Introduction to Impeachment 101
I believe that at yesterday's Senate trial we saw the end result of Trump driving away top lawyers from representing him.
How bad was it? It wasn't so much that they didn't make a compelling case to defend their client, but after about six hours of talking they pretty much didn't make any case. Indeed, as I watched for much of the day, I felt less like a potential juror and more like I should be taking notes as a 1-A law student because there would be a test when the class lessens from guest lecturers were over.
The presentation by Trump lawyer Jane Raskin to defend Rudy Giuliani was especially weird. In fact, it was compelling in its weirdness. She spoke about the former mayor for 15 minutes, using her entire time. At first I thought that it was Giuliani who was on trial, but then I realized that that matter is under investigation by the U.S. Attorney in New York, not the U.S. Senate.. Perhaps it was done as a sort of moot court, trying out a test run in case he ends up being indicted. Or maybe the Trump team had nothing else for Ms. Raskin to talk about, since facts to defend Trump was clearly not in their gameplan. The biggest problem though wasn't that it had nothing to do with defending Trump, It's that she made Giuliani look guilty.
It was Ken Starr's lecture on the History of Impeachment, however, which might cause the most trouble on the final exam. I lost the thread when he got to bemoaning the "era of impeachment" and began explaining how divisive and polarizing impeachment is. The best I could do to make sense of what point he was trying to make was by comforting myself that he's an expert on making impeachment divisive and polarizing, and therefore knew what he was talking about. Still, hypocrisy has it's limits, and I kept thinking too that this is the same guy who was fired as president and chancellor of Baylor University for his handling of a sex abuse scandal there. However, realizing that that made him the ideal lawyer for Trump got me focused once again.
We also got dissertations from Trump attorneys Eric Herschman and former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (you know, the one who took a $25,000 campaign donation from Trump before dropping a lawsuit against Trump University) who both tried to make the impeachment trial about Joe Biden and Hunter Biden, rather than actually defend their client. The only significant difference in their presentations is that Mr. Herschmann also chose to use his time to argue that former President Barack Obama is who should be impeached. No, really. Thank goodness he didn't also drag in Hillary Clinton's emails.
The one good thing about the lesson repeated all day by the Trump lawyers lecturing on the concept of what impeachment means today from its foundation in English law is that I think I can now handle an essay question on the subject if it shows up on the test. Mind you, I'm still not quite sure if I follow their attempts to explain why "abuse of power" is not an impeachable offense, since "abuse of power" was, actually, used as an impeachable offense in the charges against Bill Clinton and in the Judiciary Committee charges voted against Richard Nixon (who of course resigned before the articles could be voted on by the full House). For that matter, it also wasn't made clear why all the Trump lawyers were trying to argue that impeachment requires an underlying crime when -- at the time the impeachment clause was written into the U.S. Constitution -- there were no "underlying crimes" yet since the U.S. legal code didn't even exist. The first federal law wouldn't be written for another two years! Still, Alan Dershowitz did a scholarly job explaining didactically how laws work, although his verbal gymnastics unfortunately got too convoluted when explaining that a judicial ruling he wanted to use as precedent was "right" when it supported his position, but "wrong" in the part where it didn't. And admittedly he got a bit lost in the woods trying to explain why his opinion today on impeachment is hypocritically different from 20 years ago, since he doesn't say he was "wrong" 20 years ago, just that he apparently learned more, even though the result is pretty much the opposite. I guess that I can use either version on the test since he says they're both correct.
With so much to study from the professors, I was at least happy to know that nothing about John Bolton would be asked about on the exams because he wasn't even mentioned once until Professor Dershowitz sneaked him at the end of his lecture at the end of the day. I suspect that Trump was happy about that, too -- especially since Dershowitz's point was that even if Bolton's allegations -- of Trump having extorted Ukraine for personal benefit against a political opponent to help subvert the 2020 election -- were true, the act supposedly wasn't impeachable.
In the end, I didn't learn anything at all about why Trump wasn't guilty of committing the illegal acts he was charged with, but the good news is that I do think I have enough notes on the history of our legal system to get a passing grade. I'm not sure if I'll get more than a C+ since all I can do is respond by rote and not make analytical sense of what was said, however I do feel confident that I could not go into court and help convict Rudy Giuliani.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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