Trump impeachment trial presses rewind button to Clinton era


Nikhila Natarajan

New York, Jan 22 (IANS): No mobile phones, not even on airplane mode, no chatting, the presence of big ticket legal teams and 100 Senators who can decide at any time to black out cameras, shoo away outsiders and debate behind closed doors long after midnight for six straight days a week -- US President Donald Trump's impeachment trial is playing the rewind button to a very different communications template in the time of always-on digital screens, beginning Tuesday in Washington DC.

Despite strict access control during the Trump trial, internet chatter across platforms is all lit up all the time, unlike during the pre-smartphone, pre-Twitter years of the Bill Clinton impeachment trial in early 1999.

Before the ascent of online social media, the venues for instant public analysis and takedowns were scrunched into the cracks between television show times and print runs. Not any more.ADonald Trump's impeachment trial is being streamed, arguably on his terms, on the same platforms that touched off a public reckoning on the power of big tech and its influence on big politics.

When the impeachment trial begins shortly after noon on January 21, most of the space in the Senate chamber will be snapped up by legal teams, Chief Justice John Roberts, 100 Senators' staffers and four television screens. Credentialed media are restricted to a designated area and can only speak to Senators who approach them to speak.

CSPAN, the go-to network for filter free television coverage of legislative proceedings, will not have cameras on location. The Republican controlled Senate will provide a feed of acetheir production" to credentialed media.

At a high level, the Trump impeachment trial has three parts to it: Setting the rules, the trial itself, and finally the vote that will decide whether Trump stays.

The President's party controls the Senate and has outsize sway over how the rules are written.

Opening arguments begin on Tuesday at 1 p.m. (local time). Each side gets up to 24 hours over two days to make their case. After that, Senators have 16 hours to ask questions, followed by two hours of arguments each by the House impeachment managers and the President's lawyers.

Bottomline: Long, caffeine fuelled days that could drag well into the wee hours of the next day.

Each day of the trial will begin with a booming call out that dates back to America's first presidential impeachment trial: "All persons are commanded to keep silence, on pain of imprisonment."

If the Senators have questions, they are required to submit them in writing to Chief Justice John Roberts, who will be presiding over the impeachment trial.

Meanwhile, Trump, in his signature style, has his counter-programming schedule cranked into top gear as Americans and a global audience following the tic-toc of this process get out the popcorn for only the third impeachment trial in US political history.

At least two of Trump's eight lawyers -- Kenneth Starr, who pursued Bill Clinton, and Alan Dershowitz, who defended O.J. Simpson -- are certain to suck up all the oxygen. Dershowitz's past clients include O.J. Simpson, Mike Tyson and Jeffrey Epstein who killed himself last year in a Manhattan jail. Dershowitz was part of Simpson's dream team and has penned a book titled "The Case Against Impeaching Trump."

Starr dials Americans' collective memories back to the public spectacle of the Clinton impeachment and aligns perfectly with Trump's anti-Clinton stance. Starr is best known for his role as the man who investigated Bill Clinton. Starr's report on Clinton's relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky led to Clinton's impeachment in 1998.

Legal and media pundits alike are circling around that central talking point: That Trump's choice of Kenneth Starr and Alan Dershowitz is Trump's greatest weapon. With the Starr-Dershowitz scoop, Trump is proving he knows precisely what dazzles the American audience, they say. With these rockstar lawyer choices, Trump's messaging is delivered by these messengers -- that it's all politics, it's all a circus.

Five of Trump's eight lawyers have spoken often on Trump's megaphone Fox network.

Fox News has a parade of openly pro-Trump talking heads telling us how impeachment has "vaccinated" Trump, how he is even more likely to win the re-election. They are trumpeting "7 million new jobs" and "the lowest unemployment rate in modern times."

Also on the rundown is immigrant caravan sightings from across the border in Mexico -- a staple content fare during White House crisis moments in the Trump era.

The core of Trump's legal team's argument is simple. They say that even if the two articles of impeachment lay out Trump's wrongs over a single phone call, those don't rise to the level of impeachable offences.

Finally, a recap of the magic numbers that will matter throughout every step of this historic trial: 100 total Senators where 53 is the Republican majority. Of these, at least 51 Senators must agree on next steps on almost anything during the trial.

At the very least, four Republican Senators must flip to take the Democrats' number tally to 51. And 67 is the big goal for both sides which accounts for two thirds of the Senators who are required to convict and remove a President from office.

No American President has ever been removed from office. At this time, Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate.

  

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