During President Trump’s impeachment trial, Sen. Richard Burr has wisely kept his cards close to his chest. Until now.

Speaking on former Gov. Pat McCrory’s radio show Tuesday morning, Burr said that even if witnesses confirmed President Trump’s guilt in seeking to use his office to extort foreign assistance against his likely Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, Burr would not vote to remove Trump from office.

“The hearsay that John Bolton or anybody else may bring to this is irrelevant because even if the president said this, it does not raise to the level of removal from office, which is a sacred thing because the American people have duly elected him,” Burr said.

“I think (Trump defense attorney) Alan Dershowitz said it very well last night, ‘You blew it, House managers.’ The articles you’ve brought don’t rise to the level of removal from office,” Burr said. “And if the Senate did it, then look out in the future — every president will go through this.”

Burr is entitled to his opinion. And some will applaud his support for the president.

Even so, this assessment, before the trial is even concluded, is deeply disappointing.

As a chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Burr is in a unique position to understand the implications of using critical military aid to Ukraine as a bargaining chip.

Ukraine is in a war against Russia, which poses a major threat to the security of both Europe and the U.S. Trump’s ill-considered delay of that aid usurped the power of Congress and, according to the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, violated the law.

Further, enlisting a foreign government to interfere in a U.S. election poses a more serious threat to that “sacred thing” than impeaching Trump.

As for dismissing Bolton’s account as “hearsay,” he’s actually one of the firsthand witnesses Republicans have complained had been lacking.

In looking to the future, Burr echoed the claim of Trump’s legal defenders that if Trump were impeached for such, as he sees them, flimsy misdeeds, every future president is likely to be impeached.

If anything, however, holding Trump accountable actually might deter future presidents from such abuses of power.

As a Winston-Salem resident who attended Wake Forest University and maintains local ties, Burr has often been seen, by the News & Record and others, as a level-headed moderate with the ability to put party aside for the good of the country. He has earned a reputation, through his work chairing the Intelligence Committee and his friendship with Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, a Democrat, for his sobriety and bipartisanship.

But if, as some predict, Trump sees his expected acquittal as permission to engage in even more extreme behavior, Burr will be remembered as one of his enablers.

Burr is not seeking reelection. Unlike Sen. Thom Tillis, he has nothing to fear from Trump’s Twitter feed.

We can only hope he will think twice about his comments and support the call for witnesses and documents so he can judge more clearly and the American people can see for themselves the extent of Trump’s actions.

This trial is not over, Sen. Burr. You, of all people, should know and respect that.

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