I wondered why it never seemed to be an option, that Trump himself is asked to testify in the impeachment trial. The testimony of a defendant is after all a normal part of court proceedings in general, isn't it?

From the point of view of his defenders it makes sense, of course, because he is prone to unpredictable reactions and could possibly incriminate himself.

But why was this never discussed as a valid option?

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    He has discussed it – JJJ Jan 29 '20 at 7:53
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    He was also invited to testify at the House Impeachment Investigation. – Jontia Jan 29 '20 at 9:03
  • Note that it is also a normal part that the accuser has to witness and be interrogated by the defense. That hasn't been done either. Reason: Impeachment is not a normal court proceeding. – Sjoerd Jan 29 '20 at 11:45
  • VTC: Asking about the internal motivation of persons, about which we can only speculate. – Sjoerd Jan 29 '20 at 11:48
  • It is a actually quite common for defendants not to testify in criminal trials, especially when the defendant would have to choose between admitting guilt or committing perjury, but often when all the defendant can say is "I didn't do it". – jamesqf Jan 29 '20 at 17:44

In the U.S., Impeachment trials are "Quasi-Criminal Proceedings" (QCP) which are civil court cases which may result in criminal penalties. IN QCPs, the rights of the defendant must be protected as if the proceeding was criminal in nature and not civil (so if a wrongful death suit alleges criminal conduct was part of the reason for the death, than the defendent would be entitiled to similar rights as if it was a murder trial).

As such, Donald Trump's Fifth Amendment rights against compelled testimony against ones self would come into play as he is the "defendant" of the Impeachment Trial. Typically, compelled testimony can only be given if you are not under threat of such testimony criminally implicating you and it is not your trial (I.E. you can't be made to testify as an eyewitness to a murder if the reason you were a witness was because you were robbing the victims house and happened to be hiding in the closet when the victim was killed. In order to get the compelled testimony, you either have to be immune under "Double Jeopardy" OR by the prosecution deciding to not charge you in exchange for testimony). Otherwise, the only way for the defendant to testify in his/her own trial is if he/she decides he wants to do it... and most attorneys will advise against this as it does open up the defendant to cross examination by the prosecutor.

It's also important that there is no implications of one's guilt for refusing to testify in their own defense. It is the job of the Prosecution to prove the defendant did it no matter what the Defense does to counter his accusation.

  • IANAL, so I am happy to concede the point before I begin, but I was under the impression that, outside of those which are directly granted in the constitution to all individuals at all times, no particular protections are granted by requirement, though this comment argues that due process should be upheld. I see that Wex says that it is a QCP... – Ben I. Jan 29 '20 at 15:52
  • ... but I didn't notice cases that seem in any way relevant to protections due an officer being impeached under Article 1. Again, IANAL, so I assume that I have a rather basic misunderstanding here. But on what basis could anyone suggest that an impeachment defendant has rights similar in nature to those due a criminal defendant? – Ben I. Jan 29 '20 at 15:53
  • @BenI.: Because Impeachment's only power is to remove the accused from office and being impeached doesn't trigger Double Jeopardy protections (U.S. Constitution, Article 1.). Should the impeached be found guilty, they may still stand trial for any crimes committed, the government many not use impeachment to violate his rights under due process afforded to criminal law. That is, since the impeached is likely to face criminal proceedings, the impeachment process must protect his rights as if it too was a criminal case before the courts. – hszmv Jan 29 '20 at 16:49
  • Is this an actual requirement for Congress, or would this just be good practice to preserve the option for further trial? Would Congress be in its rights to simply opt to ignore this (even at risk of creating a mistrial during a later potential criminal proceeding)? – Ben I. Jan 29 '20 at 17:04
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    @BenI.: It would be folly to say it allows the Senate to run rough shot over an impeached persons fundamental constitutional rights OR that SCOTUS can't overturn it's own prior rulings (which it can). Suffice to say, Congress doesn't have any rules for this because they have acted like it was so... whether that's because of the better angels of their nature (Never thought I'd use "Congress" and "Angels" in the same sentance) or because they really don't want to find out the answer SCOTUS would give, is dependent on which member of congress you ask. – hszmv Jan 29 '20 at 17:57

Trump may be largely ignorant of the US political system, but he has decades of experience with the legal system, through bankruptcies, civil suits, and the like. Trump sees the legal system as a means to delay, harass, and confuse issues, with the ultimate goal of bleeding his opponent dry of time, money, and energy before any actual ruling occurs. Trump will always say that he is willing to give his side — because he always wants to appear as the 'good' person in the dispute — but he will never actually do it unless forced. Giving his testimony means giving the system enough material to draw conclusions and render judgments, which is precisely what Trump seeks to avoid.

For all of Trump's self-delusions and ignorances, he must be aware of how frequently his statements (to put it nicely) diverge from anything resembling observable fact. Even he would think twice about putting himself in a position where lying is actionable. It's one thing to disinform the public on public platforms like twitter; it is an entirely different kettle of fish to disinform sitting senators while under oath.

  • This answer seems to assume President Trump's motives without sources. – Chipster Jan 29 '20 at 19:24
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    @Chipster — Not in the least. It takes into account Trump's well-documented historical behavior and extrapolates future behavior. We could argue about the motivations, I suppose, but the pattern of behavior is clear and unambiguous, and the motivations ascribed are both generous and reasonable. I'm not trying to evaluate whether his behavior is 'good' or 'bad'; just that it's typical, both of him and of our litigious culture more generally. Apologies if you don't find it favorable, but it is realistic, and that should count for something. – Ted Wrigley Jan 29 '20 at 19:34
  • While the behavior might be clear and well-documented, this answer fails to cite this behavior. – Chipster Jan 29 '20 at 19:38
  • If you agree that the behavior is clear and well-documented, then I hardly need to cite it. Would you need me to cite if I claimed that the sun rises every morning, or that there is a nose in the middle of your face? If you need citations for something you can plainly see, you are indulging is a spate of willful ignorance. Rule of thumb: question interpretation, not facts. – Ted Wrigley Jan 29 '20 at 20:39
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    My point is if something is clear and well-documented, it is trivial to site it. Most cases are not as plain as the nose on your face. There are people who will claim that Trump has not done these things. Thus, it is in everyone's best interest to cite such claims, not simply assert them. – Chipster Jan 29 '20 at 21:01

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