Impeachment Trial

Impeachment Trial Plans Begin as Schumer Requests Witnesses

The president will be impeached this week, as the House Judiciary Committee voted to approve  two articles of impeachment for a full vote on the House floor. Because Democrats hold the majority in the House right now and this impeachment is a hyper-partisan affair, it is virtually certain that the House of Representatives will vote to send both articles to the Senate, where a trial of some sort will be held. The Senate is currently controlled by Republicans, who have 53 seats whereas the Democrats have 45. As a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate is required to remove a president from office via impeachment, this outcome is unlikely, particularly because not a single Republican senator has indicated that they’d entertain voting with the Democrats. That being said, the upcoming Senate trial is nonetheless sure to have a significant and difficult-to-predict impact on the political world, particularly in consideration of the fact that the next presidential election is less than a year away.

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Now that impeachment in the House is all but certain, Senate lawmakers have begun publicly discussing the outline and the structure of the trial. Unsurprisingly, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has all but confirmed that the outcome of the trial is a foregone conclusion, saying, “there will be no difference between the president’s position and our position as to how to handle this to the extent that we can.” Mitch McConnell wants the trial to move quickly and with little fanfare, even suggesting that witnesses may not be called at all, in the hopes that news about the facts pertaining to the trial will fly under the radar to the greatest extent possible, whereas the president wants the trial to be a bombastic, theatrical affair, believing that such an event would bolster his poll numbers. 

Despite this difference in opinion, though, Democrats were infuriated by McConnell’s suggestion that the trial should be orchestrated in coordination with the defendant in the trial, with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer calling it “totally out of line.” During impeachment, senators are assigned the role of juror, and as such are required to swear an oath which reads: “I solemnly swear that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of Donald J. Trump, now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws: So help me God.” The Republicans’ coordination with the White House, then, would seem to be a clear and direct violation of this oath, as jurors who have already made up their minds before the trial takes place plainly impede justice.

The decisions senators will make throughout the process are hard to predict and will shed light on these their characters and indeed on the health of the republic generally.

Nevertheless, Democrats are doing everything in their power to negotiate with the Senate majority to make the trial process as fair as they can. Accordingly, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer today wrote a letter to McConnell outlining the witnesses he wishes to call during the trial, which will likely not be held until next year. Given the president’s love of drama and theatrics, it is likely that some witnesses will be called for the trial, though it’s unclear exactly who would be compelled to testify: Schumer specifically requested the appearance of Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and former Security Advisor John Bolton, both of whom refused to cooperate with congressionally approved subpoenas during the inquiry at the direction of the White House and may simply continue to ignore further calls to testify; and Republicans likely will seek testimonies of the unnamed whistleblower and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, the former of whom is protected by anonymity statutes and the latter of whom is not a fact or expert witness in this case and thus would have little legal justification for being compelled to act as a witness. 

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Though Schumer knows that he likely cannot change McConnell’s mind, or the minds of Trump’s most ardent defenders in the Senate, he believes he may convince enough Republican senators that at the very least relevant witnesses should be called to testify to secure the 51 votes necessary to pass an agreed-upon set of rules designed to enable a fair trial. When it comes to impeachment trials, there exists very little historical precedent for how they should be arranged and conducted, and impeachment has never before occurred in a political environment as hyper-partisan and polarized as today’s; as such, the decisions senators will make throughout the process are hard to predict and will shed light on these their characters and indeed on the health of the republic generally.

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