(Columnist’s note: At the time I am filing this piece, two GOP senators who had been undecided, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Tennessee’s senior senator, Lamar Alexander, have announced they will vote against calling witnesses in President Trump’s impeachment trial. These two were the Democrats’ last hope for crossing over, and the respective decisions to side with their party all but assures the end of the trial).
Readers are asked to forgive me as I briefly write about the impeachment trial once more.
This will be the last column on this subject, unless the unlikely (and miraculous) happens and President Trump is removed from office. In that case, I’ll be eating crow as never before, and I’ll have an obligation to revisit this topic expansively.
For good or bad, I’m not too concerned about that happening.
As I wrote a few weeks ago, and as I have shared with friends who want to discuss it, when you put politics aside, this is incredibly interesting stuff and a lesson in Constitutional law from which we can all benefit.
You might be asking how one puts aside politics when that’s what this whole thing is about, and you would be asking a legitimate question.
For me, while the political theater is fascinating, it’s the procedural workings that have been enthralling.
Granted, since I have a day job, I have not watched it play by play. That might have been a bit much.
The nightly recaps, however, have kept me coming back.
The procedural guidance found in the Constitution, while clear, is not extensive. The House impeaches. The Senate decides if the the president gets the boot or not. The chief justice presides.
And that’s about it.
The Democratic senators, many of them lawyers, just can’t get over the fact there will be no witnesses called. They say it’s unfair.
I know for a fact many of them are parents. Surely, at one time or another, they talked to their children about the unfairness of life. They should be familiar with the concept.
Because as I read the Constitution, fairness has little — if anything — to do with the impeachment process. I’m not saying it’s explicitly un-fair, but it seems the framers did not give a lot of consideration to what notions of fairness, then or ever, might be.
While they undoubtedly intended for future bearers of this sacred responsibility to carry out their duties with honor and integrity, they did not — for whatever reason — prescribe detailed rules of evidence for an impeachment proceeding.
As such, while maybe they don’t get to make it up as they go along, the Senate does have some latitude. And when the majority party is the same as the chief executive being tried, that majority and that president have an advantage.
Like it or not, unless a Senate majority votes to call witnesses, the Senate jurors must rely on the evidence as they’ve heard it recited from the House impeachment managers and Trump’s lawyers.
As one trained in the law, the lack of witnesses doesn’t sit right with me, either. The impeachment managers and the lawyers are advocates, putting their spin on the information they are presenting.
But I didn’t make the rules. I could whine about fairness all I want, but it would be a futile cry.
Keeping a straight face
As presiding officer, Chief Justice John Roberts has had to deal with a bit more drama than the one who most recently preceded him in this role, William Rehnquist. As the one who presided over the Clinton impeachment trial, he was famously quoted as saying, “I did nothing in particular, and did it very well,” when reflecting on his part in those proceedings.
To be sure, Roberts has been stoic, but he is not likely to make a claim similar to Rehnquist’s. He twice refused to read a question from Rand Paul regarding the identity of the whistleblower who made known the information leading to this affair. He also had to read an absurd question from Sen. Elizabeth Warren that called into question his own effectiveness.
How he kept a straight face with that one is beyond me.
And now what?
Depending on the news sources you follow, there are differing views on how this will affect us as a nation going forward. Some say it will take years for wounds to heal, while others tell us justice has been served and we will move on just fine.
But it also depends on which side you’re on. And since that gets back into the politics of all of this, we’ll not go there now.
Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.