Vermonters have a thing or two to say about Trump’s second impeachment trial
When Governor Phil Scott of Vermont became, on January 6th, the first Republican governor to call on President Trump to resign, or “be removed from office by his Cabinet, or by Congress,” the Vermont legislature quickly followed up with a similar resolution. Vermonters could take heart that their “brave little state” had once again become a “first” in the nation to reject the abuse of power. Noted Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint, a Democrat, on January 8, “Regardless of party, we share a clear and public commitment to the rule of law, to the people, and to the ideals of this great state, which were violated by the President and the extremists who attacked the Capitol.”
Soon all eyes will be on the US Senate President Pro Tem, Senator Patrick Leahy, as he presides over the trial. He assuredly shares the views of his fellow Vermonters, but just as assuredly will conduct a fair trial.In a statement he released he stated “I consider holding the office of the president pro tempore and the responsibilities that come with it to be one of the highest honors and most serious responsibilities of my career. When I preside over the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, I will not waver from my constitutional and sworn obligations to administer the trial with fairness, in accordance with the Constitution and the laws.”
If the Spirit of Liberty Should Vanish
The brave little state moniker was first uttered by Vermont resident and then-US President Calvin Coolidge in 1923, when he said: “If the spirit of liberty should vanish in other parts of the Union, and support of our institutions should languish, it could all be replenished from the generous store held by the people of this brave little state of Vermont.”
Those words are inscribed in marble on a wall in the Vermont statehouse, and every time I show up for a legislative event, I pay a visit to that plaque and draw inspiration from it — and from Vermont’s proud history of rejecting slavery, endorsing civil unions, and (as is particularly relevant now) calling for the impeachment of President George W. Bush for sending our troops to war in Iraq based on a lie — a Big Lie even more monstrous than Trump’s Big Lie that the election was stolen
As the second impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump is drawing near it is this last point which cannot be lost on our elected leaders in the U.S. Senate as they debate whether to convict the former president. I’m sure I am joined by others in sending a loud and heartfelt plea: when will “we the people” ever see our most powerful leaders be held accountable, as the US Constitution envisioned, for their criminal acts while in office? Recent history shows us this is no time for political expediency or legal gymnastics that get outrageous criminal behavior off the hook. Enough is enough.
First, who of us can forget watching a mob of irate Republican protesters banging on the glass doors of the office of the Miami Dade County supervisors of elections as they were conducting a recount of Florida’s 2000 presidential election returns. The event came to be known as the Brooks Brothers riot because the participants were part of Florida’s elite Republican establishment.
According to the New York Times, “The city’s most influential Spanish-language radio station, Radio Mambi, called on staunchly Republican Cuban-Americans to head downtown to demonstrate. Republican volunteers shouted into megaphones urging protest. A lawyer for the Republican Party helped stir ethnic passions by contending that the recount was biased against Hispanic voters.”
According to one of the protesters, “‘We were trying to stop the recount; Bush had already won. We were urging people to come downtown and support and protest this injustice.’’ The result: the recount was stopped and the election of George W. Bush as president was decided by the Republican-dominated US Supreme Court.
Trump’s Big Lie is Preceded by Bush’s Big Lie
It took Bush and his first nine months of a lackluster presidency to find the excuse he had been looking for since 1997 to send troops to Iraq, namely by avenging the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 and blaming Saddam Hussein (who had nothing to do with 911) for harboring weapons of mass destruction. That lie ushered in the “war on terror” and an age of endless wars, which, as I explain in my latest book, The Crash of Flight 3804: A Lost Spy, A Daughter’s Quest, and the Deadly Politics of the Great Game for Oil were really wars for oil, costing some $5.6 trillion dollars and the deaths of 500,000 people.
Vermonters were not fooled by Bush’s lies. They made international news when residents in the southern Vermont city of Brattleboro threatened a citizens’ arrest if Bush dared to cross into Vermont. On town meeting day in 2007, 36 towns voted to impeach Bush.
Meanwhile, a wily Vermont lawyer named Jeff Taylor had discovered a way for the Vermont legislature to pass an impeachment resolution that would have forced the US House to take it up, based on an obscure rule of the US House penned by Thomas Jefferson. (The Vermont Senate passed the resolution, only to see it defeated in the House). Speaker Nancy Pelosi subsequently disappointed many when she declared that “impeachment is off the table,” and so our attention turned to prosecuting Bush once he left office, inspired by legendary criminal prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi who argued in his groundbreaking book that “any state attorney in the fifty states”, could bring criminal charges against Bush “for any soldiers from the state who lost their lives fighting Bush’s war.” That led me to make prosecuting Bush in Vermont a campaign issue in my 2008 race for attorney general. After all, as I later noted in my book about the campaign, Vermonters suffered the highest per capita deaths of soldiers in the Iraq war.
Bugliosi and I put our heads together and figured we could rely in part on an old 1868 Vermont statute, 13 VSA §2308, which read, “A person who willfully and corruptly bears false testimony with intent to take away the life of a person and thereby causes the life of such a person to be taken, shall be guilty of murder in the first degree.” We extrapolated from that old Vermont statute and gave it a modern meaning: that the president knowingly and intentionally lied to potential young recruits in order to induce them into going to war, knowing full well that soldiers die in a war and that his lies would “therefore cause the life of a person to be taken.”
At our widely covered press conference, held in early September, 2008, I vowed to hire Bugliosi as my special prosecutor should I win. We knew it was a long shot, happening only two months before the election, but with such strong anti-war sentiment in Vermont, who could tell? As it turned out, the press coverage quickly dwindled; many Vermonters told me if they had known, they would have voted for me. Despite losing the race, I was able to connect with citizens around the country who cared deeply about accountability and no doubt still do.
Consider that Trump’s incitement of insurrection inspired some of his more violent supporters to try and lynch Vice President Pence, assassinate Speaker Pelosi, and cause many legislators to fear for their lives.
“A Very Low and Dangerous Moment”
As many Democrats and some Republicans have said, If that is not an impeachable offense, what is? Or, as Vermont’s Republican governor tweeted on January 6: “There is no doubt that the President’s delusion, fabrication, self-interest and ego have led us -step by step — to this very low, and very dangerous moment in American history.”
I will end with the opening warning I wrote in 2010 in The People v Bush: “Many Americans consider it common knowledge that we have just lived through eight years of a rogue presidency. The question is: Have we set the stage for another rogue presidency in the future?…One way to prevent that is by prosecuting high-level officials for crimes committed in office…Many Americans, pressed by hard times, are forgetting that an epidemic of lawlessness during the Bush era was a major cause of their misery. The Republican right wing is inflaming discontent. Dark times could happen again, and they could be worse.”
Meanwhile, to those Republican senators currently sitting on the fence regarding whether or not they will vote to convict President Trump of high crimes and misdemeanors, your vote after listening to frightening evidence at Trump’s impeachment trial, including eye-witness reports from senators, will not be forgotten. We who care about our country, our Constitution, and our democracy, have long memories. And now, in the age of the internet, we can share them throughout the country.
Charlotte Dennett is s Burlington-based attorney and the author of The Crash of Flight 3804: A Lost Spy, A Daughter’s Quest, and the Deadly Politics of the Great Game for Oil and The People v Bush: One lawyer’s Campaign To Bring the President to Justice and the Nat6ional Grassroots moment She Encounters Along the Way.