did.  It's clear he has lied about it and hid evidence that might further implicate him. Many people inside and outside his administration were complicit in the effort, or at least knew about it. Still, there is room for senators sitting as jurors to say, Trump's behavior was wrong but not reason enough to throw him out. One conclusion they cannot reach, though, is that his actions weren't wrong.

The decision facing the 100 senators is grave. The implications are enormous. That's why the oath they took to render justice impartially was so important. That's why they need to be certain in their judgment. That's why the trial must be complete and fair. A fair trial might not increase the chances of a fair verdict in our highly politicized nation. But it would give all Americans as full a record as possible to let them decide not only Trump's fate, but whether their senators fulfilled their duty.

That's why it's so disappointing that moves to subpoena documents and witnesses blocked by the president were defeated in party-line votes. Since the House adopted the articles of impeachment on Dec. 18, evidence has continued to surface. Former National Security Adviser John Bolton, who has firsthand evidence of the kind Republicans have sought, has said he is willing to testify if subpoenaed. When the chance to vote on witnesses and documents arises during the trial, senators must vote yes.

A thorough and honest proceeding is what the founders intended and what the American people deserve. Fairness is the bedrock of American justice. Without it, the system is a sham.

Keep that in mind, too.

— The editorial board