Senate trial could backfire on the Democrats
It was a ceremonial, symbolic today. Democrats would have you believe it a hugely important one too. It was indisputably a rare moment. For only the third time in US history, a president will now face a Senate trial.
Democrats sounded incredulous at claims they’d delayed handing over the impeachment articles for their own political gain.
Instead, Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, insisted the extra time had given them valuable space to uncover new, incriminating evidence.
Among the documents they released over night, were texts alleging the former US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, was placed under surveillance as part of Donald Trump’s pressure campaign.
One letter, allegedly from Rudy Giuliani also requested a meeting with Ukraine’s president “as personal counsel to President Trump and with his knowledge and consent”.
Their 11th hour revelations though, only served to add more fuel to the Republican argument that they’re clutching at straws, trying to find someone or something to make the case they’ve failed to convince anyone but themselves on.
The fact is, the ball is now in Republicans court and they don’t want a protracted game, peppered with some stretched out penalty time.
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They’ve made clear they don’t think they need to hear from new witnesses – something Democrats are desperate for. That could mean no Rudy Giuliani, no John Bolton.
Perhaps their calculation is this: Why encourage jeopardy? Why try to speak to someone who could in some crazy twist sink the president, if you’ve already decided you want to save him?
And that is what Republicans will almost certainly do. In this hyper-partisan climate, barring some last-minute mutiny, it’s hard to believe they will do anything other than acquit President Trump.
And why have a show trial, when you can have a short one?
The White House are already making clear they hope it will be less than two weeks- so confident are they can prove this is an straightforward case of an innocent man unduly targeted by a party who is trying to win an election.
Veterans of the DC beat will tell you never to second-guess Senators – that they’re an unpredictable bunch who take their second-chamber status incredibly seriously.
No-one should pretend they know how Chief Justice John Roberts who will be presiding over the trial will behave either.
Of course there could be surprises and some uncomfortable moments for the president. But his ally, the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made clear he isn’t up for opening the floor for some lengthy re-litigation, or a fishing expedition for new information.
Yes, there will be theatre, intrigue and fresh allegations. Yes, we could hear some new information that could prove politically damaging for the president and the Republican senators who sought to protect him.
And yes, it could all run into the Iowa caucuses and Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech if it’s not over quickly.
That will frustrate him. But the longer this goes on, the more he’ll use it to claim Democrats aren’t focused on the issues that matter the most.
And among the many voters I’ve spoken to, not one thinks this Senate trial will change their minds.
Democrats say it is a constitutional duty. It also remains a huge political risk. Impeachment is very low on voters’ priority lists.