Impeachment in Person

As a reporter covering murder trials, I never felt the need to add drama to the story—it was already there. A person’s freedom was on the line and two opposing camps of lawyers were duking it before the judge and jurors.

That intense feeling returned to me Friday as I had the incredible opportunity to sit in the visitors’ gallery at the U.S. Senate and watch the impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump.

While his physical freedom doesn’t hang in the balance, his political life does. I also don’t believe it’s a slam dunk acquittal case; there are still too many unknowns unknows (to paraphrase Don Rumsfeld). Take, for instance, the news about John Bolton’s book revelations that there was a quid pro quo.

My desire in this blog is to share observations from watching the proceedings; to highlight things you can’t see from the TV screen. For instance, I was astounded by the juvenile behavior of Trump attorney Jay Sekulow as Rep. Garcia was speaking. He was rolling his eyes, mocking her and basically trying to intimidate her. It was beneath the dignity of the moment.

There also was a long period of time when Sekulow and lead defense attorney Pat Cipollone left the chamber. Perhaps Trump was calling them. Whatever the case, I thought it bizarre that they would exit right as the House managers were beginning to present the second article of impeachment for obstruction of Congress. If you are on trial, you want your lawyers in the “courtroom” at all times.

There have already been reports about the lackluster attendance by Republican senators during the trial. At one point about one-third of the Republican senators were missing during my time in the Senate. Again, one wonders what other business did they have to attend to that was so much more important than impeachment?

What hasn’t been shared is that the press gallery appears to be very empty, at least while I was in the room. I guess journalists feel they get better visuals and audio by watching it online or on cable. Yet something seems to be missing if you aren’t “in the room where it happens.”

I saw Majority Leader McConnell flipping through a ringed notebook during the trial; it didn’t appear whatever he was reading related to what was happening on the floor. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska seemed very serious; she realizes eyes are on her. Sen. Romney seemed happy go lucky; I guess a positive attitude is good to have.

As someone who used to work in TV, let me add this observation as well: the proceedings would look better if the cameras were eye level to the speakers on the floor. The fact the cameras are up so high creates high angle shots that tend to distort the actual interactions on the Senate floor.

My composure and attitude throughout the afternoon were consistent: I was somber and downbeat. This is a sad time for America. I took no joy in watching this part of our country’s history unfold.