‘One of the most important moments in our lives’: Steamboat graduate describes her experience at Trump’s impeachment trial
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A Steamboat Springs High School graduate was one of a select number of people who got a seat at President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial on Wednesday.
Libby Lukens, now a junior at George Washington University, was visiting her former supervisor at Sen. Michael Bennet’s office in Washington D.C., where she used to be an intern. They were talking about Wednesday’s trial when someone mentioned tickets being available for members of the public to attend.
Lukens put her name on a waitlist not expecting to have any chance of getting such a coveted ticket. To her luck, there was just one left.
“I dropped everything and cleared my schedule,” she said.
Trump was the third U.S. president to be impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives. He also was the third president to be acquitted after a divided Senate did not secure enough votes to find him guilty on two articles of impeachment at the conclusion of Wednesday’s trial. Those articles included abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, stemming from allegations Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine in an effort to gather information to aid his own re-election.
A political science and criminal justice student, Lukens has been intently following the impeachment process since it began in December 2019, when the House launched the impeachment proceedings. She recognized the gravity of the subsequent hearing and trial and wanted to ensure she was well informed about the process.
“This is one of the most important moments in our lives,” Lukens said.
As she made her way through the U.S. Capitol, Lukens described a building abuzz with people and heavily controlled. She passed through multiple security checkpoints and could not take her phone into the trial. As she was shuffled through various hallways, she noticed portraits of famous politicians. For a while, Lukens felt out of place, a feeling that subsided as she realized how fortunate she was to be there.
“Everyone around me were either staff or their family members,” Lukens said. “I was just thinking, ‘I’m in a very lucky situation if I’m a constituent and able to see this.’”
She settled into a seat at the Senate Gallery that afforded her a view of the proceedings happening below. In particular, she watched the reactions of Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. They were hanging off the edge of their seats as the 100 senators stood up and gave their verdicts on the charges against Trump, Lukens said.
Warren maintained a cool composure, sitting straight-backed and staring intently at the senators who were speaking. It appeared as if she was taking a mental tally of the guilty and not guilty votes.
As all but one Republican voted to acquit the president, Sanders appeared red in the face, according to Lukens.
“I was thinking he either got sunburned in Iowa or he’s really angry,” she said.
To many, including Lukens, Wednesday’s outcome was the inevitable result of a deeply partisan-divided Congress. One of the only surprises of the trial came when Sen. Mitt Romney, of Utah, voted to convict Trump of one of the articles of impeachment, abuse of power, becoming the first senator in U.S. history to vote to remove a president from his own party.
Other senators toed party lines, including Colorado’s Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and Cory Gardner, a Republican.
“Impeaching the president of the United States is one of the most serious actions given to Congress in the U.S. Constitution,” Gardner said during a speech on the Senate Floor. “After carefully weighing the arguments from House managers and the defense and closely evaluating the law and evidence presented, which included more than 28,500 pages of evidence and well over 100 hours of testimony from 17 witnesses, the high burden of removing a duly elected president from office for the first time in the history of the United States was not met.”
Bennet, in his speech, criticized fellow senators who voted on Friday to block new witnesses in the trial.
“When we are the only body on planet Earth charged with the responsibility of dealing with the guilt or innocence of this president, we can’t even bring ourselves to have witnesses and evidence as part of a fair trial,” Bennet said. “The idea that we would turn our back and close our eyes to evidence pounding on the outside of the doors of this Capitol is pitiful. It is disgraceful. And it will be a stain on this body for all time.”
To Lukens, a Democrat, the Senate’s vote not to hear new witnesses was one of the most frustrating parts of the impeachment process.
“If you’re taking the decision to remove a president from office seriously, I would want to know all the facts,” she said.
Among the key witnesses Democratic senators wanted to subpoena was former National Security Advisor John Bolton. His much-anticipated, unpublished book reportedly says Trump directed Bolton to help with an effort to pressure Ukrainian officials into giving damaging information on Democrats earlier than previously thought, according to a report from The New York Times.
With the trial completed, Lukens is returning her attention to her classes. She hopes to be able to use her experience in future coursework.
Looking back at her high school days in Steamboat, Lukens expressed gratitude for her history and social studies teachers who she said encouraged critical thinking and taught the importance of taking an active role in American democracy.
Speaking about her teachers and the trial, Lukens said, “I’m so grateful they prepared me for moments like this, recognizing this is really important.”
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