“IF my eyes look a little red to the viewers, it’s because I’ve been looking at a lot of video.”

The words this week of Bruce L. Castor Jr, who along with David I. Schoen, will act as defence lawyers for former President Donald Trump, whose second Senate impeachment trial opened yesterday.

Mr Castor’s remarks were made on Fox News in response to anchor Laura Ingraham’s questioning of what the defence team’s strategy is likely to be. Already it’s widely expected that Democrats will make their own case that Mr Trump incited the January 6 Capitol insurrection by using video clips of rioters and the former President’s remarks at a rally just before the building was stormed.

Mr Castor it would appear seems determine to fight fire with fire, throwing back in the faces of Democrats images of the unrest that gripped some American cities last year that he insists was “cheered on by Democrats throughout the country”.


That’s a clear reference to the likes of Portland, Minneapolis, Seattle, Kansas City and other places that witnessed protests against systemic racism.

If that sounds like a spurious or limp defence strategy on behalf of Mr Trump, then it’s because by no means will it constitute the only or main line of the defence team’s argument which continues to be that the Senate can’t impeach Mr Trump because he is no longer in office.

With the death earlier this week of former US Secretary of State George Shultz, and America staring down the barrel of another impeachment trial, with the same protagonist – Mr Trump – and most of the same players, it’s already been quite a week for the US political community.

With some justification it’s widely recognised that Mr Shultz played a pivotal role in helping end the Cold War. The battle of wills over Mr Trump’s impeachment, however, will be a heated affair even if the ending has been pretty much accepted as a foregone conclusion.


Last time around in 2020 when Mr Trump was impeached, only one Republican senator – Mitt Romney – voted to convict him on the charges of obstruction of Congress and abuse of power. This time that number grew after five Republican senators went along with impeaching the former president, but it’s hard to imagine that any more would now throw their weight behind Democrats to convict Mr Trump.

Conviction requires two-thirds majority, or at least 17 Republican senators to join all members of the Democratic caucus. While privately many of these Republican Senators might well disapprove of Mr Trump’s incendiary attempts to cling to office, that won’t stop them having one eye on their base among whose ranks the former president is viewed very differently and often favourably.

Meanwhile the Trump defence team strongly denies his complicity in the attack on the capital and insist the trial is unconstitutional because Trump is no longer president.

“The Senate is being asked to do something patently ridiculous: try a private citizen in a process that is designed to remove him from an office that he no longer holds,” Mr Castor and Mr Schoen, wrote in their pretrial legal brief on Monday.

“Indulging House Democrats’ hunger for this political theatre” would endanger democracy the lawyers went on to contend.

Not to be out done, House Democrats serving as impeachment managers replied in a separate memo of their own that the “evidence of President Trump’s conduct is overwhelming”.

They wrote: “He has no valid excuse or defence for his actions. And his efforts to escape accountability are entirely unavailing.”

Democrats have also mustered considerable academic and intellectual clout to help press their case, with more than 150 legal scholars, including the founder and several members of the conservative Federalist Society, presenting a letter last month in which they said the trial was constitutional, given that Trump had committed the offences while in office.

But even amid all the political acrimony surrounding the trial, there remains a tacit understanding between both sides that it would be to everyone’s benefit to get it finished as quickly as possible.

All the signs suggest there is little appetite on either side among Democrats or Republican and even the American people for a long-drawn-out battle. Yes, there are those who argue about the importance of knowing what Mr Trump did and the need to hold him accountable if found guilty. Americans are still reeling from the shattering of that sacred democratic tradition – the peaceful transition of power.

Allegations of electoral fraud and refusal to concede defeat have bitterly divided the country and cost it financially. It’s estimated that US taxpayers will have to foot a bill to the tune of $519 million that Mr Trump racked up in his attempt to undermine the integrity of the election, these costs resulting mainly from enhanced security and legal fees from lawsuits.


Given such a price to pay, in some ways it’s fair to say that the American people constitute the jury for this trial rather than the Senate.

If one accepts that premise and if a recent ABC News Ipsos poll is anything to go by, then most have already decided on Mr Trump’s guilt with some 56 % of Americans canvassed in the poll saying that he should be convicted and barred from holding office again.

As for politicians, Republicans could do without Mr Trump again becoming the focus of attention given the work before them to put the GOP back on track. That said, equally they cannot ignore him and wary of his supporters they have little choice but to back him.

The most telling response of all to the impeachment proceedings, however, has come from the White House, or not as the case might be, given that President Joe Biden has been notably circumspect and reticent over whether there is much point to the trial of his predecessor.

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As Politico magazine summed up the White House response this week: “Impeachment? What impeachment?”. The magazine also quoted several sources close to the White House as saying the “Biden team sees no upside weighing in on impeachment” and that it “makes no sense” for the president to engage.

It’s easy to see the thinking here given that Mr Biden spent his inauguration speech and first week in office trying to convince his fellow citizens to see themselves not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans, united in defeating the pandemic and reopening the US economy.

In short, America has enough on its plate right now. Mr Trump’s impeachment trial will go ahead. It will be short though certainly not sweet. Many Americans could see it far enough and will feel relieved when it’s over, whatever the outcome.

David Pratt is contributing Foreign Affairs Editor

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