How a Fair, Transparent Impeachment Trial Should Proceed

CREW, Public Citizen Outline Basic Principles the U.S. Senate Must Apply in a Trial

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Although rules exist, the U.S. Senate has leeway in determining how it will run an impeachment trial, Public Citizen and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) said today in a report. The report recommends that the Senate follow four basic principles to ensure a full, transparent and fair trial should the U.S. House of Representatives impeach President Donald Trump.

The Constitution authorizes the Senate to “determine the rules of its proceedings,” including additional rules governing an impeachment trial. But the Senate can modify its own rules supplementing these constitutional requirements.

Following the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, supplemental Senate rules were established that included specified times and dates for arguments and allowed the president 24 hours to respond to evidence.

Public Citizen and CREW recommend that if the House adopts articles of impeachment, for the Senate to conduct a full, transparent trial:

  • Trial procedures should be established before the trial commences;
  • The Senate should hear the full case before voting on the president’s removal or any motion to dismiss;
  • The trial should be open to the public; and
  • Each senator should take seriously his or her oath to “do impartial justice” and to “support and defend the Constitution.”

Additionally, the report addresses questions that may come up during an impeachment trial, including:

  • Can a senator be made to recuse from an impeachment trial?
  • What power does the Senate have to compel the appearance of witnesses, including for depositions?
  • Can the Senate limit which articles are part of the trial?
  • What standard must be met for conviction?

“The framers included a Senate impeachment trial in the Constitution as a means of ensuring that our government by the people would always act for the people,” said Noah Bookbinder, executive director of CREW. “It is a grave obligation that must be exercised with appropriate transparency, with fidelity to the rule of law and with loyalty to the Constitution. The process must ensure that the American people can bear witness to the entire scope of the president’s conduct, and that senators remain faithful to their oath to do impartial justice.”

“The impeachment trial for the president is a matter of utmost gravity and requires a full and robust airing in the Senate,” said Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs at Public Citizen. “We need clear-cut rules in place to ensure that the public knows this is a transparent, open investigation. The American people deserve nothing less.”

Read the full report here.