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Without witnesses, impartial justice cannot be served in an impeachment trial

Without witnesses, impartial justice cannot be served in an impeachment trial

Without witnesses, impartial justice cannot be served in an impeachment trial
February 04
22:20 2020

When the first-ever presidential impeachment trial took place in 1868, the U.S. Senate heard testimony from 41 witnesses before then-President Andrew Johnson was acquitted of “high crimes and misdemeanors” by a single vote. Three witnesses were heard during the 1998 impeachment trial of former President Bill Clinton, although they testified via recorded video messages instead of coming to the Senate chamber in person. Flash forward to Jan. 31, 2020, when a 51-49 vote struck down a proposal to subpoena witnesses in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. For the first time in U.S. history, there will be a presidential impeachment trial without witnesses.

This is a troubling break from the precedent set by the two previous trials because there are still officials with direct knowledge of Trump withholding aid from Ukraine, and by rejecting a proposal to call for their testimony, the 51 senators who voted “Nay” are essentially keeping important information from getting out to the public. 

Had the proposal to subpoena witnesses passed, at least one of these officials would have been willing to share information about the Ukraine scandal: Former national security advisor John Bolton, who said in a statement prior to the trial that he was prepared to testify. Bolton’s testimony had been sought by Democratic senators because of claims in his unpublished book manuscript that Trump withheld aid from Ukraine in order to pressure its government to investigate political rivals.

Since Bolton had information and was willing to share it, why not hear what he has to say? Whether his testimony would have helped or hurt Trump, having a witness at the trial would give senators new material to consider and more evidence to make an informed decision whether to convict or acquit the president during the final vote. Not allowing this new material to be considered leads me to fear that this impeachment trial will focus more on covering for Trump than bringing him to justice. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell only increased my concerns when he openly admitted to reporters that he will not be an impartial juror. Any private citizen summoned for jury duty would likely be disqualified from serving on the jury if they made that statement before a trial. For crying out loud, Gigi Hadid was dismissed as a potential juror for the Harvey Weinstein trial partly due to her friendship with Cara Delevingne, who accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct back in 2017. I do not want to live in a world where Gigi Hadid is held to a higher standard than the Senate majority leader. I want to see a trial where witnesses testify, the Senate listens to their testimony and the verdict is decided by careful consideration instead of partisan loyalties.

I understand that there is not a two-thirds majority of senators prepared to convict Donald Trump on charges of abusing power and obstructing Congress, but his likely acquittal is no excuse to keep witnesses of these abuses from testifying. A trial without witnesses can only lead to a verdict without justice, and history will remember that long after Trump leaves office.

Featured Illustration: Jae-Eun Suh

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Audrey Vieira

Audrey Vieira

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