Chief Justice John Roberts Must Not Allow Trump’s Lawyers To Lie

An open letter calling on Chief Justice John Roberts to enforce the Senate trial rules, keep Senators in their seats, and call out Trump lawyers' lying.
In this image from video, President Pro Tempore of the Senate Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa., swears in Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts as the presiding officer for the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020. (Senate Television via AP)

In this image from video, President Pro Tempore of the Senate Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa., swears in Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts as the presiding officer for the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020. (Senate Television via AP)

Dear Chief Justice Roberts,

It’s no understatement to quote Simon and Garfunkel and say: “A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.”

We hear that in the few impeachment cases that have come before the Senate, the Chief Justice plays a very low-key role. We understand that SCOTUS is reluctant to involve itself in political issues. Further, the Senate has the unique power of overruling the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. And your predecessor, Chief Justice Rehnquist, famously prided himself on doing little to intervene.

But the last presidential impeachment did not feature blatant lies and stonewalling. In fact, some would say that Clinton ended up being asked – and answering — questions more salacious than the country needed. Basically, even when being impeached, President Clinton cooperated with the process. That was surely unpleasant for him and his family. But still, he complied.

Chief Justice Roberts, you are presiding over events that are unique in our history. Never before has a president worked so hard to block an investigation. And it’s definitely not the first time we’ve witnessed obstruction. But this is the worst we have ever seen.

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I have a question. We know that witnesses under oath cannot lie. If they do, they are subject to perjury laws and arrest.

But what about lawyers? Are they able to lie without challenge, with impunity? The Senate isn’t exactly a courtroom, but at this moment, it’s the most important courtroom in the country. Even the most important in the world.

I’ve watched the hearings and read the documents. I’m dismayed beyond words that I’m watching the President’s lawyers lie. There is no other word. They are trumpeting talking points that have absolutely no basis in fact?

Can they do that? Is it okay for lawyers to spout lies and gaslight the nation – the world? Did the lawyers not have to take an oath?

I confess, on Tuesday night you disappointed me. You rebuked both sides as if they were equally wrong. The president’s lawyers lied blatantly in every oration. You finally had enough. According to USA Today:

“Roberts said he felt he had to “admonish” both sides ‘in equal terms to remember that they are addressing the world’s greatest deliberative body. One reason it has earned that title is because its members avoid speaking in a manner, and using language that is not conducive to civil discourse.’”

But, in your confirmation hearing before that august body, the Senate, you described your judicial theory:

“Judges and justices are servants of the law, not the other way around. Judges are like umpires. Umpires don’t make the rules; they apply them.

The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules.”

I repeat: “Judges are like umpires.” Note that umpires don’t seek to call balls and strikes equally on each side. If one team consistently strikes out, so be it. The umpire certainly doesn’t seek to make sure each team has an equal number of strikes. Good umpires call what they see.

You did not call out the defense lawyers for lying. You evidently waited until you felt you could rebuke them equally. That’s not right.

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A report Wednesday indicates that twelve GOP senators left the chamber during Rep. Adam Schiff’s presentation. By Thursday, reports grew of Republicans staying out of the chamber or not paying attention. This is blatant disrespect to the Constitution. Even though television cameras can’t see them, the press can.

In fairness, on the Rachel Maddow show, Sen. Chuck Schumer downplayed their absence and said that many listened intently. And it’s true, people get fidgety. Sitting for long stretches is hard on backs. People need to move and stretch. But the Republicans’ absence is more blatant every day.

Ironically, the Senate itself made the rules that dictate that Senators must remain in their seats. And you must call that out. Tuesday night you were upset about what you saw as a lack of decorum. Walking out is worse. It is critical that senators remain in place and are able to listen to the case. That is part of your job.

Yes, it’s true that your powers aren’t as unlimited as in your normal courtroom. If you make a ruling, the Senate has the power to overrule you with fifty-one votes. But you must take that chance! First of all, they hopefully will respect your role enough to not challenge you. And if they do, the world will see that you are doing everything possible to protect the rule of law.

And Wednesday night, you did make an important ruling. You allowed Senatorial access to a classified document.

“The document pertains to supplemental testimony from Jennifer Williams, a national security aide to Vice President Mike Pence who testified before the House impeachment inquiry in November.”

Please keep doing that, making sure the Senate has access to vital documents.

America is watching to see whether or not the government will obfuscate truth to protect its perceived political needs. And it’s not just America. It’s the world. They wonder: America preaches democracy to the world. But will they protect their own?

Chief Justice, you don’t need me to tell you how to do your job. We know that you hold dear the guardrails of our republic. You are keenly aware of our place in history.

Therefore, under our sacred Constitution, you must act to protect us. To protect our republic. Our Constitution is in danger of failure. It is not an exaggeration to say that you are one of the few people who can keep our republic intact.

So much blood has been shed to protect our freedom. Please, Chief Justice, break with precedent. We need your intervention. The whole world needs your intervention.

“A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.”

Opinion // Impeachment / Law / SCOTUS / Senate