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Donald Trump Is Not On Trial — Senate Republicans Are

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., joined from left by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, dismisses the impeachment process against President Donald Trump saying, "I'm not an impartial juror. This is a political process," as he meets with reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., joined from left by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, dismisses the impeachment process against President Donald Trump saying, "I'm not an impartial juror. This is a political process," as he meets with reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

After nearly three months of public hearings, the House of Representatives is expected to impeach Donald Trump on Wednesday, for abusing the power of his office and obstructing Congress.

The president himself is on record pressuring a foreign power to investigative a political rival. As is so often the case, his mouth is the smoking gun.

By all accounts, the next step in the process will be a trial in the Senate. But as it stands, the Senate will not be staging an actual trial. And anyone who refers to the process as “a trial” will be spreading misinformation.

This may sound like a controversial statement. It’s not.

Let’s break it down, one step at a time.

First, here’s the basic definition of a trial: “a formal examination of evidence in order to determine guilt.”

Second, here’s what Constitution itself says, as noted by the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation: According to Article 1, Section 3, Clause 6, “the Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments” and “shall be on Oath or Affirmation.”

Because the founders saw impeachment as such a sacred and momentous process, they actually require senators to swear a unique oath. Every sitting senator will have to make the following pledge:

I solemnly swear (or affirm, as the case may be) that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of Donald J. Trump, now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws: So help me God.

Third, here’s what various GOP senators have already said about impeachment.

They should be forced to explain, every single day, why they are endangering our democracy ...

Lindsey Graham: “This thing will come to the Senate, and it will die quickly, and I will do everything I can to make it die quickly. I am trying to give a pretty clear signal I have made up my mind. I’m not trying to pretend to be a fair juror here.”

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell: “Everything I do during this, I’m coordinating with White House counsel. There will be no difference between the president’s position and our position … we will be working through this [impeachment] process, hopefully in a fairly short period of time, in total coordination with the White House counsel’s office and the people who are representing the president in the well of the Senate.”

As a reminder, the Constitution requires both these men to serve as impartial jurors.

A number of observers have argued that House Democrats should impeach Trump, but refuse to send the articles of impeachment over to the Senate. Why allow McConnell to conduct a sham trial, one in which he refuses to call the very witnesses most likely to affirm or deny the president’s guilt? Why not simply continue investigating a president so corrupt that even his charity is a scam?

I can see the sense in this argument.

At the same time, forcing McConnell and his colleagues to defile the Constitution in broad daylight could have a galvanizing effect on those citizens whose brains have not already been programmed by Fox News propaganda.

Democrats in the Senate should recognize the optics here. Attacking Trump is pointless at this point. His guilt is obvious. Impunity is his brand.

It’s Senate Republicans themselves who should be cross-examined — by the media, by citizen activists and their colleagues. And that includes so-called centrists like Mitt Romney and Susan Collins, who pretend to be principled defenders of the Constitution until the time comes to fall in line.

They should be forced to explain, every single day, why they are endangering our democracy to protect a man they know to be utterly corrupt.

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Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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