Christian Payne speaks in Hermann Lounge on Friday, Oct. 6. Payne argued there are currently no grounds on which to impeach Trump. PHOTO COURTESY OF JOSEPH OPOKU.
BY JIM MALVEN
Four first-year students and Westminster Debating Society members debated in front of a crowd of students in Hermann Lounge on Friday, Oct. 6, whether U.S. President Donald Trump should be impeached. Jesse Calvert and Ian Meyer argued that Trump should be impeached immediately, while Christian Payne and Joshua Danbury-Nolan asserted that there are no grounds on which to impeach Trump at this point in time.
Each side of the debate had five minutes to give an opening statement, three minutes to cross-examine the opposition, 30 seconds to respond to the cross-examination, three minutes to make a rebuttal and two minutes to give closing remarks. Debating Society Faculty Adviser Dr. Kali Wright-Smith moderated the discussion.
Impeachment refers to the passing of formal legal charges against a government officer by the House of Representatives. If a simple majority of representatives agree to impeach the officer, the officer is tried by the Senate and removed from office if found guilty in a two-thirds majority vote. The U.S. Constitution states that officers may be impeached for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Calvert gave the opening statement for the affirmative side. He said that the impeachment of Trump would be “beneficial and just.”
Students listen as Calvert presents the case for Trump’s immediate impeachment. PHOTO COURTESY OF JOSEPH OPOKU.
Calvert said that Trump has been accused of seven different impeachable offenses, including colluding with Russian officials to boost his presidential campaign and obstructing justice in a resulting investigation of the alleged collusion. On the latter point, Calvert specifically referenced Trump’s dismissal of former FBI Director James Comey, who was involved in the investigation.
“Trump is abusing his powers to avoid impeachment,” Calvert stated. “As college students, we cannot prove that Trump has committed all of these crimes, but we can prove that he doesn’t want the truth found out.”
When asked by Danbury-Nolan in cross-examination how advocating Trump’s impeachment is fair when it is unclear whether Trump has actually committed any impeachable offenses, Calvert replied that impeachment and the subsequent trial would allow for clarity.
“As college students, we cannot prove that Trump has committed all of these crimes, but we can prove that he doesn’t want the truth found out.” — Jesse Calvert
Payne delivered his team’s opening statements. He explained that he and Danbury-Nolan, both students from the University of Winchester, do not necessarily believe that Trump should never be impeached, rather that he should not be impeached now. In fact, they said that they do not fully support Trump’s policies and joked about being glad to be going back to the United Kingdom after the end of the semester.
Regardless, Payne said that impeachment should be delayed at least until special counsel Robert Mueller finishes investigating Trump’s alleged affairs with Russia, or until any other evidence of impeachable crimes committed by Trump can be collected.
“We are asking you for one thing,” Payne said. “Time.”
Payne added that Trump has the right to fire officials such as Comey and that Comey’s dismissal does not constitute obstruction of justice, per se.
“We are asking you for one thing,” Payne said. “Time.”
Calvert objected in his cross-examination of Payne that a vote of impeachment does not require extensive evidence.
Payne agreed but pointed out that several political commentators called for former president Barack Obama to be impeached when he was in office. Payne cited an article from the Atlantic that summarizes potential grounds for the impeachment of Obama laid out by reporter Aaron Klein in a 2013 book. In the book, Klein questions whether Obama bypassed Congress in passing his healthcare plan and immigration policy, whether National Security surveillance monitoring under Obama was legal or ethical, and whether the Obama administration acted with integrity in Syria.
Payne said that these and similar arguments for Obama’s impeachment were ridiculous and that an impeachment of Trump on the day of the debate would be just as ridiculous as an impeachment of Obama during his presidency.
In the affirmative side’s rebuttal, Meyer claimed that there are reasons to impeach Trump now, and that although Trump had the right to fire Comey, the issue is not whether Trump had the right to do so but whether he should have done so.
Danbury-Nolan gave the rebuttal for the opposition, in which he declared that an immediate impeachment of Trump would violate Trump’s right to due process, as there is no evidence of any impeachable activity yet.
Calvert took the opportunity in his closing statement to criticize this point, restating that impeachment is only the first step in the process of the potential removal of an officer and that Trump would still receive a fair trial if he were impeached.
“They claim to care about due process, but we care about it a little more than they do, because we understand it,” he said.
Payne closed his team’s argument by telling the audience to “consider the consequences” of an imminent impeachment of Trump for the justice system.
“[Imminent] impeachment would lower the bar and weaponize the system,” he said.
Prior to the debate, students used the website Mentimeter to vote whether Trump should be impeached. Forty of 54 students (74 percent) voted “yes,” and 14 (26 percent) voted “no.”
After hearing both sides’ arguments, students voted again – a total of 53 this time. Thirty-two (60 percent) voted “yes,” while 21 (40 percent) voted no.