As the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump gets underway this week, Rhode Island’s senators say they want the process to be thorough and even-handed – although each acknowledged the political realities surrounding the situation and the difficult process that lies ahead.
Meeting with members of the media at his Chapel View office in Cranston on Friday, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed called for a “fair, full and expeditious trial.”
“We all signed an oath attesting that we will uphold the Constitution and the laws of the United States, and that should be our primary, and sole, objective throughout this process,” he said.
Reed’s colleague, U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, spoke in stronger terms. He said the trial parameters being sought by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell represent a “novel aberration” in the history of American law – and he cautioned that efforts to limit or halt the proceedings could lead to consequences at the polls in November.
“Ultimately, we are all accountable to the American people. And if this trial is botched, the American people will have their say,” he said.
The day before the press event, Reed and Whitehouse – along with their 98 Senate colleagues – were sworn in for the trial by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. The trial was set to begin Jan. 21.
Even as the Rhode Island senators spoke, new developments were unfolding in the nation’s capital.
News had just broken that Trump hired prominent attorneys Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr – the latter known for his role in former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment – as part of his defense team. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also announced the seven impeachment managers who will make the case for the articles of impeachment, which accuse the president of abuse of power and obstruction of justice.
Meanwhile, media interviews with Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and the release of new evidence from the House of Representatives’ investigation brought new dimensions to an already volatile situation.
Reed, in his remarks Friday, focused largely on the Senate’s responsibility in the impeachment process – saying that “fairness and fidelity to the Constitution is the most compelling aspect of our duties together.”
A veteran of the Clinton impeachment proceedings, Reed also called for a process that is inclusive in terms of testimony and evidence.
“The American people deserve, I think, to see all the facts, all the documents, hear from the witnesses who can offer first-hand accounts,” he said. “If new evidence comes to light, new facts … all of that should be presented to the American people and to the United States Senate.”
He added: “This is a different, unique role for Congress … The Congress has the power to impeach. The president does not have the power to dissolve Congress. The framers created a system where we have significant responsibilities, and we have to take them seriously.”
Whitehouse – a former Rhode Island attorney general – said hopes for a process that is inclusive in terms of testimony and evidence are “not off to a good start.” He said that while Republicans may succeed in limiting the scope of the impeachment proceedings, the likelihood that evidence will become public at some point – through court cases, reporting or other means – presents the possibility of a significant credibility issue going forward.
“The notion that evidence that is not excludable, and that is known to exist, gets kept from a finder of fact is one that is alien to the history and the traditions of American law,” he said.
Both senators agreed that testimony from four witnesses identified by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer – former National Security Adviser John Bolton, White House Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and their respective top aides – would be vital.
“Those four, at a minimum, I think would be essential,” Reed said.
Reed and Whitehouse each acknowledged the possibility that McConnell will move to abruptly end the trial, which could be done through a simple majority vote.
Reed said he believes such a move is “highly unlikely” before, or at the start of, the proceedings because a number of Republican senators “understand that there has to be a trial.”
Whitehouse concurred, but he believes the restraint will be short lived.
“I think at the very first opportunity that Leader McConnell can round up those Republican votes, he will shut this down,” he said.
In one of the more colorful moments from Friday’s event, Whitehouse likened Starr to the character Javert from the novel “Les Misérables.”
“Ken Starr is the Inspector Javert, the Clinton-obsessed prosecutor, of that era,” he said. “So it’s going to be really interesting to see if he can with a straight face criticize the House of Representatives for having been unfair to President Trump in the wake of his own record.”