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Solemn moment at the Capitol

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, with committee

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, with committee chairs and House impeachment managers, signs the articles of impeachment during an engrossment ceremony prior to them being walked across the Capitol to the Senate in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC on Wednesday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate trial against President Donald J. Trump, on the charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, will begin on Jan. 21. Credit: SHAWN THEW/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock/SHAWN THEW/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

For the third time in the nearly 244-year history of the republic, the deed was done. The House of Representatives sent articles of impeachment to the U.S. Senate, as they did against President Andrew Johnson and as they did against President Bill Clinton. This time the central tenet of the Constitution’s balance of powers was evoked against President Donald Trump.

The formal rituals and pomp highlight the gravity of the moment. Underlying it all are concerns so substantial that a majority of House members have filed charges against the president, and the Senate will put him on trial. On Wednesday, Democratic impeachment managers walked the articles of impeachment to the Senate, the charges in oversized blue folders. The ceremony was symbolic of the authority by which Democrats continued their attempt to instill presidential accountability. That power comes from the Constitution and decades of traditions, traced back to the nation’s founders who foresaw the need for this rare but invaluable process.

This time, the House, controlled by the president’s opposing party, charged Trump with abusing power by seeking to pressure Ukraine to aid his reelection campaign. There is considerable evidence, which seems to be increasing daily, for the charges: that the administration held up nearly $400 million in military aid approved by Congress for Ukraine to fight the Russian military on its border. Trump is accused of demanding in return that Ukraine announce an investigation into Joe Biden, a potential 2020 challenger, and Biden’s son, Hunter.

The House also charges obstruction of the investigation because the president has blocked key aides from testifying and has refused to release documents. 

The Senate, controlled by the president’s party, must conduct an honest and fair trial.

That has to include testimony from witnesses like former National Security Adviser John Bolton and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. 

We’re not too hopeful. Washington was the scene of a dispiriting split screen on Wednesday. While Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke of crossing “a very important threshold in American history” and the reality that impeachment cannot be erased, Trump was calling the process a “hoax” at a trade deal signing. 

The charges are serious. And more evidence of disturbing behavior has emerged. New documents from indicted Rudy Giuliani-associate Lev Parnas suggest an element of surveillance on then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who fell out of favor with Trump and was pushed from her position. 

This is a sober moment for the country and it comes at a time of stunning partisan divide. Neither side trusts the other’s motives or rhetoric, sometimes with good reason. That is why the careful observation of impeachment protocol laid out by the founders and political forefathers is so important.

These rituals, we hope, will attract the nation’s attention. Impeachment is a difficult process, and there are many rules to ensure the outcome is justified. May the process be fair and forthright, and respected, as this moment in American history unfolds.

— The editorial board

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