'This is a special case': Professor says impeachment goes beyond mere evidence
George Mason University political science professor Jennifer Victor says partisan politics will play a major role in President Donald Trump's impeachment trial, taking it beyond the bounds of a criminal trial.
at noon tomorrow, the US said it will convene for opening arguments of Donald Trump's second impeachment trials today. It's attorneys representing the former president released a 78 page pre trial defense, the most complete right up we have seen thus far. The defense calls the article of impeachment quote political theater. They're also calling for the trial to be dismissed, claiming it's unconstitutional since Donald Trump is no longer in office. They argue he did not incite the January riot and that his speech should be protected by the First Amendment. House managers responding, saying the evidence against the former president is overwhelming. Joining us tonight to preview is Dr Jennifer Victor of political scientist and George Mason University professor Dr Victor. Thanks for your time. Thanks for having me. Let's begin with the back and forth today. Any surprises from the president's defense team? Not particularly. You know the president. The former president had a little bit of trouble. He had to scramble a bit with his defense team. Some of the initial attorneys that he had hired to lead his defense wound up changing their mind, and it appeared to be a mutual decision. But in any case, the lawyers that he is using that will he'll be using this week to lead his defense. Haven't been on the job all that long, but the former president remains steadfast in his claims about the election, and the lawyers appear to be poised. Thio make a series of arguments toe Bolster those claims. You know, Professor, if I were in your class now, I think I'd raise my hand and say, uh, they're 17 Republicans That would need to break break ranks to find a conviction for Donald Trump. With all that we know, it's a political trial. It's not a criminal trial. What new evidence could persuade any of those Republicans to change their mind? Well, that is a terrific question. Um, and quite unusually, we all have the experience of having lived through ah, previous impeachment trial of this same person. Um, you know, just a year ago on DSO, we can use that experience as a way to understand the current experience, which is to say this is not a normal trial. This is not a regular court of law. The outcome that comes from this trial will not be according Thio, just weighing the evidence and applying logic Thio to apply the law. But this is a very special case. This is a very special kind of trial on duh. Both sides essentially are right. It is essentially a political outcome, not a legal one. And to that end, we should be viewing it through the prism of understanding party politics and partisanship rather than just the evidentiary basis that is typically associate ID with with trials on. I think you are right. There are maybe five or six Republicans who may wind up voting with the Democrats for conviction here, but it's unlikely that we'll see more than that. You know, again, if this were a criminal trial and I had shouted fire in a crowded theater, I could be charged for inciting a riot or something that could have harmed people in this case, because it's political. Will the president's former presidents first amendments, rights hold a different weight that it would have held in a criminal trial? That's an interesting question. I mean, ultimately, it does seem like the president's lawyers are going to make this First Amendment argument on bond the so what we do in classes we would pull out. What is the standard of law for First Amendment cases? The First Amendment doesn't say anybody can say anything at any time, but there are some restrictions on freedom of speech. As you mentioned, you can't shout fire in a crowded theater because it could insite danger towards others. And that that legal standard of imminent, lawless action if your speech is likely to incite imminent lawless action comes from the Brandenburg vs Ohio Case in 1963. And that is still the standard that we apply today. I expect the impeachment lawyers or the managers rather from the House side of Congress, to deliver a very persuasive and convincing argument about that incitement. And it's not just gonna be about what he said on January 6, but it's going to be about the whole history off telling Americans that the election was fraudulent and stolen. But I think it's important. You know, one of the things that I do in my classes at George Mason and I have this class on the great courses, plus about understanding US government that your viewers might be interested in. It's it's important to understand American politics through the prism of polarization. And people interpret political events through their own political identities rather than just through understanding policy positions or applying the rule of law. Um, and so that can help us understand why this case is likely to turn out the way that it probably will Very quickly. Uh, Dr Victor, I'm old enough to remember what was leading upto what would have been an impeachment of Richard Nixon in 1974. And the weightiness of that time was tremendous for the country because there's already been one impeachment trial of Donald Trump. As we approach this one, a new presidents in office, the gravity of this just doesn't seem to be. There's much I think you're absolutely right. And as a political scientist, I have to say it concerns me a little bit because, you know, really, what this comes down to is a mechanism of accountability. Um, you know, some will argue, and Republicans, in fact, are arguing this that the mechanism of accountability is elections, and you know, he, Donald Trump was not re elected, and so that was a mechanism of accountability. Voters has have said that they don't want him to be president anymore. However, this this very antidemocratic behavior of not respecting the election outcome and thwarting the rule of law through that whole process is so contrary to democratic norms and values that there really does need to be a number of leaders in the democracy who stand up and say that behavior is not okay. It's not consistent with democratic values and it won't be tolerated. And without that strong statement, I'm afraid we we should probably expect it to happen again in some way or another. Dr. Jennifer Victor of George Mason University. For anyone interested in more of your insight, you also teach a very popular online course called Understanding the U. S. Government that you referenced. It's available to anyone on the great courses. Plus, and there's a lot to understand to make sense of. We appreciate your time and insight. Thank you. Thank you so much.