GOP senators have 2 very different options for acquitting Trump — and they’re both damning: legal writers
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina addresses the National Guard Association of the United States 138th General Conference, Baltimore, Md., Sept. 11, 2016. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jim Greenhill)

During President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, Senate Republicans have offered a variety of arguments against removing him from office. Legal writers Ryan Goodman and Danielle Schulkin examine the different strains of anti-impeachment thought among Senate Republicans in a February 3 article for Just Security, noting the ways in which they are problematic and short-sighted.


Senate Republicans, Goodman and Schulkin write, “can acquit the president claiming they believe what he did was wrong but not impeachable. Or they can acquit claiming they believe there’s insufficient evidence to prove the allegations against the president.”

Goodman and Schulkin offer two anti-impeachment options. Option 1: “claim that allegations against Trump are proven, but his conduct is not impeachable.” And Option 2: “claim that allegations against Trump are not proven.”

The legal writers cite Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee as the most prominent example of Option 1. When Alexander announced that he would be voting against featuring witnesses in the trial, he acknowledged that Democrats have proved their Ukraine-related allegations against Trump — yet maintained that the president’s actions, although deserving of criticism, weren’t impeachable.

“The first path — most prominently adopted by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) — concludes that the president is guilty on the facts: President Trump withheld military aid in exchange for an investigation into a political rival,”  Goodman and Schulkin  explain. “The House managers’ case, in that important respect, is proven. But to Sen. Alexander and others, such proof is not enough.”

Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Alexander said of Trump’s actions with Ukraine, “I think it was wrong, (but) what (Trump) did is a long way from treason, bribery, high crimes and misdemeanors.”

For Republicans, the problem with Option 1, Goodman and Schulkin write, is that “President Trump’s expected exclamation — exoneration! — will ring hollow given the bipartisan conclusion on the factual record: he did it.”

Goodman and Schulkin point to Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana as examples of Option 2: those GOP senators, the writers explain, claim that with Ukraine, “the president acted for wholly legitimate purposes unconnected to the 2020 election.”

“There are costs to this approach when new information emerges about the Ukraine scheme,” Goodman and Schulkin note. “Such information will have salience because it contradicts the conclusions reached by these Senators. While Sen. Alexander can proclaim that the case is closed and that new evidence doesn’t affect his bottom line, it won’t be so easy for Cruz, Kennedy and others. Damning revelations will bring further ill repute to their decision to shut down the trial without hearing from first-hand witnesses and documents within reach of a subpoena.”