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What to do with Your Impeachment Trial

Thoughts on conduct and purpose and rot during a Senate impeachment trial.

Note: this was written prior to the start of the trial. Some details may have bitrotted by the actual Senate practice diverging from their rules or precedent.

You find yourself having an impeachment trial. Naturally, the question arises, what to do with it? You’re stuck in that dusty chamber all day. You can’t go on television. You can’t fundraise. You can’t even have your phone with you to play around with. No recess, no nap time, nothing.

The first thing to do is to remain calm. Having an impeachment trial is a big responsibility. You are deciding whether or not to remove a federal official from office. Depending on the official and the nature of the allegations, this will be a slog. They will have lawyers defending them with substantive arguments about facts and process in their jobs that has led to this occasion. On the other side will be House managers who will present the case for removal.

You will have to listen to witness testimony and might even write down a few questions to be asked of the two sides. Once you are presented with the facts and witness testimony and documentation from the executive or judicial branch, it is important to consider the ultimate purpose of impeachment.

Could you imagine yourself doing that in similar circumstances? Would you feel ashamed, or possibly try to cover it up? You should weigh those things. Bad conduct, even just a little, is a blight. We all have a duty to keep government free from rot. We swore it in our oaths. Removal is the remedy the Constitution offers for rot. Cut the rot out, the Constitution says.

But maybe the conduct isn’t that bad. Maybe the party has learned their lesson. Have they said as much? Offered any indication they understand it was a mistake? Or are they hardened? The bar for getting to impeachment typically means there are facts against the party: the House does not undertake impeachment lightly, and they know less than two dozen officials have ever been impeached, so they want to make them count.

And their record is pretty darn good, with nearly two-thirds of the officials either resigning or being convicted. Not to forget: acquittal in an impeachment trial doesn’t mean innocent, but it also doesn’t mean not guilty. It may simply be that there were bribes given to Senators, or it might mean that the Senate didn’t feel the matter reached the level of wrong to require removal.

Assuming you aren’t on the take, that will likely be the biggest question of your trial: is it bad enough to remove?

There are two main factors to consider:

  1. The articles, per se. Maybe the things that were done are just bad enough that they are stinking, rotting, and filthy. In that case, hold your nose and get that rot out!
  2. The nature of the office. Is it a very high office, like a cabinet member? Or an upper-tier member of the judiciary? For some positions, particularly high ones, it’s important to have no question, no reproach. The higher the office, the lesser the offense needed to remove.

In summation, you need three things for your trial to be a success:

  1. Evidence and witnesses. Make sure you get to the facts of the conduct. Without facts to go on, it’s not a real trial.
  2. Contrition and mitigation. Mistakes happen, and even good people do bad things under stress and pressure. If you believe in your heart that the damage is reparable and that the conduct will not continue, you should consider that.
  3. The consequences of acquittal. Ultimately, if you believe that there is rot, do not take a chance. The government you save may be your own. Just as you don’t want to serve in the Senate with scum, nobody wants to serve in government under scum. We are very lucky that our nation is populated by intelligent, hard-working people. We can replace any rotten government official at a moment’s notice if need be. But replacing the government, if it becomes overrun with malingerers and no-good bribe-takers and the corrupted elements of humanity, is much harder.

Help keep the government free of rot by doing your part in your impeachment trial!

Thank you for your service.