Report: Senate May Suspend Cameras At Critical Moments During Impeachment Trial
The Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump may go into a closed session at critical moments of debate because of impeachment rules and strong precedent despite the expectation of full news coverage and government transparency, according to The New York Times.
Senators from both parties said they would like the trial to be as open as possible, a view shared by Trump, who has suggested that he is relying on a public trial in the Republican-controlled Senate to discredit the impeachment initiated by House Democrats.
But given the deep disputes between Republicans and Democrats over what the trial should entail, lawmakers argue that closed-session deliberations would provide the only opportunity for senators to actually discuss a dispute or argue an issue.
Any move to limit the public’s ability to follow the impeachment trial is likely to fuel skepticism about what the Senate is up to and whether the Republican majority is trying to protect Trump from disclosures. Democrats have already accused the president’s allies in the Senate of assisting in a cover-up by refusing to seek more evidence during the trial.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said closed sessions would undermine the credibility of the trial and “simply feed the worst fears and exacerbate the suspicion and distrust that people understandably already feel.”
Senate leaders have already tightened their control over the news media by adding an extra level of screening to the entrance of the press gallery in the chamber and denying a request to allow laptops in.
Those who participated in the Clinton trial called the closed sessions unique, as the inability of senators to posture for the cameras or the news media led to more free-flowing discussion as lawmakers expressed their views without fear of public retaliation.
“They were serious,” recalled Joseph I. Lieberman, a former Democratic senator from Connecticut. “They were thoughtful, they respected the seriousness of the moment. It was quite different, the quality of the debate. Maybe we just felt something historic was going on.”
Tom Daschle, a former Democratic senator from South Dakota, shared the sentiment. “We had open and closed sessions during the Clinton trial. Surprisingly, we found that the closed sessions were oftentimes more productive. There was more candor, less public positioning, fewer speeches directed to the cameras. There is a need for both open and closed sessions.”
“There is clearly strong precedent for the use of secrecy in at least some phases of the deliberation,” said David Pozen, a law professor at Columbia Law School. “That seems eminently defensible as long as it is buffered by transparency at the outset about the charge and transparency at the back end about the ultimate outcome.”