Courtroom experience a commodity as Trump impeachment trial begins

Todd Ruger, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- The impending impeachment trial of President Donald Trump has boosted the profile of senators who have specific experience in their background: spending time in front of a judge.

Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine, who tried cases and pressed appeals as a civil rights lawyer before he entered politics, said Wednesday that Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York has started a dialogue with him and other Democratic senators who have courtroom experience ahead of the impeachment trial.

Senators will have to sit in silence as they play a role somewhere between juror and judge, meaning they won't be presenting the two articles of impeachment or leading Trump's defense.

But senators from both parties can submit questions of House impeachment managers or Trump's defense team that will be read aloud by presiding officer Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. There were two days dedicated to those questions during President Bill Clinton's impeachment trial in 1999.

"I think those of us who have tried cases sort of know how to ask them in the way that is the pithiest and that's the shortest," Kaine said. "You want that question to be phrased in the absolute perfect way when Chief Justice Roberts reads it."

And while senators more used to orating won't be able to give speeches, those with courtroom experience have practiced using the questions to get their point across, Kaine said.


"The question often matters more than the answer," Kaine said. "A question can make a really profound point in a juror's mind, sort of regardless sometimes of what the answer is."

Senators can also make motions and take other courtroom tactics. And while an impeachment trial is unique and a different proceeding altogether, a familiarity with how federal courts view legal issues with witnesses and evidence can form the basis of political arguments.

Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, who spent 20 years in courtrooms and sometimes jokes that he is a recovering lawyer and judge, criticized the articles of impeachment during a floor speech Wednesday using the language of due process in criminal courts.

Democrats impeached Trump on two articles -- abuse of power and obstruction of Congress -- but did not specifically name any crimes that they previously alleged Trump had committed. In the law, the concept of due process means that a defendant or litigant get fair treatment.


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