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Trump impeachment trial live updates: Heated arguments over McConnell proposed rules
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Why John Roberts won’t save the impeachment trial from partisanship
US Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. waits for the arrival of former US President George H.W. Bush at the US Capitol Rotunda on December 3, 2018, in Washington, DC. | Jabin Botsford via Getty Images What to expect from the man presiding over the impeachment process. The Supreme Court is the most consequential institution in American politics. And yet the public almost never gets to see the chief justice, or any of the justices for that matter, in action. This will change as President Trump’s impeachment trial moves to the Senate on Tuesday. The Constitution provides that the chief justice “shall preside” over the impeachment trial of a president. The role of the chief justice is mostly ceremonial and may only matter in the event that a tie-breaker vote is needed; historically, chief justices have relied on a Senate parliamentarian to manage the process. But Roberts could, if he chose, exert real influence on the trial by compelling witnesses to appear or by ruling on the admissibility of evidence. It’s not likely, but it is possible. Since there’s a chance that Roberts, who was picked to lead the court in 2005 by George W. Bush, might play a significant role in the impeachment saga, I reached out to Joan Biskupic, author of The Chief: The Life and Turbulent Times of Chief Justice John Roberts. Biskupic has covered the Supreme Court for more than 20 years and knows Roberts about as well as anyone. We discussed Roberts’s ideological background; the role he’s played on the court and in American politics; and whether we can expect him to preside over Trump’s trial impartially. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows. Sean Illing What would you say is the most important thing the average citizen should know about John Roberts? Joan Biskupic John Roberts is a student of history; before getting his law degree at Harvard, he considered a PhD in history. So he is aware of the weight on his shoulders as he presides over only the third Senate trial of a president in US history. He will be ready for his moment on the dais. He is reserved, cautious, and will probably follow the lead of his mentor William Rehnquist, who presided at the Clinton trial in 1999, and insert himself in the process as little as possible. He will also be thinking about his place in history. He said at one public appearance fairly early in his tenure: “You wonder if you’re going to be John Marshall or you’re going to be Roger Taney. The answer is, of course, you are certainly not going to be John Marshall. But you want to avoid the danger of being Roger Taney.” Sean Illing Who was Roger Taney? Joan Biskupic Chief Justice Taney wrote the 1857 Dred Scott v. Sandford decision, which many people regard as the worst ruling ever. He said African Americans could not be citizens, invalidated the Missouri compromise, helped lead to the Civil War. Sean Illing Would you call Roberts a moderate? A conservative? An ideologue? Joan Biskupic Roberts cannot be defined by a single label. He is generally conservative, as we have seen on issues such as race, religion and campaign finance. But recall that in 2012, he split from his conservative brethren to cast the deciding vote to uphold the Obama-sponsored Affordable Care Act. As I chronicled in my book, that move came after multiple switched votes and tense negotiations with his colleagues. Today, the chief holds even more of a controlling vote because he is at the ideological center of the court (post-Anthony Kennedy). Overall, he is likely to continue to show his conservative stripes but in certain high-profile cases, when he is in the middle, he’ll inch to the center. Last June’s census case decision is an example of that. Sean Illing Does he put his role a justice over his identity as a conservative Republican? Do his rulings bear that out? Joan Biskupic We’ve had 45 presidents and only 17 chief justices. That’s where his identity is, not in his former roles as an appellate lawyer or a member of the Reagan-Bush administrations. His prior political work may shape his approach, and he has revealed his conservative roots in his rulings, but he is mostly mindful of what he’s doing as chief justice. Sean Illing As you know, Roberts just released the 2019 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary. The political undertones of these things are often hard to decipher, but he wrote that “We have come to take democracy for granted” and explicitly called for more “civic education.” What do you make of that? Do you think he was quietly speaking to Trump? Joan Biskupic I think he was speaking to many constituencies in that report: the public most broadly, fellow judges and Trump, too. Even before Trump came into office, Roberts was concerned about the judiciary becoming entangled in politics. “We don’t work as Democrats or Republicans,” he has said repeatedly. Since Trump took office, that message has taken on more urgency. Think of the chief’s rebuke of Trump over the so-called “Obama judge” in November 2018. Sean Illing Roberts’s role in the Senate impeachment trial is largely ceremonial, but if circumstances force him to get involved, how do you expect him to handle it? Joan Biskupic Under the Senate rules, he could be asked to rule on the relevance and materiality of evidence. I think he will try to avoid any decision that influences the direction of the trial and whether Trump is acquitted or convicted. He would want Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer to work out what they can, as Trent Lott and Tom Daschle did in 1999. We’re not in 1999, of course. Things are far more polarized, but as much as he can do it, I believe Chief Justice Roberts will relay anything substantive to a vote of the Senate and majority will. Sean Illing What role is do you expect him to play in the Senate impeachment trial? Do you think he’ll be fair and impartial? Joan Biskupic I think he will enter the chamber on Tuesday intent on being fair and impartial and signaling in every way that he is both objective — and detached from the Senate as the true decision-maker here. Remember, the senators are sitting as the “court” in this instance. The chief justice works in a world far from television cameras. Many people watching the Senate trial will be seeing him in action for the first time. He will try to set a sense of decorum and avoid anything that would put him or the Supreme Court in a bad light.
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Trump’s lawyers began the impeachment trial with a blizzard of lies
Sekulow (L) and Cipollone (R) arrive at the US Capitol on Tuesday. | Oliver Douliery/AFP via Getty Images The opening statements from Trump’s lawyers indicated that gaslighting will be a key part of their strategy. The opening debate of the Senate impeachment trial on Tuesday afternoon was supposed to be merely about the trial rules. But in quintessential Trump fashion, members of President Donald Trump’s legal team wasted no time telling a number of lies before things really got going. Though getting facts wrong might be somewhat understandable in the context of extemporaneous statements, these falsehoods came in the context of prepared remarks read by White House counsel Pat Cipollone and personal Trump attorney Jay Sekulow. And if that approach is indicative of how the rest of the trial will go, casual watchers may end up with an understanding of the timeline of Trump’s Ukraine dealings and ensuing impeachment that’s at odds with reality. Falsehood No. 1: Trump’s lawyers claimed Republicans didn’t have access to key information during House impeachment inquiry As part of an effort to portray the process that resulted in Trump’s impeachment and trial as a partisan witch hunt, Cipollone at one point complained that “not even [House Intelligence Committee chair and impeachment manager Adam] Schiff’s Republican colleagues were allowed into the SCIF,” or Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, which is basically the secure facility that members of Congress used to review classified information pertinent to the impeachment inquiry. "Not even Mr. Schiff's Republican colleagues were allowed into the SCIF" -- this is a blatant lie from Cipollone— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 21, 2020 This assertion is not true. As a number of reporters pointed out, not only did Republicans involved in the impeachment have access to the SCIF, but many of them also used it. Cipollone says “Not even Mr. Schiff’s Republican colleagues were allowed into the SCIF” during impeachment investigation. That’s 100% false. Any member of the three investigating committees could attend, and many Republicans did!— Garrett Haake (@GarrettHaake) January 21, 2020 As part of a made-for-TV stunt, House Republicans did storm a SCIF in October to protest Democrats not providing Republicans who were otherwise uni in the impeachment inquiry with access to closed-door depositions. However, Republicans who were on one of the three committees involved in the process had the same access as Democrats. When the trial resumed after a brief pause following Sekulow and Cipollone’s statements, Schiff noted that Cipollone made “a false statements” about access to the SCIF, and said, “I will tell you this: He’s mistaken. He’s mistaken ... [Republicans] got the same time we did.” Falsehood No. 2: Schiff “manufactured” Trump’s comments during the July Zelensky call That wasn’t the only easily refutable lie pushed by Cipollone during his trial-opening remarks on Tuesday. At another point, he alluded to how Schiff paraphrased Trump’s now-infamous July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and claimed, “when Mr. Schiff saw that his allegations [about Trump abusing his power] were false, and he know it anyway, what did he do? He went to the House and he manufactured a fraudulent version of that phone call.” “He read it to the American people, and he didn’t tell them it was a complete fake,” Cipollone added, echoing a talking point that Trump has incessantly used to discredit the impeachment inquiry. Another new low.White House Counsel for President of United States on the floor of Senate engaging in disinformation.Repeating false claim that Schiff “manufactured a false version of that call.” The call transcript was ALREADY PUBLIC, Schiff was obviously paraphrasing it.— Ryan Goodman (@rgoodlaw) January 21, 2020 But those comments are a gross mischaracterization of what Schiff did. Schiff paraphrased the phone call for dramatic effect, and made clear he was doing so. While that decision may have been an ill-advised one — I criticized it at the time because it provided Trump with grist to diminish the proceedings — in no way did Schiff try and bamboozle people into believing Trump said things he didn’t say. Cipollone on Schiff's summary of the call: "He read it to the American people, and he didn't tell them it was a complete fake."In fact, Schiff disclosed up-front that his summary of what Trump said on the call was "shorn of its rambling character and in not so many words."— Aaron Blake (@AaronBlake) January 21, 2020 And there was more Cipollone wasn’t alone in getting basic stuff wrong. Sekulow’s opening statement also served as an extended complaint about process, but he also managed to mangle the facts (he claimed House Democrats delayed transmitting articles of impeachment to the Senate for a longer period of time than was actually the case) and mischaracterize the impeachment process (he said Trump “was denied the right to cross-examine witnesses” during the House inquiry when in fact the White House declined to do so). Sekulow: "The President was denied the right to cross-examine witnesses.... denied the right to access evidence... and denied the right to have counsel present at hearings. That's a trifecta, a trifecta that violates the Constitution of the United States." #CheddarNews— Cheddar News (@CheddarNews) January 21, 2020 Although most of the impeachment trial is still to come, the way Cipollone and Sekulow handled their opening statements suggests the White House is confident they have little to worry about from Senate Republicans, some of whom have indicated they would at least like to hear from witnesses as part of the process. Facts, not to mention a sense of shame, will not get in the way of the narrative Trump’s legal team intends to push about Democrats having it out for the president — and they’re betting that the American people either won’t be able to see through it or agrees with them. Schiff made clear that he also views Cipollone and Sekulow’s false claims as part of a strategy. After the aforementioned break, he mentioned a number of the lies and said, “why don’t they have a better argument to make on the merits?” SCHIFF: "When you hear them attack the House managers, what you're really hearing is 'we don't want to talk about POTUS's guilt ... so we'll attack the House managers b/c maybe we can distract you for a moment' ... why don't they have a better argument to make on the merits?"— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 21, 2020 When he wrapped up, the next speaker — Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) — also devoted some time to debunking false claims Cipollone made about Trump and executive privilege. The news moves fast. To stay updated, follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter, and read more of Vox’s policy and politics coverage.
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The Smartphone Has Changed How History Is Written
History, as a discipline, comes out of the archive. The archive is not the library, but something else entirely. Libraries spread knowledge that’s been compressed into books and other media. Archives are where collections of papers are stored, usually within an inner sanctum of a library. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s papers, say, at the New York Public Library. Or Record Group 31 at the National Archives—a set of Federal Housing Administrative documents from the 1930s to the1970s. Usually, an archive contains materials from the people and institutions near it. So, the Silicon Valley Archive at Stanford contain everything from Atari’s business plans to HP co-founder William Hewlett’s correspondence.While libraries have become central actors in the digitization of knowledge, archives have generally resisted this trend. They are still almost overwhelmingly paper. Traditionally, you’d go to a place like this and sit there, day after day, “turning every page,” as the master biographer Robert Caro put it. You might spend weeks, months, or like Caro, years, working through all the boxes, taking extensive notes and making some (relatively expensive) photo copies. Fewer and fewer people have the time, money, or patience to do that. (If they ever did.)Enter the smartphone, and cheap digital photography. Instead of reading papers during an archival visit, historians can snap pictures of the documents and then look at them later. Ian Milligan, a historian at the University of Waterloo, noticed the trend among his colleagues and surveyed 250 historians, about half tenured or tenure-track, half in other positions, about their work in the archives. The results quantified the new normal. While there is a subset of researchers (~23 percent) who took few (less than 200) photos, the plurality (~40 percent) of researchers took more than 2,000 photographs for their “last substantive project.”The driving force here is simple enough. Digital photos drive down the cost of archival research, allowing an individual to capture far more documents per hour. So, an archival visit becomes a process of standing over documents, snapping pictures as quickly as possible. Some researchers organize their photos swiping on an iPhone, or with an open-source tool named Tropy; some, like Alex Wellerstein, a historian at Stevens Institute of Technology, have special digital camera setups, and a standardized method. In my own work, I used Dropbox’s photo tools, which I used to output PDFs, which dropped into Scrivener, my preferred writing software.These practices might seem like a subtle shift—researchers are still going to collections and requesting boxes and reading papers—but the ways that information is collected and managed transmute what historians can learn from it. There has been, as Milligan put it, a “dramatic reshaping of historical practice.” Different histories will be written because the tools of the discipline are changing.***I’ve spent a lot of time in archives. They make me feel like a pilgrim of a very obscure religion, and the process shares the features of other sacred journeys. You put your things in a special locker, keeping only laptop, phone, pencil. You’re inspected for purity on the way into the sanctum and instructed in a series of obscure rights and responsibilities that attend to touching this very special paper. The rooms are beautiful. No one talks. Everyone is on a secret mission, just like you. Sometimes you’re handed white gloves. They don’t smell of old books—that’s the glue, a part of publishing—but sometimes, when you catch a whiff of perfume, lead, ink, chemicals, it seems as if a box exhales the very air of the past. On the way out, you must prove you’ve stolen nothing from the boxes that are kept in the vaults. Paper more valuable than gold! (Inhales dust.)But this sort of rarified “archive mysticism,” which, Wallerstein said, “literally goes back to Ranke”—Leopold von Ranke, the celebrated 19th century historian—is more romantic than analytical. For historians who need grant funding and child care, or life support from their families and partners, the ideal “that to be a historian is to find the right archive and go inhale its dust” can be unachievable. Shorter trips mean cheaper trips, which, Milligan predicts, will make archival work more accessible.In other words, different types of people will be able to do history. “I would expect this to lead to more top-notch, archivally-based scholarly work from those outside of well-resourced institutions,” Milligan told me. “It also opens up a lot more ability to research for people who are caregivers, whether for children or parents, which will lead to more diverse authors.”[Read: Artificial intelligence is cracking open the Vatican’s secret archives]It may be, too, that widespread digitization of archival materials could allow people outside the professionalized, largely western historical tradition to do history. Tim Hitchcock, a historian at the University of Sussex, put the argument in transnational context: Digitization has “democratised historical research, creating a space for people to interrogate their own communities' histories,” he wrote to me. Different people working with the same historical materials will probably change how history is written.Even the same person, though, might write differently if their core process changes. Miriam Pawel, the author of several books based on archival material., purchased a huge screen for her latest, she told me. and could simultaneously pull up photos of documents and her word doc. Counterintuitively, because it’s harder to work with documents on a screen than to flip through photocopied pages, she found herself taking more detailed notes on her first pass through documents than she had when she worked on paper. That translated into a more detailed outline for her massive biography of the California governors Pat and Jerry Brown, The Browns of California, and she thinks, a book that better reflected the material in the archives.There’s some precedent for how history has been changed by increasing digital accessibility. Wellerstein groups photo-taking in the archives under a broader set of changes that he terms “high volume” research methods. “The practices will change what kind of questions you’ll ask,” he said. Take a highly regarded book, Charles Rosenberg’s The Cholera Years. In it, Rosenberg tracks how three newspapers in New York covered cholera. “He spent years working on that,” Wellerstein said. “You can call up every source he used in that book in one afternoon using ProQuest,” one of several databases of newspapers.That does not invalidate the book, which Wellerstein described as “great,” but someone working on the same topic now would have the option to expand the field of inquiry. “You might look nationally, internationally, look over a vast amount of time, correlate cholera with something else,” he said. “Would you get better history? I don’t know. You’d get different history though.”[Read: Future historians probably won’t understand our internet, and that’s okay]If a single archive visit allows a historian to capture five, ten, 20 times as many documents, the expectations of the depth of archival work will almost certainly increase. Patrick McCray, a historian at the University of California, Santa Barbara, quantified the increase in the documents he has captured over time by looking at the size of his files for several different books. “The file for my giant telescopes book (2004) is 9.7MB now,” he wrote to me. ”My Moonwatch book (2008) file size = 2 GB; Visioneers (2012) = 10 GB.” His most recent book is already up to 77 GB.Was there something to the long, paper-rich archive visit, though? As with so many things in the digital age, the downsides have often been less obvious than the conveniences, but they emerge eventually.In a 2016 essay, the University of Pittsburgh historian Lara Putnam argued that archival visits used to require picking up local knowledge. But the rise of digital searching generally “decouples data from place.” You don’t have to know anything about a particular neighborhood, city, region, or nation to find relevant information to a project. “Peripheral vision was prohibitively expensive,” Putnam writes. Now, you’re expected to know what might lie outside the frame of your argument. If you’re writing about Germany, why not take a database peak at Switzerland, or if you’re working on Brazil, why not search Angola (or Mexico)?But you might lose another kind of peripheral vision—what’s going on locally at the archive you’re visiting. All the difficulty of getting to and staying near an archive might have had some purposes. “This experiential friction, the very thing that made international historical research in an analog world inefficient, tends to teach border-crossing researchers things they need to know, whether they know it or not,” Putnam observed. “When foreign researchers slog away in archives day after day next to in-country intellectuals, they can be forced to confront the value of locally produced expertise.”Wellerstein pointed to a related problem he found himself fighting. When you digitize more, you can be tempted to believe that your record is complete, even though historians know that only certain things are captured in documentary evidence. “You can overestimate your knowledge when it looks like you have everything,” he said.Like so many changes in day-to-day life brought on by smartphones, it’s hard to sort out the directionality or even angle of change, as the devices we use intersect with other layers of our societies. This being history, then, it’s important to note the other contexts for this era of historical inquiry: a decline in Cold War funding of “area studies,” a deepening financial globalization, the precarity of most graduate students (and some professors), a widening of the historical profession to include historically excluded groups, a reevaluation of the postcolonial position of research universities in western countries, and many other things.But the literal job of doing history has changed. It works through screens now, that much is for sure. Now, we’ll have to look to the historians to document what that means.
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