After nearly 13 hours of debate that went late into the night, the Republican-controlled Senate voted early on January 22 to approve rules for the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, who allegedly abused his power by withholding military aid to pressure Ukraine into opening an investigation of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
The Senate rejected all 11 amendments Democrats proposed, sparking concerns from them over the plausibility that the trial will be, in effect, rigged to protect and acquit Trump. Among the amendments that failed were subpoenas for key witnesses, such as former national security adviser John Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. Amendments that would have called for additional relevant documents from the Department of Defense and the Office of Management and Budget were also rejected.
Now, right-wing media are using Democratic concerns to downplay the impeachment trial. Some are arguing that Democrats’ complaints about the process prove that they don’t actually have a case, while others are complaining that Trump supposedly didn’t get a fair process in the House (he did). Some are also pointing to Democratic senators’ calls to hear from more witnesses as evidence that the House didn’t properly call witnesses during the impeachment inquiry, despite the fact that the administration prevented key witnesses from testifying.
Conservative media are saying that Democrats’ concerns about process prove they don’t have a case
Some in right-wing media have tried to argue that because Democrats have concerns over the way the Senate is handling impeachment, it proves that Democrats don’t have a valid case. In reality, Democratic impeachment managers have made it clear that their concerns have to do with whether Trump will receive a fair trial or a “rigged” one. Democrats in the House also faced various obstacles when conducting their impeachment inquiry due to stonewalling by the administration, which has prevented certain witnesses from testifying, among other difficulties.
- On America’s Newsroom, GOP commentator Josh Holmes said that it’s “become very clear” that Democrats don’t have a case, “so they have to argue process.” Holmes also claimed, “You should not go into an impeachment process and whine about the areas where you cannot control.”
- Raheem Kassam, editor-in-chief of National Pulse and former editor-in-chief of Breitbart’s London bureau, tweeted that “apparently the case the House Democrats made is now not enough” because “they're running from their own record on and with good reason.”
- On Fox & Friends, Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich said that “the most that [Senate Minority Leader Chuck] Schumer has going right now is whining” because “he doesn’t have a case to make.”
- Newsmax’s John Cardillo characterized the Democrats’ calls for more witnesses and documents as them admitting that their “sham case sucks,” so they “demand the Senate do our bidding and continue the coup.”
Right-wing media are justifying the Senate process by falsely complaining that Trump didn’t get a fair process in the House
Republicans complained throughout the House process that Trump was not receiving a fair trial, and right-wing media are now conflating those complaints with Democrats’ concerns in the Senate. However, many of those complaints from Trump allies were based on distorted interpretations and disinformation surrounding the impeachment process, such as claims that Democrats were holding “secret” hearings or that Republicans were prohibited from closed-door hearings.
- On America’s Newsroom, Fox News contributor Ari Fleischer said that House Democrats held “secret hearings where Republicans got to pick no witnesses,” asking, “Why is that fair, but this isn’t fair?”
- Fox prime-time host Sean Hannity said that the House inquiry “didn’t even have a formal vote, it wasn’t the result of any independent investigation, it was, as we now know, crafted in secret in the basement of the House.” Hannity concluded that Trump “afforded no due process, no basis fairness, the process was rigged from beginning to end.”
- America’s Newsroom hosted Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) who defended Republican senators not calling witnesses because “there isn’t a witness on either side you can call that can inject fairness and due process into a process that had none.” Ratcliffe concluded that witnesses aren’t necessary because “the Senate isn’t going to be able to fix what happened in the House.” Co-host Sandra Smith didn’t offer any follow-up to his comments.
- Fox News contributor Mike Huckabee complained on Twitter about “watching smug, arrogant Adam (the pile of) Schiff lecture the Senate about ‘fairness’ after his disgusting abuse of House rules to ramrod IMPEACHMENT!” Huckabee compared hearing Schiff’s complaints about the trial process to “having Jeffrey Dahmer lecture about nutrition and healthy eating.”
- Conservative commentator David Limbaugh said that he has “no sympathy for Senate Democrats and their media cheerleaders whining over the alleged ‘unfairness’ of the proceedings.” Limbaugh added, “Democrats drew first blood and finally, in this new era, Republicans are mad as hell and aren’t taking it anymore.”
Conservative media personalities also falsely claimed the House didn’t do its job of calling witnesses
Conservative media figures, including many Fox News hosts and contributors, repeatedly criticized Democrats’ calls for Trump’s Senate trial to include testimony from additional witnesses, claiming they show the House didn’t do its job properly during the impeachment. But while over a dozen witnesses did testify either voluntarily or under subpoena -- in part because they still worked for the Trump administration and their superiors ordered them not to cooperate with Congress -- several key witnesses still refused to testify on orders from the White House, even after House Democrats won a court case to compel testimony from former White House counsel Don McGahn. Several Fox personalities had also defended or even urged Trump’s action to block witnesses from testifying.
- The morning after the impeachment trial began, Fox & Friends repeatedly claimed the House didn’t to its “job” to call witnesses. Co-host Steve Doocy said, “Wasn't it the job of the House to call all the witnesses, get all the information,” while co-host Ainsley Earhardt stated: “They didn't do their job. They should have called witnesses in the House.”
- On the morning of the trial, Doocy lied that the House “did not call Mick Mulvaney, they did not call John Bolton,” and added: “If there was a cover-up, it was in who the Democrats decided to call as witnesses.”
- Conservative CNN political commentator Sean Duffy claimed Schiff “did have a choice to call these witnesses, to subpoena these witnesses in the House. And he didn’t subpoena them.” CNN anchor John Berman pushed back: “He called them, and they said no.”
- Hannity repeatedly claimed that allowing more witnesses in the Senate trial would be taking on the constitutional role of the House, adding, “If they wanted witnesses, they should’ve called them, they should've subpoenaed them.” He also said Democrats “didn’t call the witnesses that they’re not demanding be called”
- Fox contributor Katie Pavlich said Schiff “had the ability to call all these witnesses he claims are very important” and insinuated that he neglected to do so.
- Fox contributor and former Republican member of Congress Trey Gowdy said the Senate should “make the House do what they should have done, which is talk to all of these witnesses themselves. … They’re the ones who made the decision not to call Mike Pompeo, or Mick Mulvaney, or John Bolton, or Rudy Giuliani.”
- Appearing on Fox & Friends, Fox host Jeanine Pirro likened House Democrats to flatulent elementary schoolers and said: “You didn't call witnesses in the House. Now you're going to tell us how to run a trial?”
Correction (1/23/20): This piece has been updated to correct Raheem Kassam's job title.