Thomas Gallatin / January 21, 2020

Impeachment Trial Day 1: The Senate Begins

McConnell releases proposed trial rules and Trump’s legal team releases its brief.

The Senate’s impeachment trial of President Donald Trump begins today. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released his proposed rules on Monday evening, which predictably had Democrats immediately crying foul. The biggest curve ball in McConnell’s proposal is a rule requiring that all evidence collected by House Democrats be approved via a vote before being admitted into the trial — and then only after opening arguments by both the House Democrats and Trump’s legal team. McConnell’s rules allow for a vote on whether to call witnesses, which Democrats insist on doing.

It’s clear that McConnell wants to avoid a drawn-out process, which is exactly what Democrats are aiming for. McConnell allotted 24 hours over two days for partisans on each side to present their case, starting with House Democrats. Then, following the Trump team’s rebuttal, senators will have up to 16 hours to submit questions in writing to both sides. Only after that process is complete will the Senate consider “the question of whether it shall be in order to consider and debate under the impeachment rules any motion to subpoena witnesses or documents.”

Furthermore, if the Senate votes to call witnesses, “no testimony shall be admissible in the Senate unless the parties have had an opportunity to depose such witnesses.” And any deposing of witnesses will be done behind closed doors.

Also on Monday, Trump’s legal team released its blistering 110-page brief against the Democrats’ articles of impeachment, calling them “an affront to the Constitution and our democratic institutions.” Team Trump adds that the “two flimsy Articles of Impeachment,” which “allege no crime or violation of law whatsoever — much less ‘high Crimes and Misdemeanors, as required by the Constitution,” will “permanently weaken the Presidency and forever alter the balance of power among the branches of government in a manner that offends the constitutional design established by the Founders.”

Trump’s acquittal is almost a foregone conclusion given that it would take the votes of 67 senators to convict, though the Democrats’ real ploy is not conviction but political damage. To that end, their aim is to paint Republicans as unfair if they vote against calling witnesses — witnesses House Democrats didn’t bother to call. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and company do hold the advantage of needing only a simple majority vote to get their witnesses, whom vulnerable Republicans will feel compelled to vote in favor of calling. By getting witnesses called, Schumer hopes to drag out the trial for as long as possible with the hope of damaging Republicans and aiding the Democrats’ bid to gain control of the Senate in the 2020 election. As we grow tired of noting, the Democrats’ whole despicable exercise is purely partisan political theater.

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