History was made on Wednesday, Feb. 5 as the third impeachment trial in U.S. history came to a close with the acquittal of President Donald Trump. Students shared different opinions on the impeachment process, questioning whether it accomplished anything or further divided the American people.
Dr. Troy Smith, a professor of political science at BYU–Hawaii, said everything about the trial has been fought over, and the actual series of events leading up to the impeachment trial could be interpreted in many ways.
In short, the governing body of the United States is split into two chambers—the House of Representatives and the Senate—and both chambers need to agree in order to have a president removed. In this case, the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Trump, but the Senate voted to acquit him and keep him in office.
Smith explained there were two offenses President Donald Trump was charged with—abuse of power and obstruction of justice. The charge of abuse of power came after President Trump allegedly withheld military aid from Ukraine. The charge of obstruction of justice came after the White House refused to give the House of Representatives the documents and witnesses the Congress requested to be able to prove the allegation of the president’s abuse of power.
“Presidents are always holding back aid in different ways to put pressure on foreign nations to do certain things,” Smith explained. In this case, Trump wanted Ukraine to announce they were investigating the actions of former Vice President Joe Biden, in an effort to root out corruption in the country.
The question raised by Congress: Are these impeachable offenses?
Malissa Fifita, a senior from Tonga studying political science, said, “Something was really interesting about the senators’ testimonies. They kept referring back to how the President has the duty ... to serve and protect the country. However, there is a concern that the President can do whatever he wants. I do not think so.”
Smith said, “I think it comes down to a question of motivation. Was President Trump motivated by a desire to hurt his potential political enemy Joe Biden? Or was President Trump genuinely concerned about reducing corruption in Ukraine?”
In this case, the answer from the House of Representatives, which has a Democrat majority, centered around the consensus of Trump getting political gain. The Senate, with a Republican majority, voted to clear President Trump of the charges.
Senator Mitt Romney of Utah was the lone Republican in the Senate to vote to convict Trump on the charge of abuse of power but voted to acquit the president on the second charge of obstruction of Congress.
“If you cared about the trial, you were wasting your time."
Jackson Murdock, a freshman from California studying business marketing, believed the trial was decided from the start. “If you cared about the trial, you were wasting your time because we all knew he would be acquitted,” he said, adding he did not think Trump should have been impeached in the first place. “It was over, what, overstepping his power? Which never happened. Sure, maybe there were a couple of bad phone calls, but he didn’t do anything wrong.”
Smith discussed the growing divide between American political parties and suggested this trial would go down in history as being largely along party lines– the majority of Democrats voted to impeach and the majority of Republicans voted to acquit.
“The issues are not clear on one side or the other,” Smith said, adding he felt there were legitimate points made on both sides. “People of conscience and intelligence could go either way on this case. We should not demean or attack people who think differently than us as being inferior, morally or intellectually.”
Fifita said she felt the U.S. legislative system did what they had to do. “Was there sufficient evidence? Not too sure about that part. All I am saying is the system did their part in hearing the impeachment. Maybe later on, justice will prevail.” She said she has seen both good and bad things from the current administration, so her current impression of the U.S. government is neutral.
I think we should let the next election decide. Just vote him out.
Enna Hendrickson, a freshman from Hawaii studying political science, feels differently, expressing she viewed the trial as a “big drama” and she wished people would stop complaining. “I personally think [Trump] should have been removed from office, I don’t like him very much,” she said. “But I think we should let the next election decide. Just vote him out.”
Fifita said, “[The impeachment] makes you wonder what you can do to become better in the world. What is happening helps you know that the world is not perfect at all. This helps you realize that only you can choose today what you can do to make tomorrow better.”