Turning to ex-Sen. John Warner, among the last of a breed, as Trump trial looms

December 19, 2019 12:01 am

President Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Battle Creek, Michigan, on Dec. 18, 2019. (Andrew Roth/ Michigan Advance)

We have few honest brokers in Congress anymore.

It’s one of the most inarguable statements about the lawmakers sitting in judgment of Donald Trump. The House of Representatives, controlled by Democrats, just approved two articles of impeachment against the president because Trump urged a foreign nation – Ukraine – to dig up dirt on Joe Biden. The former vice president could be the Democratic Party standard-bearer against Trump in 2020.

It’s just the third time in U.S. history a president faces removal for “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors,” following impeachment against Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. The Senate acquitted both. (Richard Nixon resigned before the full House could vote on him.)

The tally Wednesday night in the U.S. House was almost exclusively along party lines. No Republicans voted for impeachment, and hardly any Democrats voted against. The two articles were for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Trump deserves this ignominy. Nor was I surprised that no Republican lawmakers thought his strong-arm tactics were a problem. The Washington Post reported that Republican Rep. Barry Loudermilk, of Georgia, even compared Democrats to the man who sentenced Jesus to death.


“When Jesus was falsely accused of treason, Pontius Pilate gave Jesus the opportunity to face his accusers,” Loudermilk said on the House floor Wednesday. “During that sham trial, Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus than the Democrats have afforded this president in this process.”

Yep, the congressman equated Trump with Jesus. Just stop.

I sought out former Sen. John Warner earlier Wednesday. The five-term, moderate Virginia Republican was someone you could trust to place country above party. He voted against placing Ronald Reagan-appointee Robert Bork on the Supreme Court and was part of a moderate “gang of 14” in 2006 that brokered a deal involving confirmation of controversial GOP judicial nominees.

He was among a vanishing breed — now basically extinct — who grappled fairly with the issues facing the nation. It didn’t matter if a “D” or a “R” followed their names.

Warner was one of several Republican senators who split votes on two articles of impeachment against Clinton, a Democrat, in early 1999 during the Monica Lewinsky scandal: not guilty for lying to the grand jury, but guilty for obstruction of justice. Some Republicans even voted not guilty on both counts.

Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) and former ranking member John Warner (R-VA) listen to Admiral Mike Mullen’s confirmation hearing before the Armed Services Committee to become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, July 31, 2007. (United States Senate Committee on Armed Services via Wikipedia)

Warner is now 92. He told me Wednesday so many of his colleagues were military veterans, like himself, during his time in office.

They had learned “the very fundamental lessons of duty, honor, country,” Warner said. That shaped their views of what was important, and what should take precedence as they hashed out legislation and weighed other tasks.

“Clinton’s problems were personal,” Warner told me. “He admitted them … and we went about our business.”

Trump’s actions, though, go to the heart of whether he used his political office for personal gain – rather than putting “America first,” as the president is so fond of saying.

The two counts against Trump will now go to the GOP-controlled Senate. Two-thirds of the senators would need to find him guilty to eject him from office. Trump will have no trouble remaining as commander-in-chief, though impeachment will stain his legacy.

Warner also offered this advice: “You should allow additional evidence on both sides to be brought in. … The president has blocked a number of individuals from testifying.”

Return to the House for a moment: If representatives hadn’t impeached, in a case where the president pressured another nation to create a scandal against a domestic rival, what would it take to use this harshest of constitutional tools? Video proof of Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin conspiring against America? Copies of documents with Trump’s signature turning over parts of the nation to al-Qaida?

But I digress.

Facts don’t matter to Republicans in this saga. The statesmen and stateswomen America needs to assess these charges fairly — to allow reasonable people to follow their lead — simply don’t exist nowadays.

It’s a situation that undermines our government, and our country.

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Roger Chesley
Roger Chesley

Longtime columnist and editorial writer Roger Chesley worked at the (Newport News) Daily Press and The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot from 1997 through 2018. He previously worked at newspapers in Cherry Hill, N.J., and Detroit. Reach him at [email protected]