HELENA — As former President Trump’s second impeachment trial began Tuesday in the U.S. Senate, Montana’s two “jurors” – Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester – have decidedly different takes on the proceedings.
Daines has joined fellow Republican senators who say the trial is unconstitutional, because Trump is no longer in office. They point to language in the U.S. Constitution that says “when the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside. … “
“Trump is not the president; he is a private citizen,” Daines told MTN News Tuesday. “The chief justice (of the U.S. Supreme Court) is not presiding. I think pursuing this impeachment trial would set a dangerous precedent, when it comes to private citizens. The question is, when does it stop?”
Tester, a Democrat, said that reasoning means a president or any officeholder could carry out any range of impeachable acts and then avoid any accountability by resigning.
“Trump was president of the United States when he committed the acts (he’s accused of), and we’ll find out what those acts are during the trial,” Tester said in an interview. “If those acts were significant enough for incitement of violence, I will vote to convict him.
“If they weren’t significant enough to prove incitement for violence, then I’ll vote acquittal.”
The impeachment articles accuse Trump of inciting to violence and insurrection the rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol and attacked police there on Jan. 6, as Congress met to confirm Democrat Joe Biden’s election as president.
The Senate heard arguments Tuesday on whether the trial is constitutional.
But, even if the trial is constitutional, Daines said he’s already made up his mind that Trump did not commit impeachable acts on Jan. 6, when he told pro-Trump protesters to march on the Capitol.
“The crimes that were committed were committed by those domestic terrorists who broke into our Capitol,” he said. “They should be arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
He accused Democrats of impeaching Trump a second time as a form of political revenge, to take out their anger over Trump winning the 2016 election.
“Impeachment is not the way to settle differences on policy,” Daines said. “You do that through debate. You do that through elections.”
Daines was one of 13 Republican U.S. senators who had promised to challenge the presidential election results in several states, when Congress voted Jan. 6 to certify the results and officially declare Biden the winner. He also said his challenge would occur only if an election commission wasn't formed to review results in those states.
After rioters attacked the Capitol that day and the Senate was forced to evacuate, Daines changed his mind and voted to certify the election, when senators returned later that night.
Tester said given Daines’ role in the vote certification, he’s not surprised that the Republican is arguing the trial is unconstitutional.
“He’s covered for this president and he was one of the 13 people that spread the lie about the election being stolen, until the rioters overran the United States Senate chamber,” Tester told MTN News. “So it isn’t surprising that Sen. Daines would take this radical-right philosophy. …
“At some point in time, the president of the United States has a higher responsibility, than anybody else in this nation, to tell the truth to the people. And I think that’s what this is about.”
In response to Tester's comment about Daines, a spokeswoman for the senator said it’s clear that Tester “loves to take pointless political jabs at Montana’s (congressional) delegation,” and that he should spend more time trying to work together with Daines and GOP Rep. Matt Rosendale instead of against them.