The Irish Times view on the Trump impeachment: over before it begins

Draft rules for the senate trial are designed to frustrate attempts to get at the truth

A 171-page legal brief issued by Donald Trump’s defence team sets out a breathtaking argument that in effect says this: even if the president did abuse his powers in an attempt to force Ukraine into investigating Joe Biden, a Democratic rival for the presidency, that would not be enough to remove him from office because he committed no crime. Photograph: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

A 171-page legal brief issued by Donald Trump’s defence team sets out a breathtaking argument that in effect says this: even if the president did abuse his powers in an attempt to force Ukraine into investigating Joe Biden, a Democratic rival for the presidency, that would not be enough to remove him from office because he committed no crime. Photograph: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

 

Even before Donald Trump’s impeachment trial got under way, any hope that Senate Republicans would treat this grave moment any more seriously than their colleagues in the House of Representatives did before Christmas had evaporated.

Trump’s White House blocked more than a dozen officials from giving evidence at the House impeachment inquiry last year and refused to provide a single document. On Monday, on the eve of the trial itself, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell laid out procedures that are plainly designed to frustrate attempts to get at the truth. Under the proposed rules, the Democratic prosecutors and Trump’s defence team will each have 24 hours to present their opening arguments, but those 24 hours will be highly compressed, resulting in a trial that could stretch late into the night.

Only after those opening statements and a subsequent question-and-answer session will there be a Senate vote on whether to hear witnesses or evidence. If the Republican-controlled senate votes to hear witnesses, those individuals will first give closed-door testimony and only then will the Senate decide whether they shall testify in public.

Trump’s team may not even attempt to challenge the factual basis for the case Democrats have brought against him

To cap it all, a 171-page legal brief issued by Trump’s defence team sets out a breathtaking argument that in effect says this: even if the president did abuse his powers in an attempt to force Ukraine into investigating Joe Biden, a Democratic rival for the presidency, that would not be enough to remove him from office because he committed no crime.

The argument, based on a literal reading of the “high crimes and misdemeanours” standard, goes against centuries of constitutional theory and practice and suggests that Trump’s team may not even attempt to challenge the factual basis for the case Democrats have brought against him. It is transparently the argument of a legal team that knows it has a weak defence. Yet with no sign that even a single Republican will vote for his removal, let alone the 20 that would be required to force him from office, the same defence team knows that the verdict is in before the trial has even begun.

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