I have known both Mike Crapo and Jim Risch for about four decades. Both are intelligent men. Both are schooled in the rule of law. Mike Crapo had a strong moral compass when he entered service in the U.S. Senate. Jim Risch knows the difference between right and wrong. Both have turned a blind eye to the sacred rule of law that has so long set this great country apart from all others.
The rule of law is essential to the American experiment. Our country became an economic powerhouse and moral beacon to the world because people believed they could trust our justice system to be fair and impartial. Our public officials have a solemn responsibility to conduct themselves in such a manner as to justify and perpetuate that belief. Public confidence in American justice is essential to the continued existence of our system.
Both Risch and Crapo struck a powerful blow against the rule of law by refusing to permit a meaningful impeachment trial. A trial in our system is designed to get to the truth of the matter by allowing the jury to hear witnesses testify under oath and to examine documentary evidence. Both of our Senators have refused to permit the introduction of that evidence. What kind of a trial is that?
Had an opposing attorney refused to furnish documents and testimony when our Senators were practicing law in Idaho, they would likely have raised the roof. Now they say it is not necessary to learn what key witnesses have to say—John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney, Robert Blair and Michael Duffey. Except for Bolton, the witnesses are Trump insiders and should be expected to parrot the party line, unless there is something to fear from having them sworn to tell the truth under oath.
Both of our Senators took a solemn oath to “do impartial justice” in the impeachment. Short circuiting the trial by excluding critical evidence is a breach of that oath. The public is not likely to have confidence in a proceeding that looks to be intent on hiding the truth, rather than discovering it.
All Idaho lawyers have a professional responsibility to “further the public’s understanding of and confidence in the rule of law and the justice system.” Our Senators appear to be disregarding this responsibility, also.
Embedded in the requirement to do impartial justice is the obligation of Senate jurors to comport themselves impartially. If a juror in a court proceeding were to cavort with a defendant, it would certainly raise eyebrows and perhaps the blood pressure of the presiding judge. Jurors in an impeachment should not be frolicking with the defendant in the course of the proceedings.
However, Jim Risch boasted in a January 19 report that he had flown on Air Force One with the President to attend both the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia on December 14 and the LSU-Clemson game in New Orleans on January 13. Risch observed that “you can relate to this guy.” That may be so, but it is probably not the best way to demonstrate impartiality.
All told, the impeachment trial in the Senate has been an unseemly spectacle. The majority party has given the impression that it cares little about getting to the truth of the matter.
Even though this was not a court proceeding, it is the highest-profile demonstration of American justice that people in this country and around the world will experience in their lifetimes. It will leave an ugly taste in their mouths for the way justice is handled in this country. Our Senators, having turned a blind eye to the rule of law, must share responsibility for that.
Jones is an Eden native and former Idaho Attorney General and former Idaho Supreme Court Chief Justice. His previous opinion work can be found at JJCommontater.com.
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