Trump Impeachment Trial Underway

And now the real farce begins.

For the third time in history, and the second in the last quarter-century, the United States Senate has been sworn in as a “jury” to rule on the impeachment of the President. This time, the outcome seems a foregone conclusion.

Still, this seems a moment worthy of commemoration. WaPo (“Impeachment trial live updates: Historic impeachment trial of Trump begins in the Senate“):

The historic impeachment trial of President Trump got underway Thursday with the swearing in of senators and the presentation of the two charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

John G. Roberts Jr., chief justice of the United States, was sworn in to preside over the trial, which is focused on Trump’s conduct toward Ukraine. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said the trial will proceed “in earnest” next week.

Fallout also continued Thursday from new allegations by Lev Parnas, a former associate of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, that Trump knew of his efforts to dig up dirt in Ukraine that could benefit Trump politically. The impeachment charges center on the allegation that Trump withheld military aid and a White House meeting to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rivals, including former vice president Joe Biden.

That Trump abused the power of his office in the Ukraine affair and then again to stymie Congress in its investigation is not in serious dispute. But it’s virtually inconceivable that any Republican Senators will vote to convict—let alone enough to provide the sixty votes needed to remove Trump from office. Thus, we’re almost certainly in store for a farce.

One thing that struck me is how many in the press and the Democratic caucus are calling the Senate a “jury” in the case. I recall from the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton that Democratic Senators vehemently objected to House Republican trial managers referring to them by that label, ultimately asking then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist to rule that they were not in fact a jury. Which he did.

Impeachment is inherently a political process and Senators are within their rights to refuse to vote to remove a President even if they believe him technically guilty of the charges. Indeed, quite a few Senators (including at least one or two Republicans) said as much during the Clinton trial: he was guilty but the charges didn’t merit removing him from office.

One could, I suppose, make the argument that the Ukraine affair falls into that category. Alas, I’m not seeing many Republicans make that argument. Rather, they’re simply defending Trump because he’s of their party. That’s unconscionable but it will only matter politically if it results in a backlash at the ballot box. I’m skeptical it will.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Impeachment, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Yeah…it’s not a jury. He’s been Impeached. That’s forever, no matter what happens.
    The Senate is only deciding if he should be removed. If anything…it’s sentencing, in that they are deciding if he should be punished or not..

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  2. Kathy says:

    Who ever thought a sham trial could be used to clear a guilty man?

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  3. steve says:

    My prediction is that McConnell will not allow any witnesses to testify and he especially won’t let any new ones in. He will oppose admitting any evidence gained after the hearings in the Congress. I will be surprised if this takes more than a week or 10 days. If Roberts has a say in it he will mostly favor the GOP positions, but will allow one or two small decisions in favor of the Dems to appear non-partisan. Then McConnell will be back to approving hack judges!

    Steve

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  4. Kathy says:

    The best outcome possible may be that five GOP Senators vote to remove, just to carry the guilty count to 51-49.

    In actual fact, I expect none will.

    Maybe Romney, if he can take a trip to Oz to see the Wizard.

    Now, I know there won’t be a secret vote (more’s the pity), but could an enterprising pollster take an anonymous poll of the Senate?

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  5. Jay L Gischer says:

    For what it’s worth, I’m of a mind to minimize Chief Roberts’ role in this mess. When you get to make the rules, and can overrule the judge with a majority vote, the judge has mostly a ceremonial role. He’s not that important.

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  6. An Interested Party says:

    Once this particular show is over, the question left is: will most of the people in the middle, outside of the partisans, see this as a stain on Trump or will they see him as being vindicated? Surely this will play some kind of prominent role in the presidential election…

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  7. Scott F. says:

    One could, I suppose, make the argument that the Ukraine affair falls into that category. Alas, I’m not seeing many Republicans make that argument.

    To make the argument that POTUS is guilty, but the charges do not merit removal would draw the wrath of Trump in untold measure, since he is certain he is not only innocent, but harassed for his perfection. To a person, the GOP lacks the courage to face his angry tweets and the pile-on that would follow from Cult45.

    I want each Republican to be forced to speak their rationale, so the country can note whether they’d rather be cowards or legally incoherent. Then, their choice should be standard copy in their opponents’ campaign ads for the remainder of their political careers. Trump Sycophancy has to be a stain that can never be washed off.

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  8. Lounsbury says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    That’s forever, no matter what happens.

    And so the f* what? Lefties will get off on it, but it doesn’t move anything and even on the historical basis, it says not much in itself – yes it will look longer-term more like Jackson than Clinton on the historical record, but that means rather little for living human beings.

    Only if somehow you incompetent gits manage to make this work on the near-term election basis re the middle, as @An Interested Party says the “outside the partisans” see it as a negative on him rather than a vindication or a Meh, does it mean anything relative to any living human being.

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  9. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @Lounsbury: I have a hard time believing that DJT’s ego considers impeachment meaningless.

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  10. An Interested Party says:

    Only if somehow you incompetent gits manage to make this work on the near-term election basis…

    You’re English, aren’t you? It’s ironic you would write that, considering how many incompetent gits in the UK voted to cut their own throats with Brexit and helped to put Boris Johnson in Downing Street…

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  11. sam says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Wouldn’t you say, though, that incompetent gitism is exactly what brought this about: ‘You’re a bunch of dopes and babies’: Inside Trump’s stunning tirade against generals?

  12. James Joyner says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Once this particular show is over, the question left is: will most of the people in the middle, outside of the partisans, see this as a stain on Trump or will they see him as being vindicated? Surely this will play some kind of prominent role in the presidential election…

    Sadly, I think there are no “people in the middle” left. I can’t imagine the person who was previously “meh” on Trump but is going to be outraged by this. Hell, I left my political party of nearly forty years for Trump and find it among the least outrageous things he’s done in office.

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  13. Tyrell says:

    “It took that many people to carry a file of papers through the Capitol? Another prime example of government waste!” (talk radio show)

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  14. Neil Hudelson says:

    @An Interested Party: Lounsbury’s schtick is to pop up and call everyone idiots, even if he’s being objectively wrong while he’s doing it.

    I think we all know people who can only feel better about their own deficiencies by projecting them on to others. Most outgrow it by 15 or so. Lounsbury is an exception.

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  15. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Hey, Stephen Taylor, remember that thread about which commenters are participating and which ones are just insulting? See Lounsbury above. And would the rest of you please refrain from letting Lounsbury highjack the thread?

    I’m not sure why Tryell got downvoted since he’s just quoting a dumb comment,, not saying he agrees with it. Tyrell, please confirm whether you agree with it or not, so we know where you’re coming from.

    With regard to the topic: Republicans are traitors and refuse to fulfill their oaths of office to defend the constitution – film at 11. And may there be lots of film!

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  16. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    we all know people who can only feel better about their own deficiencies by projecting them on to others. Most outgrow it by 15 or so.

    Others become the 45th President.

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  17. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Lounsbury:
    It’s more than obvious that Trump is twisted up over it.
    Ask Clinton if he likes having that asterisk?
    Ask Manny Ramirez or A-Rod or Bonds or Pete Rose.

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  18. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    Others become the 45th President.

    *chef’s kiss*

  19. just nutha says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Surely this will play some kind of prominent role in the presidential election…

    To quote the custodian in the scene from The Breakfast Club, “I wouldn’t count on that.”