Tribune Editorial: Sen. Mitt Romney’s mission: Trial first. Verdict afterwards.

(Susan Walsh | AP file photo) In this Nov. 5, 2019, file photo, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, gets in an elevator as he is followed by reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington.

"'Let the jury consider their verdict,' the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.

"'No, no!' said the Queen. ‘Sentence first—verdict afterwards.’

“‘Stuff and nonsense!’ said Alice loudly. ‘The idea of having the sentence first!’”

— Lewis Carroll, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (1865)

The process of impeachment in the House of Representatives and the subsequent trial in the Senate is often described in terms of a judicial proceeding. The House assumes the role of grand jury, returning an indictment, and then acts as the prosecutor when the matter goes to the Senate, which is described as a jury.

Rolling in the chief justice of the United States as presiding officer (so the vice president is not placed in the awkward position of either protecting his boss or using the opportunity to steal his job) bolsters the view that the Senate Chamber becomes a court of law. It is a useful analogy to describe a practice that is both rare and unique.

Useful, but not altogether accurate.

The unavoidable fact is that the process of impeachment is a political one. Both the House and the Senate are enabled by some pretty vague constitutional language to make up their own rules as they go along. And there is no one empowered to tell any of those involved that they are doing it wrong.

Still, the Senate is doing it wrong.

From the top on down, Republicans who hold the Senate majority are not even pretending to be an impartial jury, or even to be willing to consider the facts and the law.

Led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is openly colluding with the White House, and followed by Sen. Mike Lee, the president’s campaign co-chair in Utah, the official Republican line is that they are out to reject the articles of impeachment as quickly as possible, asserting that their wholly partisan action will somehow balance what they see as a wholly partisan action on the part of the House.

There remains, though, some small hope that the actions of the Senate will be at least a little more judicious. And much of that hope rests on the shoulders of Utah’s other senator, Mitt Romney.

Romney has been a rare bird among Republicans, being sometimes willing to criticize the president over specific actions and utterances, not just during the 2016 campaign but since the administration took office. In the current unpleasantness, he has at least tried to hold himself out as an impartial juror, attempting to not prejudge the matter before the evidence has been heard.

It would thus be helpful to his own cause if Romney could muster whatever influence he has to make sure that the Senate does, indeed, hear the evidence.

While the Constitution requires a two-thirds vote to actually remove a president, a mere 51-member majority can make the rules for the proceedings. If all 47 Democrats, and their two allied independents, stick together, the vote of Romney and two other Republicans could force a process where not only the evidence gathered in the House process is placed on the record, but documents so far withheld and witnesses thus far silenced are seen and heard.

If nothing else, such action will expose as a lie the protests of the president that he has not had the benefit of full due process, when it is the president himself who had blocked so much necessary information and so many knowledgeable witnesses.

Romney might be joined by Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who has expressed much discomfort with the way McConnell is managing the process, and Maine Sen. Susan Collins, who is taking a lot of political heat back home for her support of the president on such things as the tax cuts and Supreme Court appointments.

The three of them could not oust the president, and they might not really want to. But they could force the Senate to take seriously its constitutional duty. The evidence they would put before the Senate would also then be before the voters come the election of 2020.

And then the real jury could consider its verdict.