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The past two days of the Trump impeachment trial have been devoted to questions from the Senators to the House Impeachment Managers and the White House counsel. It seems to me like many of these questions are proxies for statements by the Senators, who are supposed to be unable to speak during the trial.

For example, one of the questions this afternoon was something like

If President Trump is acquitted, what's to stop him from doing something similar in the future?

This is clearly a rhetorical question, not asking for legitimate information from the House Managers.

When the Senators ask questions directed to the Managers or counsel representing their own party, they seem mostly just prompting them to repeat statements that had previously been made during the opening remarks. In the rare cases where they direct the question to the other side, they seem to be baiting them to slip up.

And even when the questions are phrased as being about general legal or constitutional issues, the answers are given in terms of the specifics of this case rather than answering the question as stated. For example, I think a Republican question was something hypothetical like

Is it appropriate for the President to ask a foreign government to investigate a private US citizen? And what if that citizen happens to be a political rival?

The answer from the White House counsel started by saying that Trump didn't ask Ukraine to investigate Biden, and didn't condition aid on any such investigation. IANAL, but I think that in a real trial an answer like this would be judged as "non-responsive", and the witness would be instructed to answer the question that was asked. I think he eventually did answer the general question, though, but he mostly took the question as just an opportunity for more grandstanding.

I've been having a hard time seeing any legitimate point to this process, no new information is being revealed. They're asking questions they already know the answers to, and getting precisely those answers.

Is this all just for show? A time limit was put on the opening statements, but they've effectively been extended into this phase.

Was this to be expected? Was the nature of the questions similar during the Clinton impeachment trial? Were they also mostly veiled ways for the Senators to make partisan statements.

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If the impeachment process was proceeding as it should, the 'questions' phase would allow senators to clarify points that were raised during the the opening arguments, raise legal or ethical issues, probe for more detailed arguments, or push through evasive statements made by council on either side. We often see this process when the Supreme Court hears oral arguments on a case, where each Justice is allowed to probe council for more information or explication on their position.

Unfortunately, the impeachment is not proceeding as it should. The GOP majority is not treating this as an actual trial, but as an inconvenience to be peremptorily dismissed, and a majority of senators on both sides see their questions less as a fruitful part of some trial process than as a last opportunity to make pointed political statements before the entire thing is swept away. It is a sad commentary on the decay of our political system.

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  • Yeah, and my usual afternoons of listening to Fresh Air and All Things Considered are being preempted by this BS. – Barmar Jan 31 at 16:09
  • @Barmar — Pobrecito! – Ted Wrigley Jan 31 at 16:14
  • Well, something good has come of this: I learned a new word today! :) – Barmar Jan 31 at 16:32
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An answer to

Was the process similar during the Clinton impeachment trial?

Yes. Per Wikipedia:

... January 22 and 23 were devoted to questions from members of the Senate to the House managers and Clinton's defense counsel. Under the rules, all questions (over 150) were to be written down and given to Rehnquist to read to the party being questioned. ...

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  • And were the questions mostly similar to the questions during this trial, just veiled partisan statements by the Senators? – Barmar Jan 30 at 22:35
  • @Barmar I can't answer that yet. I haven't found references listing the questions asked during the Clinton impeachment trial yet. Search results are inundated with the current trial. – Just Me Jan 30 at 22:36
  • I've clarified the question at the end. I'm not really asking about the literal process, but the types of questions. – Barmar Jan 30 at 22:39
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    Here's a link to 50 of the Clinton trial questions. Unfortunately, no answers. australianpolitics.com/1999/01/22/… – Burt_Harris Jan 31 at 1:19
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    I watched bits of the Clinton trial (and some of the Nixon House investigation phase as a high school student) and I recall lots of bolivating and grandstanding. The trial is a political event, not a legal one after all. Clinton was acquitted although he had committed actual felony crimes (witness tampering and perjury under oath) serious enough to get him disbarred. So the standard for a conviction is actually set pretty high. – user30014 Jan 31 at 2:08

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