Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer recently took aim at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for saying he will not be an “impartial juror” during the impeachment trial of President Trump.
“Let the American people hear it loud and clear, the Republican leader said, proudly, ‘I’m not an impartial juror. I’m not impartial about this at all.’ That is an astonishing admission of partisanship,” Mr. Schumer said in a floor speech before the Senate left on a two-week vacation.
Mr. Schumer’s comments imply that the Senate should serve as an impartial jury, exactly like a criminal trial. But it simply isn’t that — and the Founders never meant otherwise.
The Constitution says this: “The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments.” And the Senate is, by design, political — and thus, not impartial.
Mr. Schumer knows that, and he said exactly the same thing as Mr. McConnell in the 1990s when the Senate mulled the removal of President Clinton, a Democrat.
In several TV appearances in 1998 and 1999 reviewed by CNN’s KFile, “Schumer noted that senators had previously formed opinions heading into the trial and that the Senate was ‘not like a jury box,’” CNN reported.
After Mr. Schumer’s old comments emerged, a spokesman for the New York Democrat told CNN in an email on Friday that “his statements came after the conclusion of the Starr investigation.”
From the spokesman: “These quotes all came after the Starr investigation, which included testimony from key witnesses including President Clinton, had concluded and been made public for months and as Sen. Schumer was in the anomalous position of having already voted on impeachment in both the House Judiciary Committee and on the House floor … As is reflected in these quotes, Schumer believed then and still believes now that all of the facts must be allowed to come out and then a decision can be made — in stark contrast to the Republicans today in both the House and Senate who have worked to prevent all the facts and evidence from coming out.”
Of course he does — this time around. But the Senate does not act like an impartial jury. Lawmakers have been elected by voters to serve their interests, and they did just that when Mr. Clinton was impeached — every single Democrat in the Senate voted to acquit, despite definitive proof Mr. Clinton had committed perjury.
Mr. Schumer also acknowledged that senators were not jurors during an appearance on CNN’s “Larry King Live” in January 1999.
Here’s CNN’s transcript of that interview:
“We have a pre-opinion,” Mr. Schumer said, citing himself and two newly elected Republican senators who had voted on impeachment in 1998 as members of the House of Representatives who said they would vote in the Senate. “This is not a criminal trial, but this is something that the Founding Fathers decided to put in a body that was susceptible to the whims of politics.”
“So therefore, anybody taking an oath tomorrow can have a pre-opinion; it’s not a jury box?” Mr. King asked Mr. Schumer.
“Many do,” Mr. Schumer responded. “And then they change. In fact, it’s also not like a jury box in the sense that people will call us and lobby us. You don’t have jurors called and lobbied and things like that. I mean, it’s quite different than a jury. And we’re also the judge.”
After Republicans complained, Mr. Schumer defended his stance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“The Republican National Committee put out a statement saying that you were a House member on the Judiciary Committee, you announced that you would not impeach the president of the United States,” host Tim Russert asked. “That therefore, you are not an impartial juror in the Senate and should recuse yourself.”
Mr. Schumer responded that the Senate was not like a judicial body.
“Right,” Mr. Schumer said. “But let’s remember this, Tim: The Founding Fathers — whose wisdom just knocks my socks off every day, it really does — set this process up to be in the Senate, not at the Supreme Court, not in some judicial body.”
“Every day, for instance, hundreds of people call us up and lobby us on one side and the other. You can’t do that with a juror,” he added. “The standard is different. It’s supposed to be a little bit judicial and a little bit legislative-political. That’s how it’s been.”
But this time around, Mr. Schumer doesn’t think that anymore.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @josephcurl.
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