Though cynics may mock it as a bit theatrical, the somber demeanor of House leaders delivering the the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate did fit the gravity of the event. Understanding the importance of the message conveyed by the picture, the pit in my stomach only grew as Chief Justice John Roberts and then the individual members of the Senate swore an oath to a fair and impartial process of trying the President of the United States. Much is riding on what happens in the next few weeks.
I took as a good sign that Roberts didn’t add Iolanthe-inspired gold stripes to his sleeves as did presiding Chief Justice Rehnquist at the Clinton impeachment, so he later could donate his robe to the Smithsonian and take a tax deduction for it. I took as a dark sign that so many Senators who have prejudged the matter at hand pledged to be fair and impartial with straight faces.
The weight of the moment is clear. The eyes of the world (if not of all the short attention-spanned citizenry of the United States) is on the process. Think of the nations that look to us as moral exemplars of judicial fairness and balanced governance. Given the seriousness of the charges, the integrity of our electoral process and the sanctity of the U.S. Constitution hang in the balance. President Donald John Trump (as his name was intoned) is accused to trying to force a foreign government to interfere in our election by investigating POTUS’ political opponent) and then moving to cover up his action. In short, despite Trump’s protest that impeachment is a sham, he stands accused of trying to subvert democracy. But he must have a fair trial. The language of those oaths taken today must be fulfilled. Politicians have attention spans of beagles; history does not.
A fair trial necessitates the presentation of documents and questioning of directly relevant witnesses, both of which the President truncated in the House. Even if Vice President Pence and Attorney General Barr are not called, we need to hear from relevant witnesses. We especially need testimony from former National Security Adviser John Bolton, who has said he will comply if subpoenaed, though he may be doing it less out of civic duty than to market his upcoming multi-million dollar summer blockbuster “tell-all book.” Rudy Giuliani colleague Lev Parnas, who, despite (or because of?) facing campaign finance charges, has evidence directly linking Trump to the illegal actions. He may nor may not be a credible witness, but his testimony needs to be weighed fairly. Similarly, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, directly involved in the quid pro quo with Ukraine should be heard, along with senior staff people Robert Blair and Michael Duffy.
The precedent is clear; the Senate has always taken testimony from witnesses, publicly or privately, in impeachment trials. Comparisons to the Clinton impeachment are largely false. In that case, proceedings came after years of exhaustive investigations, and the facts were never really in dispute.
The question is: will there be enough moderate Republicans in the upper branch who, having sworn to impartial justice, will put country above party and insist on having witnesses and fair procedures. Arizona Senator Martha McSally’s screed against CNN’s Manu Raju today doesn’t augur well for other electorally-challenged GOP incumbents to view the President while not on bended knees. At the same time, despite the validity of that need for witnesses, I was not happy to see Minority Leader Chuck Schumer hold a press conference outside the chamber right after the swearing in of Roberts and the Senate. I agree with what he said but was turned off by the timing and inferred naked partisanship.
As a practical matter, if Trump wants the opportunity to declare himself exonerated, he must present a credible defense. Witnesses for both sides should be seriously considered. This is about more than Donald Trump. The integrity of the Senate is on trial. How Roberts handles his role will influence how our independent judiciary is viewed. The future of our Constitutional republic is at stake. If I had confidence in the process and its outcome, perhaps I wouldn’t have this pit in my stomach.
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