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Thune Discusses His Vote in Impeachment Trial

“I considered all the evidence very carefully, but ultimately I concluded that the two charges presented by the House managers – abuse of power and obstruction of Congress – did not provide a compelling case for removing this president.”

February 4, 2020

Washington — 

U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), today stated that he will vote to acquit the president in the final days of the impeachment trial. After hearing from the House managers and the president’s defense, Thune concluded that the evidence and testimony delivered by the House do not meet the standard for the overturning of an election.

Click here to watch Thune’s speech.

Thune’s remarks below (as prepared for delivery):

“Mr. President, tomorrow we will be voting on the two impeachment articles sent over by the House of Representatives.

“I will be voting to acquit the president, for several reasons.

“First and foremost, I do not believe that the facts in this case rise to the high bar the Founders set for removal from office.

“The Founders imposed a threshold for impeachment of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” – in other words, very serious violations of the public trust.

“The Founders were deliberate in their choice of words – they wanted to be clear that impeachment was a severe remedy to be deployed only for very serious violations.

“When George Mason proposed adding the term “maladministration” to the impeachment clause during the Constitutional Convention, the Framers rejected the proposal, because, as Madison pointed out, the term was too vague and would be “equivalent to a tenure during pleasure of the Senate.”

“The Founders recognized that without safeguards, impeachment could quickly degenerate into a political weapon, to be used to overturn elections when one faction or another decided it didn’t like the president.

“That’s why the Founders split the impeachment power, giving the House the sole authority to impeach and the Senate the sole authority to try impeachments.

“And as a final check, the Founders required a two-thirds supermajority vote in the Senate to remove a president from office.

“All of these things, Mr. President, show just how seriously the Founders regarded removing a duly elected president.

“They intended it as an extreme remedy to be used only in very grave circumstances.

“And I do not believe that the charges the House has leveled against the president meet that high bar.

“The House managers’ presentation, which stretched over 22 hours, included testimony from more than a dozen witnesses.

“We also heard from the House managers during more than 16 hours of questions from senators.

“And we received more than 28,000 pages of testimony, evidence, and arguments from the House.

“I considered all the evidence very carefully, but ultimately I concluded that the two charges presented by the House managers – abuse of power and obstruction of Congress – did not provide a compelling case for removing this president.

“According to public reporting, House Democrats toyed with charging the president with bribery, believing that it polled well.

“But they didn’t have the evidence to prove that charge – or indeed to prove any actual crime.  

“While allegations of specific criminal conduct may not be constitutionally required, they anchor impeachment in the law, and their absence is telling.

“Lacking evidence of a specific crime, the House decided to use the shotgun approach and throw everything under the catchall “abuse of power” umbrella.

“Abuse of power is vaguely defined and subject to interpretation.

“In fact, I don’t believe there has been a president in my lifetime who hasn’t been accused of some form of abuse of power.

“For that reason, “abuse of power” seemed to me a fairly weak predicate on which to remove a democratically elected president from office.

“During the Clinton impeachment, I voted against the abuse of power article precisely because I believed it did not offer strong grounds for removing the duly elected president.

“With respect to the second article, obstruction of Congress, the House took issue with the president’s assertion of legal privileges – including those rooted in the constitutional separation of powers.  

“Of course, every president in recent memory has invoked such privileges – for example, when the Obama administration cited executive privilege to deny documents to Congress during the Fast and Furious gun-running investigation.

“The House could have challenged the president’s privilege claims by going through the traditional channel to resolve disputes between the executive and legislative branches – the courts.

“That’s what was done in previous impeachment inquiries, like the Clinton impeachment.

“But the House skipped that step in hopes that the Senate would bail them out and compel testimony and documents that the House, in its rush to impeachment, was unwilling to procure.

“Again, this seemed like a very thin basis on which to remove a duly elected president from office.

“The facts of the case are that aid to Ukraine was released prior to the end of the fiscal year, and no investigation of the scandal-plagued firm Burisma or the Bidens was initiated.

“While we can debate the president’s judgment when it comes to his dealings with Ukraine, or even conclude that his actions were inappropriate, the House’s vague and over-reaching impeachment charges do not meet the high bar set by the Founders for removal from office. 

“My second consideration in voting to acquit the president is the deeply partisan nature of the House’s impeachment proceedings.

“The Founders’ overriding concern about impeachment was that partisan majorities could use impeachment as a political weapon.

“In Federalist 65, Alexander Hamilton speaks of the danger of impeachment being used by “an intemperate or designing majority in the House of Representatives.”

“By limiting the House’s power to impeaching the president, and not to removing him from office, the Founders hoped that the Senate would act as a check on any attempt by the House to use the power of impeachment for partisan purposes.

“Unfortunately, the Founders’ concerns about partisanship were realized in this impeachment process.

“For the first time in modern history, impeachment was initiated – and conducted – on a purely partisan basis.

“While the Nixon impeachment proceedings in the House are held up as an example of bipartisanship, even the impeachment of President Clinton was initiated with the support of more than 30 Democrats.

“By contrast, in this case, House Democrats drove ahead in a completely partisan exercise.

“They then rushed through the impeachment process at breakneck speed, rejecting a thorough investigation because they wanted to impeach the president as fast as possible.

“And then they expected the Senate to take on the House’s investigative responsibility.

“House Democrats paid lip service to the idea that they regretted having to impeach the president.

“But their actions told a different story.

“The speaker of the House – the speaker – distributed celebratory pens when she signed the articles of impeachment, and then went on TV and celebrated the impeachment with a fist bump.

“Mr. President, it doesn’t require much work to imagine the damage that could be done to our republic if impeachment becomes a weapon to be used whenever a political party doesn’t like a president.

“Pretty soon, presidents would be serving not at the pleasure of the American people, but at the pleasure of the House and Senate.

“We need to call a halt before we’ve gone too far to turn back.

“Endorsing the House’s rushed, partisan, slipshod work would encourage future Houses to use impeachment for partisan purposes.

“Both parties need to learn that partisan impeachments are perilous.

“Finally, Mr. President, I believe that except in the most extreme circumstances, it should be the American people, not Washington politicians, who decide whether or not a president should be removed from office.    

“Presidential primary voting is underway.

“We have a presidential election in November where the people of this country can weigh in and make their voices heard.

“I think we should leave the decision up to them.

“Indeed, given the deep divisions plaguing our country – as reflected in the starkly different views about this impeachment – removing the president from office and from the ballots for the upcoming election would almost certainly plunge the country into even greater political turmoil. 

“Mr. President, I am deeply troubled by the events of the past few months.  

“I have always believed that we can differ here in Congress while still respecting and working with those who disagree with us.  

“But Democrats have increasingly sought to demonize anyone who doesn’t share their obsession with impeaching this president.

“One of the House managers in this trial went as far as to suggest that any senator who voted against them was treacherous.

“And at one point, a senator asked whether the chief justice’s constitutionally required participation in the trial was contributing to, quote, “the loss of legitimacy of the chief justice, the Supreme Court and the Constitution” – with the clear suggestion that the only way for the Supreme Court to maintain its legitimacy would be for it to agree with the Democrat Party.

“We’ve sunk pretty low when we’ve come to the point of suggesting that disagreement is unconstitutional.

“But for all this, I remain hopeful.

“Congress has been through contentious times before, and we’ve gotten through them.

“There’s no question that this partisan impeachment has been divisive.

“But I do believe we can move on from this.  

“I am ready to work with all of my colleagues, both Democrat and Republican, in the coming weeks and months as we get back to the business of the American people.

“For the nation we all love, I pray that proves possible.”