On the first full day of the impeachment proceedings, which tipped into the early-morning hours of the next, Chief Justice John Roberts admonished the parties to display more civility. He disliked the bandying about of treacherous, lies, and cover-up. It was not the sort of argument appropriately made to the world’s “greatest deliberative body.” “Remember where you are,” Roberts concluded.
The chief justice seemed to have some effect on the chamber. By and large, except for a few additional rough patches of rhetoric, the proceedings were generally orderly and the conduct restrained. One performance stood out, however: that of White House Counsel Pat A. Cipollone. This was not so much because he lost his temper or slipped up and let the politics of the president’s case show behind the legal argument. He made a decision to make the political case in direct and unapologetic terms, and to ignore issues raised by his involvement within the White House in the various factual matters the Senate was called upon to resolve.
It is said often enough that impeachment is a political process, and, to one degree or another, the politics are unavoidable in the construction of the House managers’ arguments and the senators’ questions and statements on and off the floor. Cipollone is the White House counsel, the chief lawyer to the office of the presidency, and so is appropriately evaluated under a different standard. He is not a politician. He is not the president’s personal counsel, who is at liberty to turn arguments at will in a personally or politically self-interested direction. He is a senior government lawyer who carries a special obligation to decide the correct posture, including his choice of tone and argument, that his institutional responsibility calls for.