It is almost one hundred years since Joseph Stalin conceived the idea of a “Show Trial.” The idea was sheer genius—a public proceeding with all of the trappings of a trial. It looks fair, but the outcome of the trial is predetermined by those in power.
And now in America we have had a Show Trial of our own in the august Senate chamber: the impeachment trial of President Trump.
The solemnity of the moment was enhanced when the U.S. chief justice administered the oath to senators. They sat as jurors and “solemnly swore to do impartial justice” in the case. Then, each senator signed the oath.
Later, there were opening and closing statements, recesses, a ruling by the chief justice and other trial-like occurrences. But well before the trial began, we knew that we were going to have a Show Trial, not a real trial.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the foreman of the jury, announced before the trial began that he was taking his “cues” from the defendant (the president) in “shaping” the trial. This is unprecedented in real trials. That is not “impartial justice.”
Sen. Lindsay Graham added to the brazenness with which members of the president’s party behaved throughout the proceedings by stating before the trial that he wasn’t trying to be a fair juror. McConnell, Graham and any other senator who felt they could not render impartial justice should have excused themselves from the jury. They did not and thereby violated the oath they took.
In a real trial, no lawyer worthy of the name would make statements that he and everyone in the courtroom knew were false. But this was not a real trial. Advocates for the president falsely claimed, as the president himself had falsely claimed previously, that they were denied the right to examine witnesses and present evidence during the impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives. The fact is they had those rights but the president instructed his counsel not to participate in the impeachment proceedings. Counsel also falsely suggested that the inquiry was held secretly and that Republicans committee members were prevented from participating.
“No one testified they heard the president demand a quid pro quo from the Ukrainians for release of the appropriated funds,” was another false claim the president’s counsel made repeatedly. But it didn’t matter. The president had the votes. And after the Show Trial, he fired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Ambassador Gordon Sondland, two of those who so testified.
Any question about whether the outcome of the trial was predetermined was answered when the Republican majority voted (with two Republican senators in opposition) to decide the case without hearing witnesses testimony (including John Bolton, the elephant in the Senate chamber) or reviewing new documents. A trial without witnesses and documentary evidence is a Show Trial, not a real trial.
Mitt Romney (who also voted to allow witnesses and documents) was true to his oath. He treated the proceedings like a real trial, not the Show Trial the Senate majority gave us. As to those senators who had the courage to say that the president acted improperly, but his conduct did not warrant removal from office, we should ask ourselves how they would have voted if the name of the impeached president was Obama, not Trump.
This trial will forever be recorded in the history books with an asterisk as a Show Trial, American style. The accused was acquitted because the jurors refused to consider the evidence before them as well as the additional evidence they should have heard because the result was predetermined by those in power.•
Mishkin is a retired Indianapolis attorney.Send comments to [email protected]
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