Catherine Cortez Masto
Editor’s Note: U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) released her statement for the record on her vote on February 5, on the two articles of impeachment against President Donald J. Trump on charges that he abused his office to personally benefit himself and that he covered up evidence of that abuse. The following is her official statement for the record:
The decision I make today is not an easy one, nor should it be.
I have approached this serious task with an open and impartial mind, as my trial oath required. I’ve studied the facts and the evidence of the case before me.
I have been an attorney for over two decades, and I was the Attorney General of Nevada for eight years. And I keep coming back to what I learned in the courtroom. The law is a technical field, but it’s also based on common sense.
You don’t have to study the law for years to know that stealing and cheating are wrong. It is one of the first things we learn in our formative years.
And you don’t have to be a law school professor to realize that a president should not be using the job the American people gave him to benefit himself personally.
Abraham Lincoln reminded us that our nation was founded on the essential idea of government “of the people, by the people, for the people.”
No American should stand for foreign election interference, much less invite it. American elections are for Americans. That is why I cannot condone this president’s actions by acquitting him.
As I sat on the Senate floor thinking about President Lincoln and listening to the arguments in President Trump’s impeachment trial, I thought of the awesome responsibility our Founding Fathers entrusted to each senator.
I also thought about all of the Nevadans I represent—those who voted for President Trump and those who did not. For those who did, I put myself in their shoes and considered how I would respond if the president were from my political party.
The removal of a sitting president through impeachment is an extraordinary remedy. It rarely occurs, and no senator should rush into it.
Yet impeachment is a key part of our constitutional order. When our Founding Fathers designed the office of the presidency, the Framers of the Constitution had just gotten rid of a king, and they didn’t want another one.
They were afraid that the president might use his extensive powers for his own benefit.
To prevent this, the Framers provided for impeachment by the House, and trial by the Senate, for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
They didn’t have to do things this way. They could have left it up to the courts to hold the trial of a president accused of wrongdoing.
But they wanted to make sure each branch of government could be a check on the other, which would bring balance to our system of government.
And the Framers were specifically concerned with the idea of an all-powerful executive who might abuse his power and invite foreign interference in our elections.
This concern is reflected in the Articles of Impeachment laid out by the House Managers.
Putting aside the biases I heard coming from both political parties, I focused on getting to the truth of the case—like any trial attorney.
The truth in any case that I have been involved with starts with the facts.
For two weeks I listened to the arguments presented by both sides, took notes, posed questions, and identified the facts that were supported and substantiated and those that were not.
With a heavy heart and great sadness, I became convinced by the evidence that President Trump intentionally withheld security assistance and a coveted White House meeting to pressure Ukraine into helping him politically, even though Ukraine was defending itself from Russia.
This wasn’t an action “of the people, by the people, for the people.”
President Trump used the immense power of the United States government not for the people, but rather for himself.
We know these facts from President Trump’s own words in a phone call to Ukrainian President Zelensky in July and in statements to the press in October.
We also know it through the testimony of 17 American officials—many of them appointed by the president himself.
Those officials indicated that over the spring and summer of 2019, through both his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and through American diplomats, President Trump asked Ukraine to publicly announce investigations that would influence the 2020 elections in his favor.
We also know through testimony provided during the House investigation that President Trump tried to pressure Ukraine to announce those investigations, first by conditioning a visit by President Zelensky to the White House on them, and later by denying $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine.
Some of my colleagues don’t dispute these facts.
President Trump’s actions interfere with the fundamental tenets of our Constitution. Citizens do not get to govern themselves if the officials who get elected seek their own benefit to the detriment of the public good.
The Framers knew this. They were very aware that officials could leverage their office to benefit themselves.
In Federalist No. 65, Alexander Hamilton explained why we had the impeachment power in the first place: it was to respond to “those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust.”
With the undisputed facts condemning the president, I listened to the president’s counsel argue that the Articles of Impeachment were defective because abuse of power and obstruction of Congress are not crimes.
However, many constitutional scholars soundly refuted this argument. And precedent supports them. The impeachment articles in President Nixon’s case included abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
During this impeachment investigation, the president blocked all members of his administration from testifying in response to Congressional committee requests and withheld all documents.
This action is absolutely unprecedented in American history. Even Presidents Nixon and Clinton allowed staff to testify to Congress during impeachment investigations and provided some documents.
The executive branch has no blanket claim to secrecy. It works for the American people, as do members of Congress.
In the Senate, the president’s counsel argued that the House investigators should have fought this wholesale obstruction in court. Yet at the same time, in a court down the street, other administration lawyers contended that the courts should stay out of disputes between Congress and the president.
The president’s counsel also argued that the American People should decide in the next election whether to remove President Trump for his actions. But if this were the standard, then the impeachment clause could only ever be utilized in the second term of a Presidency, when no upcoming election would preserve the country.
Most importantly, isn’t the impeachment clause pointless if a president can abuse his power in office and then completely refuse to comply with a House impeachment investigation and a Senate trial in order to delay until the next election?
The Framers themselves actually argued about whether Americans could rely on elections to get rid of bad presidents. They decided that if they didn’t put the impeachment power into the Constitution, a corrupt president would be willing to do anything to get himself reelected.
James Madison said that without impeachment, a corrupt president “might be fatal to the Republic.”
And through my oath of office as a senator, I swore to protect not just Nevadans, but also our great republic.
Our country, unfortunately, has never been more divided along party lines. It played out in the House impeachment investigation and in the Senate trial. The Senate rules for the trial were not written by all of the senators with bipartisan input. Instead, they were written behind closed doors by one man in coordination with the president. In so doing, the Senate has abdicated its powerful check on the Executive branch.
Without this important check, I am concerned about what the president will do next to put our republic in jeopardy.
We’ve seen that President Trump is willing to violate our Constitution in order to get himself reelected. He has disrespected norms and worked to divide our country for his own political gain. He has undermined our standing in the world and put awesome pressure on foreign leaders to benefit himself, rather than to advance the interests of our country.
I have also learned from this trial that the president is willing to take any action, including cheating in the next election, to serve his personal interest.
No act in our country is more sacred and solemn for democracy than voting. And nothing in our system of government is more vital to the continued health of our democracy than its elections.
No American should stand for foreign election interference, much less invite it.
American elections are for Americans.
That is why I cannot condone this president’s actions by acquitting him.
Finding the president guilty of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress marks a sad day for our country and not something I do with a light heart.
But I was sent to Congress not just to fight for all Nevadans, but also to fight for our children and their future. To leave them with a country that still believes in right and wrong. That exposes corruption in government and holds it accountable. That stands up to tyranny at home and abroad.
In my view, President Trump has fallen far, far short of those lofty ideals, and of the demands of our Constitution.
That requires the rest of us, regardless of party, creed, or ethnicity, to work together all the more urgently to defend our democracy, our elections, and our national security.
I have faith in Americans, because I’ve seen, time and time again in Nevada, our ability to come together and work with one another for our common good.
América is more than just one person, and like President Lincoln’s, my faith will always lie with the people.
U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto represents Nevada.
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