A liberal friend on Facebook who writes a daily roundup of news headlines for his followers dutifully reported the Democrats’ new rallying cry cum talking point: that Donald Trump’s impeachment trial is the first in U.S. history to be conducted without witnesses or evidence. Party leaders are citing that technicality as a basis for declaring in advance of next Wednesday’s up or down vote that Trump’s acquittal will be invalid. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday, “He [the president] will not be acquitted. You cannot be acquitted if you don’t have a trial, and you don’t have a trial unless you have witnesses and documentation.” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced on Friday that Trump’s “acquittal will be meaningless.”
Democrats’ petulant denial of the validity of the outcome of the Trump impeachment arises out of the need they have demonstrated throughout the impeachment fiasco to have it both ways.
For example, early in the Senate trial, Rep. Sylvia Garcia, one of the House managers and herself a former judge, argued the need for witnesses by asserting, according to the Washington Post, that “Americans are familiar with trials through TV shows or even personal experiences, and thus would expect the witness testimony the Democrats want to hear in the Senate trial.” Said Garcia, “All we’re asking for today is to give the American people the trial that they expect.”
When, however, White House counsel Pat Cipollone protested that the president had been denied the “fundamental fairness and due process” accorded every American who is tried for a crime, the Democrats were quick to point out the sweeping differences between a Senate impeachment trial and a criminal trial. Yet, one of these differences, according to the Associated Press, is that in a courtroom trial, “the attorneys for both sides get to call the witnesses,” whereas in a Senate trial “it’s not … automatic that there will be witnesses.”
Much as the Democrats would like to harp on the lack of witnesses, this impeachment is marked by other firsts as well. It is the first impeachment of a president, for example, in which both the president and his counsel were excluded from House investigation for more than two months and were not permitted to cross-examine the witnesses brought. It is the first impeachment of an incumbent, with all that portends. It is the first presidential impeachment in which the articles of impeachment were withheld for more than a month before being transmitted to the Senate.
Perhaps most importantly, it is the first impeachment of a president to be held following three years of investigation by the House into other potentially impeachable offenses.