Given congress's recent decision to bar witnesses and evidence from being presented as part of President Trump's impeachment trial, are members of the Senate compelled to acquit based on lack of evidence? It seems akin to a prosecutor being prohibited from bringing evidence against an accused criminal. In such a case, the only evidence available to the jury would be the fact that the prosecutor thinks the criminal is guilty, which is clearly insufficient evidence for a conviction.

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    While a court would have a jury unfamiliar with the case outside of what is presented at trial, I think it's fair to say that the senators haven't been ignoring the proceedings of the house (and nor are they bound to disregard it). Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 2:00
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    @MooseBoys that's true. But this is not a criminal trial, and there are no rules of evidence unless the Senate imposes them. A senator can vote to convict (or not) based on the case that was presented by the house managers and the rebuttal presented by the president.
    – phoog
    Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 3:44
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    @Nobody I looked over the 110 questions whe have about the Trump impeachment by now and actually couldn't find an open one which addresses this directly. While people explain again and again in comments and answers that the Trump impeachment is a political process and not a judicial one, this actually seems to be the first question which addresses this directly. But it's very possible that I missed it, because a lot of these questions have very bad subject lines.
    – Philipp
    Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 10:42
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    There's a couple of misconceptions with this question I want to address first. There were 18 witnesses, and their testimony (as well as the fact that they were public) WERE submitted to the Senate as part of the impeachment. There are a lot of protections (double jeopardy, standard of beyond reasonable doubt, etc) that aren't afforded to impeachment because it isn't a loss of liberty, it's simply loss of a job. There's zero evidence actually required for an impeachment (although the people of Congress and the Senate answer to the people and could be voted out).
    – AHamilton
    Commented Feb 4, 2020 at 9:07
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    Keep in mind that in this trial, very different standards apply from what you'd find in a criminal trial. For instance, in a criminal trial, if the foreman of the jury publicly declared that he was going to even talk to, let alone follow the direction of, the defense attorneys, he would be at least removed from the jury, if not arrested. Commented Feb 4, 2020 at 23:54

3 Answers 3


Impeachment is a political act. There is no crime so heinous for which members of either house could be found criminally or civilly liable for voting no on impeachment. There is also nothing so pure and beneficial which they are forbidden from using as justification for impeachment.

The President could be impeached by the House on the grounds the President was a dead dog, and that judgment could be confirmed by the Senate, with a judgment to either censure or remove the President from office.

An Impeachable Offense is what 1/2 (+1) of the House says it is. To successfully Impeach the President you also need 2/3rds of the Senate to agree. There are no other requirements or limitations.

Trump will be acquitted not because of lack of witnesses or lack of actual criminal actions, but for the exact same reason that he was Impeached, because the people that hold office in the part of the Congress where that decision is made, thought it made political sense or moral sense to do so.

None of them are compelled by anything other than their conscience and their ambition.

  • Comments deleted. Please note that comments on this website are not supposed to be used for political debates. For more information on how comments should and should not be used, please check out the help article on the commenting privilege.
    – Philipp
    Commented Feb 4, 2020 at 10:05
  • So tl;dr: neither the Constitution nor established law place any constraints on how the Senate is to try an impeachment charge, and it is therefore free to do so however it wants, including summary acquittal? That's not a very compelling argument IMO. After all, the same case could be made to support conducting the trial by staring contest. Surely there's some broader obligation that applies, right? Or is the only balancing force really just the fact that senators are ultimately accountable to voters?
    – MooseBoys
    Commented Feb 4, 2020 at 17:03
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    @MooseBoys: Yes, the only balancing force is the voters. As for constraints, instead of them being free by default, they are EXPLICITLY free to do whatever they want, answering to no-one but themselves and the voters. They can’t be sued, fined, or imprisoned for their vote. They can be voted out of office in the next election.
    – jmoreno
    Commented Feb 4, 2020 at 17:23
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. Commented Feb 6, 2020 at 18:15


Senators may vote as they wish. There is no standard of proof (such as "beyond reasonable doubt") specified in the Constitution for impeachment trials.

  • As far as I know there isn't any explicit standard of proof codified in the Constitution for criminal trials either, and yet presumption of innocence is considered standard in any criminal trial in the US. Based on the Constitution, the Senate is charged to "try (formally examine evidence in order to determine guilt) the president on charges of impeachment." Regardless of whether the Senate neglected their duties in rejecting evidence, it seems they still are charged with trying the president, in very similar language to the 6th Amendment.
    – MooseBoys
    Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 7:15
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    The question specifically cites lack of evidence. It might be worth noting evidence has been presented by the House. Given the number of people involved you can find quotes for anything, but for this one case proven, not impeachable specifically refutes a lack of evidence claim.
    – Jontia
    Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 7:34
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    @MooseBoys To “try” something does not mean it is a criminal trial—after all, we have civil trials, with different standards. And the Constitution explicitly notes that an impeached officer may still be subject to a criminal trial after impeachment (which would be a violation of double jeopardy if impeachment were a criminal trial).
    – KRyan
    Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 15:43
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    The constitution specifies "due process" for criminal convictions. Nothing similar is specified for impeachment, civil trials, etc.
    – Barmar
    Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 15:53
  • Constitution specifies due process for depriving someone of (list). So that would include a lawsuit for money or property, which is also not a criminal. It would be a stretch, but since both sides are already stretching, I could imagine someone arguing that depriving Trump of office requires “due process.”
    – WGroleau
    Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 21:17

The Senate isn't legally compelled to rule either way. If Trump were to come right out and indisputably admit to withholding aid for personal gain, there is no legal requirement for the Senate to convict. Nor is there a legal requirement for the Senate to acquit in the reverse case, in which the accusers all recant their statements.

The Senate can rule however it wants regardless of the evidence. The only thing truly binding them is the next election: "If I vote to acquit, will my constituents re-elect me?"

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    Very true. In fact, Clinton had admitted guilt to the perjury for which he was impeached, but the Senate still voted to find him not guilty anyway.
    – reirab
    Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 20:17
  • "The Senate isn't legally compelled to rule either way". - Where did you come up with that? Constitution ? Statute ? - please do tell
    – BobE
    Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 21:16
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    @BobE it could be said to follow from the constitution, since it does not specify any procedure a senator must follow when deciding how to vote.
    – phoog
    Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 23:41
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    @reirab -- strictly speaking, it's not true that the "Senate still voted to find [Clinton] not guilty anyway". Guilt is not actually something the Senate votes on. It votes on removing the president, and it voted against that. Clinton may very well have been guilty or might have been found guilty by a court -- but that wasn't the question in front of the Senate then, and it is not now. Commented Feb 5, 2020 at 2:47
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    @BobE I think you've misunderstood the use of the phrase "the Senate isn't legally compelled to rule either way" in this answer. It means that the Senate isn't compelled to rule one way, nor is it compelled to rule the other way. It doesn't mean "the Senate isn't compelled to rule at all", which I think is how you've interpreted it.
    – JBentley
    Commented Feb 6, 2020 at 4:29

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