finished and unfinished

The opening statements are finished.

The presentations from the House managers (the prosecutors) and the President’s counsel (the defense) are finished.

The two days of questions from the senators and answers from the teams are almost finished.

Tomorrow, there will be votes to consider hearing from witnesses and obtaining documents from the executive branch. The vast majority of US voters want there to be witnesses and documents as part of the trial. Many of us have been called to jury duty and know that fair trials always have witnesses and documentary evidence. Unlike presidential impeachments of the twentieth century, this one was not preceded by a special or independent counsel investigation, so there were not tens of thousands of pages of documents, depositions, and testimony already assembled. In the current impeachment, this was compounded by the blanket assertion of the president that he did not have to turn over any documents or allow any testimony from anyone in his administration. This is totally unprecedented. During the impeachment investigation of Richard Nixon, he directed all of his staff and Cabinet to testify before the Congressional committee and turned over documents. Some of the staff went to prison because of their wrongdoing. When the Oval Office tapes were revealed and Nixon tried to not turn them over as evidence, the Supreme Court quickly ruled that they must be turned over to the Congress. Hiding evidence of a corrupt act is also a corrupt act.

Still it appears that the Republicans want the trial finished this week before the Super Bowl, the Iowa caucuses, and the President’s State of the Union address.

If the Republicans vote to not have witnesses called and vote to acquit, the trial will still feel unfinished. More evidence will come out in the days and weeks ahead and people will rightly ask why the evidence was not presented at the trial. They will also rightly ask if the senators upheld their oath to do “impartial justice.”

When things are left unfinished, there is a sense of unease.

I think uneasiness lies ahead for the US.
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Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Following prompts is not required, but I chose today to use the prompt “finished.” Find out more about Just Jot It January here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/30/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-30th-2020/

trepidation

As I am starting to write this, it is about 8 AM EST, which is the same time zone as Washington, DC and I am watching the morning news. The lead story is the impeachment trial, which will begin at 1 PM. The reason it needs to start in the afternoon is that Chief Justice John Roberts will preside over the Senate trial while still presiding over the Supreme Court for its sessions that are held in the morning.

Beyond that, there are many unknowns.

Last evening, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell finally released his proposal for the ground rules of the trial. Although he has been saying they would be like the last presidential impeachment trial, which was President Clinton’s in 1999, they differ in significant ways.

Perhaps what I find most shocking is that the evidence from the House impeachment investigation is not going to be automatically entered into the record. In the Clinton trial, there were hundreds of pages just from the Starr report, plus underlying evidence, that were entered into the record. I hope that there will be an amendment for evidence inclusion while the rules are debated. Even though Republicans have the majority, they should all vote for evidence! How can there be a trial without evidence?

Sen. McConnell has said that he is coordinating with the White House whose strategy appears to be to argue that the House didn’t have legal and Constitutional grounds for impeachment. Even so, I think evidence is important to make that argument. I myself am curious about how they can argue no laws were broken when withholding Congressionally approved aid is illegal according to the Government Accountability Office (first article) and Roger Stone was recently convicted of obstruction of Congress (second article).

Another strange thing about McConnell’s rules is that the timeline is so condensed. Each side has 24 hours – but only two days – for opening arguments. [Update: McConnell extended this to three days, just as the trial began.] Given that the proceedings can’t start until 1 PM and there will need to be some breaks for participants to attend to personal needs, the trial could go into the early morning hours. This is a punishingly long day, especially for Chief Justice Roberts, who needs to be at the Supreme Court for morning session. It also makes it nearly impossible for the public to watch the entire trial, although some media specialists have pointed out the trial will be ongoing during television prime time. This could lead to the legal teams timing their strongest arguments to coincide with when more voters would be available to watch.

When the rules for the Clinton impeachment were passed, the vote was 100-0. The senators had worked together to come up with the rules. This time, McConnell has drafted the rules himself with no input from Democrats. Given that the Republicans hold 53 seats, McConnell’s rules could pass without amendment. This would fly in the face not only of fairness but also of public sentiment. Support for impeachment and removal from office is about 50%. Support for a fair trial with witnesses is even higher, about 70%. By contrast, only a third of Americans wanted Clinton removed from office. While additional witnesses were not initially allowed, there was a vote for additional witnesses during the trial; they gave written testimony.

In the current trial, unless there is a surprise in the rules vote today, the vote on additional witnesses can’t take place until both sides have presented opening arguments and the senators have had 16 hours of questions. Witnesses are especially important in this trial because the White House has blocked testimony and documents from the House investigation. There has been a lot of circular reasoning from the Republicans on the impeachment and trial.  They are saying that the Democrats haven’t proven their case but the House’s requests for documents and witnesses have been blocked, so how could they prove the case, especially if they won’t accept the evidence that the House was able to obtain, including from some witnesses who honored House subpoenas, even when the White House told them not to?

This is mind-boggling. It’s one thing for the White House to argue that the behavior doesn’t rise to the level of impeachment. It’s quite another to not allow the House to make their case based on facts from evidence, testimony, and the Constitution and laws.

Given that all senators took an oath to “do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws,” they should vote no on anything that restricts evidence.

I won’t hold my breath…

[Note: this is a synopsis of what I am seeing on the news, with a bit of my reaction. It is certainly at the top of my mind today, but I am also including it because there are people who get news from blogs rather than more traditional media who might be interested, as well as people outside the US who might not have as much access to this information.]
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Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/21/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-21st-2020/

 

following impeachment

While I wasn’t able to watch all the impeachment testimony and debate and read all the reports, I was able to digest major chunks of it. There is a lot of factual evidence supporting the now-passed articles of impeachment. Even the Congressional Republicans weren’t often trying to dispute the testimony of the fact witnesses, instead arguing about process or trying to advance debunked conspiracy theories to muddy the waters.

It’s discouraging how little many people, including some in government, understand about the Constitutional process of impeachment by the House and trial in the Senate. Impeachment is roughly equivalent to a grand jury indictment in the judicial system. It is a vote on whether or not there is sufficient evidence in support of the article of impeachment to warrant a trial. Unlike a criminal trial, impeachment does not require a specific “crime” as misconduct, corruption, and ethics violations often don’t fit neatly into legal frameworks. One of the differences in the Trump impeachment compared to proceedings against Clinton and Nixon is that most of the investigation happened within the House committees themselves. In the Nixon and Clinton investigations, there was extensive investigation by the Justice Department that was passed on to the House; in Trump’s case, the Justice Department refused to investigate and the White House refused to honor subpoenas for testimony and documents, hence the second article of impeachment for obstruction of Congress.

The two articles of impeachment passed by majority vote in the House, so President Trump has been impeached. Period. The articles of impeachment not having been conveyed to the Senate yet is irrelevant. If the Senate acquits at trial, it does not erase the impeachment.

When the Senate does hold the trial, all the senators are sworn in as triers of fact by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who is the presiding officer. House members will act as prosecutors and the president’s lawyers will be defense attorneys. In order for there to be removal from office, 2/3rds of the senators must vote to convict.

One of the appalling things that has happened is that some of the senators, including the Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have publicly stated that they are not impartial. What will happen when they are asked to swear an oath to deliver “impartial justice”? Will there be consequences if they swear to it without intending to follow through? I can’t imagine they will recuse themselves rather than lie in taking the oath.

I do hope that the trial will be full and fair with relevant documents and testimony. All the senators and the public should hear the facts of the case. Although I know that it is unlikely that 2/3rds of the senators will vote to convict, it is important for the voters in the next election to know what has happened and for history to have an accurate record.