WASHINGTON – The House’s Democratic impeachment managers argued the legal justifications for President Donald Trump to be convicted for abuse of power on their second day of opening statements Thursday and sought to debunk myths surrounding the investigations Trump requested from Ukraine.
Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-New York, made a case that impeachment, as outlined in the Constitution, doesn’t require a specific criminal offense. He listed the “ABCs of high crimes and misdemeanors”: abuse of power, betrayal of the nation and corruption.
“Here are each of the core offenses the Framers fear most,” Nadler said. “The president’s abuse of power, his betrayal of the national interest and his corruption of our elections plainly qualify as great and dangerous offenses.”
The Constitution’s Framers believed any of these three acts justified removal from office, according to Nadler, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee.
“The Constitution is not a suicide pact,” he said. “It does not leave us stuck with presidents who abuse their power in unforeseen ways that threaten our security and democracy.”
This notion, Nadler asserted, is also rejected by multiple Supreme Court Justices, numerous judicial impeachments and the cases of Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.
Nadler shared old video clips and quotes of Trump allies — defense team member Alan Dershowitz, Attorney General William Barr and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — saying that they agree with the House Democrats’ argument.
Dershowitz — or “at least Dershowitz in 1998,” Nadler quipped — said in the recording played that a technical crime isn’t necessary for a presidential impeachment if the accused is “somebody who completely corrupts the office of president, and who abuses trust, and who poses great danger to our liberty.”
And during Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial, then-Rep. Graham said: “When you start using your office and you’re acting in a way that hurts people, you committed a high crime.”
Graham, who now serves in the Senate and was in attendance for Thursday’s proceedings, left the floor a few minutes before the video was played.
Senators’ attention spans have waned as the trial has progressed, with some exiting the chamber for brief or extended periods of time.
Many have been taking diligent notes and flipping through thick stacks of documents. Others have sat with their arms crossed or hands in their laps and notebooks closed. Whispers between neighboring lawmakers were exchanged despite the rule of silence they’re expected to follow.
A few used the transition between the presentations of Nadler and Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, as an excuse to stretch their legs.
In anticipation of the case Trump’s defense might make, Garcia sought to undermine the White House’s justifications for the investigations Trump requested from Ukraine regarding former Vice President Joe Biden and Ukraine’s alleged involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Garcia argued the president was putting himself first in soliciting these investigations instead of acting in the best interest of the country as she laid out the House’s evidence for removing Trump from office on the abuse of power article.
Trump only cared about the announcement of the investigations, Garcia said, and only became interested in investigating Biden’s 2015 request that Ukraine remove its top prosecutor when the former vice president entered the 2020 presidential race last year.
She also argued that “our own president is helping our adversary attack our processes” by claiming Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections.
“Where did this theory come from?” Garcia questioned. “You guessed it: the Russians.”
Some Republican senators like Mike Braun of Indiana said they’re keeping an “open mind” about the House’s case — “open mind in the sense that there would be something new” presented in the House’s opening remarks, Braun said ahead of Thursday’s proceedings.
But others believe what they’ve heard so far from the Democrats has been repetitive.
“It reminds of the shopping channel, the hits of the ‘80s,” Sen. Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, told reporters. “You hear it again and again and again and again. I can almost recite the testimony.”
The American public thinks senators should hear from new witnesses before making their final decisions, according to a Reuters poll released Wednesday. About 72% of respondents agreed that the trial “should allow witnesses with firsthand knowledge of the impeachment charges to testify.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, told reporters that “as the public sees the need for witnesses and documents…that will have an effect on senators.”
Democratic senators are still pushing for new witnesses and documents to be called for in the trial, despite Republicans blocking them from being subpoenaed before opening statements.
“It’s up to all of us to make sure that in the end, that the facts come out — that the witnesses come out here,” Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, said to reporters before the trial started Thursday. “This is about the most profound test of our democracy in our lifetime and we need to treat it that way.”