President Donald Trump speaks at the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action Leadership Forum in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Friday, April 26, 2019. (Michael Conroy | Associated Press)

President Donald Trump speaks at the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action Leadership Forum in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Friday, April 26, 2019. (Michael Conroy | Associated Press)

Opinion: Impeachment advice from Sen. Ted Stevens

Congress can find a bipartisan way to formerly condemn Trump.

  • Tuesday, April 30, 2019 9:20pm
  • Opinion

Democrats in U.S. House haven’t impeached President Donald Trump. But soon after the redacted Mueller report was released, a Guardian news article asked if the eight current Republican senators who voted to convict President Bill Clinton for obstructing justice will apply the same standards to Trump.

Sen. Ted Stevens is another Republican who found Clinton guilty of that charge. The insightful reasoning behind our late senator’s decision offers both parties an honorable path forward as they consider the evidence of obstruction presented by Mueller.

In one important regard, Stevens differed from most of his Republican colleagues. He didn’t believe Clinton’s guilt warranted removing him from office. The context in which he defended that position began with imploring the Senate “not denigrate the role of oaths and truth in our society.”

[Opinion: Doing nuclear energy right requires global paradigm shift]

The truth was never in question. The case presented to Congress by the independent counsel became the basis for a joint resolution proposed by Democrats. Stevens noted they agreed Clinton had “egregiously failed” in his obligation “to set an example of high moral standards and conduct himself in a manner that fosters respect for the truth.” That he “made false statements” to the grand jury and “wrongfully took steps to delay discovery of the truth.” And that his conduct deserved “censure and condemnation” by Congress and the American people.

House Republicans rejected the resolution and instead passed two of the four articles impeachment they drafted.

“The action of the House of Representatives was not partisan,” Stevens argued. “But it is obvious from the final vote that future generations could reach such a conclusion.” That’s because on not one charge did more than five Democrats support impeachment.

A party line vote like that in the Senate, Steven warned, would undermine the two oaths they swore to uphold.

The first — to “support and defend the constitution of the United States” — he explained as a principle obligation “to protect the separation of powers of our three branches of Government.” In other words, Congress must act as an independent check on presidential power, not a partisan extension of or enemy of the executive branch.

[Opinion: Override Trump’s veto of US involvement in Yemeni war]

Democrats failed that test. On both charges, they all voted to acquit Clinton.

The second oath was to hand down “impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws.” That, however, was an impossibly high threshold. The prosecutors were all Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee. The 100 senator jurists were all biased by their party affiliation. And they all had extensive prior knowledge about the subject matter, the parties and the prospective witnesses that would be grounds for removal from a normal jury.

Stevens wasn’t immune to such judicial prejudice. But having served as a defense attorney, U.S. attorney and solicitor of the Interior Department, he believed the Senate’s impeachment trial must abide by the spirit of the law and rules of civil procedure in federal court cases. Therefore, to the best of his ability, he weighed the evidence independent of the political advantage it offered his party.

On the obstructing justice charge, Stevens was among the 49 Republicans who found Clinton guilty. But he explained he wouldn’t have done so if he’d been casting the deciding vote to remove the president from office. Referring to external threats, he said that “could destabilize our nation — leaving him in office will not.”

Stevens believed his decision honored the truth expressed by the joint congressional resolution to censure Clinton that was offered by Democrats. And in a defiant but honorable fashion he proclaimed “To hell with the politics … I have done my best to live by the oaths that I took, and to do what I think is right for the nation.”

What would Stevens say about impeaching Trump? I’m sure he’d fulfill his constitutional duty to examine the credible evidence that the president wrongly attempted to obstruct justice. And I think he’d expect the Senate to acquit him along partisan lines. But he’d be more concerned it would further divide the country and allow the Russians to turn that into a destabilizing force against our democracy.

With Stevens as their guide, Congress can find a bipartisan way to formally condemn Trump. Doing so will go a long way to restoring dignity to the oaths and truths that Americans aspire to live by.

Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and retired civil engineer with more than 25 years of experience working in the public sector.

• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and retired civil engineer with more than 25 years of experience working in the public sector.

More in Opinion

The Alaska Capitol on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023, in Juneau, Alaska. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)
Alaska Voices: Legislature deserves credit

A special session shouldn’t have been necessary, but at least it was only one day instead of 30 days.

Alaska State Troopers logo.
Alaska Voices: Please be safe, courteous, and legal as you fish in Alaska this summer

As you head out to hit the water this year, here are a few tips to help you have a safe and citation free season

An observer makes an entry in the Fish Map App on Prince of Wales Island. (Photo by Lee House/courtesy Salmon State)
Alaska Voices: Document Alaska rivers with new fish map app

The app provides a way for everyday Alaskans to document rivers home to wild salmon, whitefish, eulachon and other ocean-going fish — and earn money doing it

(Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Sustainability report is a greenwashing effort

Report leaves out “the not-so-pretty.”

Pictured is an adult Chinook salmon swimming in Ship Creek, Anchorage. (Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Voices of the Peninsula: Proactive measures key to king salmon recovery

I have been sport fishing king salmon along the eastern shores of Cook Inlet and in the Kenai River since 1977

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Honoring the fallen on Memorial Day

As we honor the men and women who fell in service to our nation, we must keep their memories alive through their stories

Shana Loshbaugh (Courtesy photo)
History conference seeking input from peninsula people

The Alaska Historical Society will hold its annual conference on the central peninsula this fall

Coach Dan Gensel (left) prepares to get his ear pierced to celebrate Soldotna High School’s first team-sport state championship on Friday, Febr. 12, 1993 in Soldotna, Alaska. Gensel, who led the Soldotna High School girls basketball team to victory, had promised his team earlier in the season that he would get his ear pierced if they won the state title. (Rusty Swan/Peninsula Clarion)
Remembering my friend, Dan Gensel

It’s a friendship that’s both fixed in time and eternal

(Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: The false gods in America’s gun culture

HB 61 is a solution in search of a problem.

KPBSD Superintendent Clayton Holland
Reflecting on a year of growth and resilience

A message from the superintendent

Jim Cockrell, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety. (Courtesy photo/Office of Gov. Mike Dunleavy)
Honoring the 69 peace officers who have died serving Alaskans

Alaska Peace Officer Memorial Day honors the brave men and women who have given their lives in the line of duty

Rep. Maxine Dibert (Image via Alaska State Legislature)
Opinion: The economic case for a significant investment in education

As our oil production and related revenue have declined, our investments in education have remained flat