Limits on irrelevant evidence necessary for fair impeachment trial
CONTACT: Jenna Grande
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Washington — The evidence for President Trump’s impeachment trial must be limited to evidence that helps answer the questions whether the president committed treason, bribery, or high crimes and misdemeanors, and whether those acts require the removal of the president, urged Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) in a letter sent today to Chief Justice John Roberts, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Calling for the Chief Justice and the Senate to apply principles derived from the Federal Rules of Evidence, these principles would prevent the introduction of evidence that does not pertain to the charges in the impeachment articles sent forward by the U.S. House of Representatives.
If adopted, the principles requiring relevance and materiality and avoiding redundancy would ensure that, as in court trials, the parties only present and argue evidence that contributes to a fair trial. Under these principles, the Chief Justice and the Senate would enforce evidentiary standards that would only permit relevant and credible evidence, meaning that evidence must help answer whether or not the President committed impeachable offenses and therefore should be removed from office. Such rules would also prevent the Senate from considering evidence that is intentionally misleading, or causes unfair prejudice.
“Senators should not be subject to outside evidence that is intended to distract them from the charges brought forward by the House of Representatives,” said CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder. “The trial must include witnesses, as every completed impeachment trial in Senate history has, but in that context, adopting principles of relevance derived from the Federal Rules of Evidence would provide the necessary non-partisan framework and guidance for the Senate to approach the trial with the gravity it deserves.”
Article I of the Constitution grants the U.S. Senate the “sole power to try all impeachments,” and “determine the rules of its proceedings.” It also tasks the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court to preside over the trial if it involves a president. The Senate may establish and modify its own rules supplementing these constitutional requirements.
In November 2019, CREW and Public Citizen published a report detailing what steps the U.S. Senate should take to ensure a full, fair, and transparent impeachment trial.
“This is a solemn and momentous moment in our nation’s history, and it is up to Chief Justice Roberts and each member of the Senate to protect the integrity of the impeachment trial process outlined in the U.S. Constitution,” said Bookbinder.