In March of 1974, as a young state attorney general, I reluctantly called for President Richard Nixon’s resignation amid revelations of abuses of power related to Watergate. It wasn’t an easy thing to do. As a Republican, I didn’t enjoy breaking with my party or my president. As an elected official and practical politician, I didn’t particularly enjoy the implications of turning against someone who had comfortably carried Washington State just two years earlier. None of it was pleasant, but I believed it was the right thing to do on the facts and on the merits.
John Adams said, “Facts are stubborn things.” Forty-five years after Mr. Nixon resigned before he could be impeached by the House, the facts should be the focus of every elected official, Republican or Democrat, as they decide what to do about another president facing impeachment and a possible Senate trial.
To my fellow Republicans, I give this grave and genuine warning: It’s not enough merely to dismiss the Ukraine investigation as a partisan witch hunt or to hide behind attacks against the “deep state,” or to try to find some reason to denounce every witness who steps forward, from decorated veterans to Trump megadonors.
History demands that we all wrestle with the facts at hand. They are unavoidable. Fifty years from now, history will not accept the position that impeachment was a referendum on the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi. It must be a verdict reached on the facts.
My judgment so far as an objective observer is that there are multiple actions on this president’s part that warrant a vote of impeachment in the House, based on corroborated testimony that Mr. Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, pressured leaders of Ukraine to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his family.
From what I have read, it seems clear that President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine was subjected to a shakedown — pressured to become a foreign participant in President Trump’s re-election campaign, a violation of the law.
Several credible witnesses have testified to the existence of a quid pro quo, including William B. Taylor Jr., the acting ambassador to Ukraine; Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the White House’s top Ukraine expert; and Gordon Sondland, Mr. Trump’s ambassador to the European Union. They and others have testified that there was a push for politically motivated investigations, and three of them were so alarmed that they attempted to report their concerns up the chain of command at the National Security Council.
Are they to be believed? Here’s my bottom line: That’s what an impeachment inquiry and a Senate trial are designed to find out. That’s why there’s a process under the Constitution.
But make no mistake: This is precisely the kind of crisis Alexander Hamilton feared. In Federalist No. 75, he warned that a president might be tempted to betray the interests of the country for his own benefit, “to sacrifice his duty to his interest, which it would require superlative virtue to withstand”; that “an avaricious man might be tempted to betray the interests of the state to the acquisition of wealth”; that a president might “make his own aggrandizement, by the aid of a foreign power, the price of his treachery to his constituents.”
Given the temptations a president might have in dealing with foreign powers, Hamilton’s solution was equally clear: Congress should be involved. “The participation of the whole or a portion of the legislative body in the office of making them,” he wrote of treaties. And in the same vein, the founders gave Congress the power to check a president accused of abusing the power of his office. They expected Congress to render its judgment on the facts.
So, to my fellow Republicans who have been willing only to attack the process, I say: engage in the process. If the president is innocent, use the process to surface those exculpatory facts so that Congress and the country can agree whether or not Mr. Trump should be removed from office. The facts — not rhetoric — should answer this question: Is there an offense serious enough to undo the results of the 2016 election?
A heavy burden to meet, but not an impossible one.
Here’s what I know: Neither the country nor the Constitution is served by a partisan shouting match divorced from the facts, a process boycotted by one side refusing to engage on the merits. John Adams is still right 250 years later: Facts are stubborn things. Facts are what should determine whether a stubborn president stays in office. Republicans, don’t fight the process, follow the facts wherever they lead, and put country above party.
Slade Gorton was a Republican U.S. senator from the state of Washington from 1981-1987 and again from 1989 to 2001.