The American news media has come a long way since the country’s first impeachment trial, of President Andrew Johnson, in 1868, when House impeachment managers sat for a still portrait by the famed Civil War photographer Mathew Brady.
The Clinton impeachment trial was the first to take place in the age of 24-hour cable news. But journalists in 1999 did not have to contend with the minute-by-minute demands of digital media. Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial will be the first to be dissected in real-time — and possibly by the Twitter-happy president himself.
On Capitol Hill, parties on both sides of the lawmaker-journalist divide say discussions about access are active. First Amendment groups like the American Civil Liberties Union have weighed in to decry the new limits. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press gathered signatures from 57 news organizations objecting to the rules.
Elisabeth Bumiller, an assistant managing editor and the Washington bureau chief of The New York Times, said in a statement that the restrictions “will severely limit the ability of reporters to gather news during one of the most historic events in the nation’s history.”
“These limits are far more burdensome than the rules that govern press access in the Capitol, even those in effect during the last impeachment trial, and will prevent journalists from freely documenting a public debate in Congress,” Ms. Bumiller said.
Mr. McConnell’s office, which controls the business of the Senate, declined to comment.
On Capitol Hill, there is speculation that the restrictions were put in place because Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who is presiding over the trial, will be present in the chamber each day. Typically, reporters’ movements in the Capitol are limited when high-profile people visit, like Vice President Mike Pence.
But congressional correspondents said that, even after several meetings with Senate officials, they did not know why the restrictions had been put in place. Some suspected that Senate leaders believe the less the public knows about the trial, the better.
“Journalists are the public’s eyes and ears in the Capitol,” said Leo Shane III, a correspondent for Military Times. “We’re asking lawmakers to make sure they’re not using the excuse of security concerns as a reason to exclude the public from this trial.”