Impeachment: Day Zero

It is the editorial policy of The Not Fake News to avoid covering things that you’ll hear about anyway unless what you’re going to hear is wrong.

In this instance, the danger is that you’ll have long since overloaded before you get to the essentials, so I’m going to kick you those.  I’m limiting myself to matters of fact here; some of them are conclusions based on applied reason (“Most Senators are power-hungry, but not all are overtly eating-live-kittens-level evil”, for example) but I’m avoiding anything that requires a judgment call.  That’s the Senate’s job, for good or ill, and I wouldn’t dream of doing it for them.  Anything I’m guessing on, I’ll let you know.

So one thing you won’t read is “Obviously Trump is guilty”, because that’s something our Senators decide.  On the other hand, I’m starting with the presumption that “The House proceeding was a politically-motivated put-up job”, mainly because whether or not that’s true doesn’t much matter given the results.  We have it securely on record that Pelosi didn’t want to go forward on such weak grounds, but she serves at the pleasure of her caucus, and now we are where we are.

Which is, to be clear:  The President has been impeached by the House on two counts.  One is the accusation of impropriety over the Ukraine call; the other is obstruction of justice.  Neither is clear-cut and simple; lawyers can (and will) argue persuasively on each side of both charges.  That’s all any court needs to have a valid proceeding; therefore, it should (but won’t) go without saying that this will be a valid trial.

There are two charges; the results will be Guilty or Not.  There are two sentences; these are Removal and a Lifetime Ban. There are, therefore, ideally several potential outcomes:  Guilty on the first charge, Not on the second, Removal but no Ban is possible.  My own guess is that the most likely result is a conviction on the Obstruction charge, and that the Ban may be levied by a Senate that wants to appear lenient — particularly as it may well require fewer votes.  However, since each option has unequal odds of happening, it’s important to discuss what will influence the final vote.

Tomorrow, they start with the rules.  McConnell has drafted a set that appears fair-ish, albeit strange in a couple of ways.  My guess is that this is so his opponents can have a couple of easy victories over procedural matters.  However, I’d point out that such questions as whether witnesses will be allowed and the time appointed for arguments are curiously moot; they’d be all-important if you were on trial, but here the question is about a top job opening within easy reach of one hundred of the most power-hungry people on the planet.  Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are two Republicans that really want that job; if Trump can’t run they’re on the short list — and if you think that’s not a real consideration, your mood stabilizers are too strong.

But they can’t appear to backstab Trump or they lose his followers.  In order to secure election in November, whether for Senate or President, a Republican would need a Trump conviction without appearing to support it.  There are twenty-odd Republican Senators facing challenges this fall, so this is massively important.  They will need deniability — which is where the rules come in.  Witnesses matter only if they’re televised and exciting; the big questions are things like whether the final ballot is secret and who gets to bring in cameras.

Because the bottom line here is that this is about to be fought not in the Senate but in the far more severe court of public opinion, and Tuesday’s debate on the rules will decide that contest in advance.


Editor’s note:  Apparently, I wrote this too matter-of-fact for people to notice:  I’m predicting Trump will not be removed from office, but instead will be prohibited from running for office in the future.  I believe this is not only possible but fairly likely, perhaps as high as 2 in 3.  Of course, I might be mistaken; I’m no lawyer, and politics is the art of the possible.

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