February 03, 2020

Wyden: Trump Violated his Oath and Betrayed our System of Democratic Government

Wyden Statement on Senate Floor on the Impeachment Trial of Donald Trump

As Prepared for Delivery

For the past two weeks, the president’s defense team has spun bizarre legal arguments, conspiracy theories and flat out lies that are unbecoming of the Office of the President of the United States.

We know the facts. The president pursued his personal and political interests in a manner that harmed the national security of the United States. He smeared our own ambassador to Ukraine. He promoted Kremlin propaganda on 2016 election interference. He sent his personal attorney and willing members of his administration to trade official acts in exchange for fabricated dirt on a political rival. He stopped $391 million in aid from going to Ukraine, and when the Ukranians made clear they were desperate for that aid to come through, he made his demands. Come up with dirt on the Bidens. Find, or invent, the server. 

Trump’s defense team has claimed the president wanted to fight corruption in Ukraine, but they’ve produced zero evidence to support that claim. Never in the history of our government has the president pursued a policy end without generating mountains of paper. And yet there are no memos, no meeting records, no communiques on anti-corruption. Nothing. This defense is fiction because the president was not fighting corruption in Ukraine, he was causing it.

We also know what the president was telling the people around him to do with respect to Ukraine. He was telling them to talk to his personal attorney. Talk to Rudy. Because the president had forgotten what’s good for the American people, ignored the needs of our allies and forgiven the attacks on American democracy. What the American government under this president was after – the only thing it was after – was a corrupt favor for the personal benefit of Donald Trump.

This favor was to get a foreign government to target an American citizen when our own intelligence services were legally barred from doing so – an action that even Trump’s own Secretary of State Mike Pompeo once admitted is illegal. "It is not lawful to outsource that which we cannot do," he said.

And that was not the only illegal action. The GAO has told us that holding up the Ukraine aid was a violation of the Impoundment Control Act. And when the aid eventually went through in September of last year, it wasn’t because they suddenly gained new respect for the Constitutional powers of the Congress, it was because they got caught.

When this abuse of office came to light, Trump’s response was: I am above the law.

On the south lawn of the White House, he confirmed that he wanted Ukraine to smear the Bidens by announcing investigations. He said he wanted the same thing from China.

In a White House press briefing, acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney confirmed that the scheme had been politically motivated. A reporter who was clearly stunned at Mulvaney’s admission asked for clarification, and Mulvaney said, “I have news for everybody: Get over it.”

And that’s really what this trial is about; whether the Senate and the country have to simply “get over it.” I know many senators are apparently prepared to do exactly that. But let’s consider the precedent that just “getting over it” would set.

If this ends in acquittal, it will signal that politicians can get away with selling out American interests to foreign co-conspirators to rig an election.

What’s to stop the Russians from approaching a future president with their own proposition: dial back your support for the Baltic states, and we’ll take down your opponent in the re-elect.

What would prevent the Chinese government from approaching a senator and offering fabricated dirt on senators of the other party in order to smooth the way for a sweetheart trade deal.

What if a president hands the Saudis an “enemies list” of political opponents to hack in exchange for military tech and a few regiments of American soldiers in Yemen?

An ending in acquittal without hearing from any witnesses or getting any new evidence says that the president can rig impeachment trials, too.

Every impeachment trial ever has included witness testimony. It’s good government 101. It’s what the overwhelming majority of Americans expect from us, and it’s what I’ve heard in open-to-all town hall meetings across Oregon, in red counties and blue. The Republican Senate majority is apparently ready to acquit the Republican president without even going through the motions, ignoring what the American people expect of them.

How will we sustain a functioning democracy when our leaders are allowed to rig elections without consequence? The Congress will struggle to unwind that precedent. It could outlive us all.

So after these long days of arguments and questioning, in my view, this case comes down to two simple questions.

First, the president swears an oath, just like we do, to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. Does the president’s oath of office mean anything? When a president puts his own interests first, when he extorts fabricated dirt from a foreign government for his personal political gain, he is obviously in violation of his oath.

He is not protecting the constitutional right of Americans to choose their own leaders in free and fair elections. He’s protecting himself and his own power. What does the president’s oath of office mean if violating it carries no consequences?

If his oath means nothing and he cannot be charged with a crime, then he is bound by nothing. And if we will not hold him to his oath, are we not forsaking our own oath to protect and defend the Constitution?

The second question: Do we believe that this is a government of the people, by the people and for the people? Because the president’s lawyers stood on the floor of the Senate and said, in short, that it is not.

Alan Dershowitz argued that nothing the president does to get reelected can be impeachable as long as he believes his reelection is in the public interest. And the president’s counsel continued to build on that argument even after they claimed it was misunderstood. This from the same administration that holds that the president cannot be charged with a crime. That he exists on a plane above the law, as it applies to everybody else.

If the president may commit crimes while in office and cheat in an election to stay in power, then this is no longer a government of, by and for the people. This is a government of, by and for Donald Trump. The proposition of free and fair elections in America is gone – replaced by elections that happen on terms set by Donald Trump. Or on terms set by some future president, with the same sort of aid from a foreign power.

Putting aside whatever political fallout there may be in the days and weeks ahead. How can the Senate accept this degradation of the sanctity of our elections? Isn’t this institution supposed to protect our elections and defend our constitution? The president’s attempt to cheat in the election, and the extreme lengths he’s gone to cover it up, are obviously, dangerously wrong.

What he did is a violation of his oath and a betrayal of the system of democratic government left for us by the founders. He is guilty. He must be convicted.