If one didn’t know better, it would be easy to assume that this whole impeachment saga has gone on for years. Perhaps that’s because in a way, it has. From the moment President Trump took the oath of office, arguably even before then, his political enemies have looked for any and every way to bring him down.
Technically, however, this has been the shortest impeachment in the history of the country. All the same, the Senate GOP is ready to be done with the whole mess. Soon, they’ll get their wish.
Senate Majority Leader Turtle McConnell says the Senate will begin debating an organizing resolution to start the Senate trial on Tuesday of next week. McConnell said Chief Justice John Roberts will swear in senators as jurors this week, just before the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. McConnell said the House is expected to send over articles of impeachment on Wednesday and that the Senate will then have to go through a series of preliminary steps and housekeeping measures.
Turtle clarified that a debate and vote on the organizing resolution, which will determine time limits for the House impeachment managers and the president’s defense team to make their opening arguments as well as for senators to ask questions, will happen next week. The Senate will then notify the president’s defense team to appear and give the White House several days to respond.
As for the ground rules, McConnell says the GOP is unified behind following the precedent set by the 1999 impeachment trial of Slick Willy Clinton.
“All 53 of us have reached an understanding very, very similar to the one that was achieved at the beginning of the Clinton impeachment trial 100 to nothing that would set up the arguments by the parties — the prosecutors and defense — and then the written question period,” he said, adding that after senators hear these opening arguments, “the more contentious issue of witnesses will be addressed by the Senate.”
The issue of witnesses is a contentious one indeed. Democrats want to subpoena key fact witnesses from the president’s inner White House circle who would have firsthand knowledge of whatever arrangements the president had or attempted to have with the government of Ukraine. John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney are the two witnesses sought by Dims.
When asked whether the Senate will vote to subpoena key witnesses, McConnell sent out a warning of sorts. Should Dims attempt to subpoena senior administration officials, McConnell says that GOP senators may well call on Joe Biden or his son Hunter to testify about their Ukraine-related dealings.
Now that would be interesting. When asked specifically about the GOP senators who wish to call the Bidens to testify, McConnell responded thusly:
“We’ll be dealing with the witness issue at the appropriate time into the trial, and I think it’s certainly appropriate to point out that both sides would want to call witnesses that they wanted to hear from,” McConnell said today.
It appears that we have a full-fledged game of chicken on our hands, folks. Who will blink first?
The president has come around to RNR’s way of thinking as of late, expressing support for a dismissal of the charges altogether. Though he previously claimed to want his name cleared in a Senate trial, he took to Twitter this past weekend to reverse course:
“Many believe that by the Senate giving credence to a trial based on the no evidence, no crime, read the transcripts, ‘no pressure’ Impeachment Hoax, rather than an outright dismissal, it gives the partisan Democrat Witch Hunt credibility that it otherwise does not have. I agree!”
Unfortunately, with Pelosi finally deciding to send the articles to the Senate, the support for such a measure has all but dissipated, with Sen.Roy Blunt (R-MO) making clear today that the 51 votes just aren’t there to dismiss. Because no Democrats would support the effort, McConnell could afford to lose only two GOP senators and still successfully dismiss the articles.
What Happens Now
Since the House has chosen to impeach, there will be a trial in the Senate to determine if the President is guilty. To start this process, the House will select “managers” to present evidence to the Senate and to subpoena witnesses, which will of course be subject to majority vote.
The trial is roughly analogous to a criminal court trial, with the House managers playing the role of the prosecution, the Senate as the jury, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court as the judge, and the president as the defendant. However, the Constitution is clear that it is not a criminal trial, since the standards for evidence and conviction are up to the Senate.
Similar to a jury, the Senate meets in closed session to deliberate the substance of the trial. Finally, the Senate will vote on each article of impeachment separately. These votes require a ⅔rd majority to convict, which results in removal from office. The Senate may also vote on whether the president becomes disqualified from holding a government position again, for which only a simple majority is required.
While the situation is currently fluid in terms of what witnesses may be called, which documents may be subpoenaed, etc., the final analysis remains largely unchanged. The Constitution makes the removal of a sitting president very difficult to achieve, thankfully. The reason being, it undermines the authority of the People in determining their leader and has horrible divisive effects on the country as a whole. For Congress to remove a president, there needs to be crimes/gross abuses of power that both parties agree cannot be ignored.
The chances that President Trump will be removed from office are exceedingly low. Neither article of impeachment is currently supported with the requisite evidence to warrant conviction.
The Obstruction of Congress charge is especially frivolous, as the House sought to charge the president with a crime for doing exactly what was within his power to do: refer subpoenas to the judiciary. If the president feels he has the executive to exercise privilege over particular witnesses or documents, he may do so unless and until the judiciary branch overrides him. Democrats could have taken the president to court over his invocation of executive privilege, but instead, bizarrely charged him with obstruction for asserting it at all. This article should be thrown out on its face.
The other article of impeachment, Abuse of Power, is a bit trickier. First off, it’s very vague, which is a testament to the weakness of the Dims’ case. That said, it doesn’t lack teeth altogether. The biggest threat to President Trump in this trial is the question of whether he demanded that Ukrainian president Zelensky hold a public announcement regarding the investigation into Burisma/the Bidens. The president is accused of using military aid as leverage to get the announcement done. Should this charge be proved, there isn’t a good defense. He could argue that the investigations needed to happen for the sake of cleaning up corruption, but to demand it be announced publicly lest military aid be withheld would be a nakedly political and self-serving act, i.e. an abuse of power.
That charge, up to now, has only been testified to by people with second or thirdhand knowledge, thereby leaving it unproved one way or the other. This is why Dims are headstrong about getting Mulvaney and/or Bolton to testify, as they believe people in the president’s inner circle have firsthand knowledge of whether it took place. The president has thus far used executive privilege to keep his inner circle from testifying and their communications regarding the incident out of the trial.
The good news is the president does have a solid argument to make regarding his invoking of executive privilege, as virtually every president before him has kept his senior officials out of the congressional fray. A president needs to maintain a measure of confidentiality for those with whom he works on a daily basis. It’s damaging to the presidency if a president is not able to keep intimate conversations out of the public eye, as to do so could infect very sensitive work with political considerations (more so than it already is).
Then there are the political considerations that Republicans must take into account when acting as the president’s jurors. Let’s say, hypothetically, that a strong case is made that the president indeed attempted to use military aid as leverage to force a public announcement from Zelensky regarding the Bidens. While that may technically be an abuse of power, how many Senators are willing to throw the country into civil war in order to hold the president accountable? Is the crime truly worth what would happen to the country? While there are no doubt a few senators craven enough to commit such an act, I strongly doubt 20+ GOP senators would ignore the consequences of such an act.
Of course, we must assume a lot to even arrive at this hypothetical. Would Dims be willing to let Hunter Biden answer questions under congressional oath about his dealings in Ukraine, China, etc? Would they be willing to have their presidential frontrunner lying through his teeth on national television about knowing nothing of such overt corruption? Would Democrats really come out ahead in such a scenario? I certainly have my doubts. And more importantly, so do they.
Conclusion: President Trump isn’t going anywhere. Removal from office is already incredibly difficult to achieve, but removal from office given the current case Dims have would be virtually impossible. The political damage of this trial is another story. And that largely depends on how Republicans handle the process.
Even if the worst case scenario happens, which would be witnesses from the White House being called and testifying that the president used military aid for political purposes, the chance of 67 senators finding it to be a removable offense is very low. For all intents and purposes, this is political theater in which both sides are seeking to get the best of the other. With the prospect of the Bidens being called to explain their own corruption, don’t be surprised if Dims ultimately decide to call a truce, go through the motions, acquit the president and focus on the campaign trail.
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