And Now, Impeachment
And Now, Impeachment
Three years in the making and it’s finally here. On Tuesday, the Senate will open the impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump. Here’s an overview of the proceedings, the major players, and the arguments on both sides.
The Schedule. On Monday, the President’s legal team will provide his trial brief. Cipollone and Sekulow released a seven-page response Sunday night and could release a longer version today. The House managers provided a brief on Sunday outlining their case against the President. On Tuesday, the House managers will provide a rebuttal to the President’s brief and at 1pm Mitch McConnell will introduce the organizing resolution. The rest of the day Tuesday will be spent on this motion. Dems will likely propose amendments, call for witnesses, and delay the vote as long as possible. Once the organizing resolution passes, the rules are set. Beginning Wednesday, both sides will introduce their opening arguments.
The Managers. Nancy Pelosi appointed seven managers to conduct the trial on behalf of the House, including Reps Adam Schiff, Jerry Nadler, Zoe Lofgren, Hakeem Jeffries, and three other veteran Democrats. Pelosi chose not to include any Republicans. The managers are charged with delivering and presenting the articles to the Senate, making the case for impeachment, and answering the Senators written questions. Think of the managers like prosecutors. The Representatives have already built their case and brought charges, now they will make that case and argue for Trump’s removal.
The Chief Justice. The Vice President normally presides over the Senate, but because of the potential conflict of interest, the Constitution designates the chief justice of the Supreme Court to preside over impeachment trials. Justice John Roberts will not be the decision-maker in this trial, that role is reserved for the Senators. Roberts will serve more as a referee, ensuring the trial stays within the proper rules and procedures. There will be enormous pressure on Roberts to be an activist, but his role requires impartial minimal involvement.
The Defense. The President has assembled a star-studded group to defend him in the Senate, including Pat Cipollone, White House counsel and lead for the impeachment investigation; Jay Sekulow, Trump’s personal counsel; Ken Starr, the solicitor general for George H. W. Bush and the namesake for the Starr Report which led to the impeachment of Bill Clinton; Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard Law professor and notorious defense attorney who was involved in the defense of O. J. Simpson, Jeffrey Epstein, and Harvey Weinstein, among others; Robert Ray, a special prosecutor in the Clinton impeachment; and several others.
In their initial response to the impeachment charges, Cipollone and Sekulow argued that the articles were partisan, unfounded, improperly established, and should be rejected.
Dershowitz and Starr may do more work on TV than in the courtroom, and both have questioned the President’s behavior regarding Ukraine. However, Dershowitz has made clear that he believes the charges against the President may not be founded, and even if they are, may not be impeachable. Cipollone, Sekulow, and Ray are expected to lead the team in the Senate.
One of the key questions lies in the charge of “abuse of power.” Trump’s team is expected to argue that he has not been charged with any criminal behavior and has done nothing worthy of impeachment. The Dems will take the opposite side. It’s likely that this charge garners the majority of the attention in the trial.
The Dems. Despite Nancy Pelosi’s protests, Chuck Schumer and Adam Schiff now wield the power for the Dems in the Senate trial. Schumer has decided to double down on the witnesses. Last night he tweeted, “Trials have witnesses and documents. Cover-ups don’t.” It’s an interesting line of argument, because there are Republicans who also believe witnesses should be called, but they didn’t have a say in House proceedings. Other than Gordon Sondland, who gave a dizzying set of testimonies in the House hearings, none of the witnesses who have been called had any first hand information on the President’s plans and dealings with Ukraine. The White House advised Bolton, Pompeo, Mulvaney, and others not to testify and so far they have complied. The Dems have labelled the White House’s actions “obstruction of Congress” and included that as one of the charges.
Schumer should direct these complaints to his own party, who oversaw the inquiries and brought the charges. To this point the Democrats have conducted a partisan trial, and they’re going to do everything they can to stop the Republicans from doing the same thing in the Senate. There are a few Democratic Senators in red states who will try to wait as long as possible to give any indication of their vote. To keep their seats, they need to entertain the possibility of voting to exonerate the President, but the pressure from their own party will be overwhelming. If it looks like the Republicans are all going to vote for acquittal, expect a couple of Democrats to join them. On the other side, there are several Republicans who may vote for removal. It requires a two-thirds majority to remove the President, so some Senators may break with their party and vote to remove, but unless 20 Republicans join the Dems, Trump will stay in office.
The Long Game. I remember thinking during the Kavanaugh hearings: they’ve got the votes, he’ll be confirmed. I have a feeling this impeachment trial could make those hearings seem tame, but I’m hoping to be wrong. If there’s anything constant in this process it is Mitch McConnell’s commitment and ability to get the vote through. He doesn’t seem to care about press coverage, and he does not buy into the myth that if you play by the Dems’ unwritten rules of civility, they will do the same. It’s for this reason that McConnell wields such power in the Senate. Even the Republicans on the fence have to feel a little bit like Charlie Brown lining up for a field goal. Politics has been stripped of good faith, honesty, and country over party - and in that climate, it’s best to stick with your group. Now, that’s not to say that the Republicans aren’t on the right side of this issue, but that with the opposition they face, it would be impossible to know.
On the surface, the trial will come down to one thing: will 34 of the 53 Republicans in the Senate vote against removing the President from office. From one angle, it’s that simple. In the meantime, there will be disputes over rules, witnesses, and amendments. The Dems will likely bring forth information they’ve had for months in an attempt to undermine the Republicans’ ability to vote on the motions. There will probably be another set of charges if the trial goes quickly. The Dems will argue that these charges were incomplete and that the evidence was suppressed. Republicans will argue that the Dems have been set on removing Trump since before he was elected. There may end up being an element of truth in both arguments. This is the political climate we live in.
Is there anything unique for Christians in all of this? Contrary to the cultural pressure of party over all, Christians continue to have a higher allegiance to the truth than to political outcomes. If there is more to uncover here, then we need to have the patience and the restraint to advocate for a full exposition of the events, their legality, and the constitutional process of impeachment. It may sound like too much to ask, but Christians should be supportive of those on both sides who are forthcoming, as difficult as that might be to identify. As it stands now, the charges look far from proven, and the argument from the defense that these charges are not impeachable is worth hearing. The impeachment will take center stage for the next month, but it is far from the most important thing going on in the country right now. We have the opportunity to show that we can be knowledgeable, engaged, thoughtful, and at the same time unwilling to allow politics to consume our hearts, minds, and our mission.
Cole Feix is the founder and president of So We Speak. Follow him on Twitter, @cfeix7.