It’s a strange notion: a “trial” held in a political courtroom. If Donald Trump is impeached by the US House of Representatives – which seems increasingly likely given that it is controlled by Democrats – the trial that determines his fate will be held in the Republican-controlled Senate. As if to emphasise the sham nature of it all, a group of Republican senators (the would-be jurors) huddled openly with the White House – the defendant – last week to discuss their strategy.
Such an event is currently the only option the US has for trying presidents. While no one is above the law in theory, the reality is that the US Justice Department states that a president cannot be tried in a criminal court while in office. Hence Robert Mueller's decision not to issue a recommendation – one way or the other – on whether Trump obstructed justice during an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Charges must come from lawmakers – a jury of his political peers, voted in by the electorate – rather than a courtroom.
Contrast that with Israel where, against the backdrop of a similarly polarised electorate, the attorney general decided to file corruption charges against Benjamin Netanyahu last week; the prime minister predictably called the decision an “attempted coup”. Unlike Trump, his fate lies in the hands of the courts (unless Netanyahu’s allies in parliament succeed in passing laws that would make him immune to prosecution). So which system is better? Who should be charged with removing a leader from office: the courts, lawmakers or the electorate? All we can hope is that both camps remember that impartiality and a fair hearing – hallmarks of any judicial system – should lie at the centre of the process. Our democracies depend on it.