Yesterday was the first full day of President Trump's impeachment trial, the third in American history. It also marked the third anniversary of Trump's first full day as president. That day, then-press secretary Sean Spicer told the Trump administration's first lie by claiming Trump had "the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period”. In honor of the occasion, President Trump’s lawyers began this impeachment trial by essentially telling the Senate and American people not to believe their eyes and ears.
You may have seen some coverage depicting the start of this trial as a bitter circus with "both sides" going into their partisan corners. That is falsely equivalent framing. The dishonest and undignified behavior was far from equal. House Democrats represented the interests of the US Constitution. Senate Republicans represented the interests of the president. And President Trump's impeachment lawyers represented a false reality upheld by a foundation of Fox News-enabled disinformation.
Day one was focused on debating the rules of the trial proceedings. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was forced to make two key changes due to pressure from more moderate Republicans. Rather than 24 hours and two days of debate allocated to each side, the debate will now be spread across three days and the House impeachment evidence will be automatically entered into the Senate record. But there will be no witnesses sought at the onset of the trial, even though a majority of Americans want them. Senate Republicans claimed this is the Clinton impeachment precedent, but during that trial, there wasn't a White House that stonewalled all witnesses and documents from the House impeachment inquiry.
What followed was more than 12 hours of debate on McConnell's resolution starting shortly after 1 pm. It ended at about 2am this morning, with all 53 Senate Republicans voting against every amendment presented by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) seeking witnesses and documents. The end result is, of course, important, as Senate Republicans definitively proved they do not want to guarantee the American people a fair trial. But what happened during those 12 hours of debate must not be ignored or accepted as normal.
Led by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the House impeachment managers made compelling arguments outlining the evidence their House impeachment inquiry uncovered while making the case for the inclusion of new witnesses and documentary evidence. They argued that every impeachment trial the Senate has ever held heard witnesses, with the average number of witnesses heard in each trial being 33.
In opposition to those proposed amendments, President Trump's impeachment lawyers made weak arguments that mostly fall apart under scrutiny, at times outright lying.
Early in the day, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone claimed, "Not even Mr Schiff's Republican colleagues were allowed into the SCIF." That is a blatant lie. Cipollone was talking about the House impeachment inquiry's closed-door depositions that did, in fact, include Republicans. Schiff, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee where the depositions were held, struck back, joking: "With respect to those secret hearings that counsel keeps referring to, those secret depositions in the House were so secret that only 100 members of Congress were able to be there and participate. Only 100. That's how secret that chamber was."
That exchange was a microcosm of how the day went: House impeachment managers made a compelling argument for why a particular witness or trove of documents should be sought. Trump's impeachment lawyers then made false or misleading arguments which blasted the House impeachment process and distorted the evidence. This was then followed by strong rebuttals from Schiff. That cycle repeated for most of the 12 hours.
Many of the assertions made by Trump's impeachment lawyers were undercut by the Trump administration’s own actions. Schiff pointed out that while Trump's impeachment lawyers are arguing the House should let the court decide on witnesses, the DOJ is simultaneously arguing the opposite. Trump's lawyers claimed that House Democrats didn't accumulate enough evidence when it's the White House who blocked all documents and firsthand witnesses in the first place. Trump's lawyers said House Democrats held a one-sided process and prevented the president from participating when it was the White House who refused House invitations to participate. Trump's lawyers went on to recite the same false four impeachment defenses Republicans pushed during the House proceedings. In spite of these arguments, which were patently made in bad faith, Senate Republicans still approved McConnell's resolution.
Now, we embark on three days of arguments from the House impeachment managers. It's clear this isn't just about President Trump. American democracy, the Constitution, and truth itself are on trial. We will see if Senate Republicans continue to put their loyalty to Trump over their loyalty to their country — and we can hold out hope that they might wake up.