Five key takeaways from Donald Trump's impeachment trial; president likely to be acquitted after Wednesday's vote

House impeachment managers and President Donald Trump’s defence team delivered their closing arguments Monday with an eye toward history, but with little hope of changing any senator’s mind

The New York Times February 04, 2020 12:46:53 IST
Five key takeaways from Donald Trump's impeachment trial; president likely to be acquitted after Wednesday's vote

House impeachment managers and President Donald Trump’s defence team delivered their closing arguments Monday with an eye toward history, but with little hope of changing any senator’s mind.

The arguments came on the same day that caucusgoers in Iowa gathered to narrow the Democratic field, and lawyers on both sides tried to appeal to 2020 voters in their arguments. The formal vote on whether to acquit Trump will take place on Wednesday. Here are the key takeaways from the closing arguments:

With a focus on history, House managers make their final arguments

Invoking former president Abraham Lincoln, and the founding fathers Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, House impeachment managers delivered closing arguments written for the history books, and in some cases attempted to shame senators for not removing Trump from office.

“But all is not lost, even at this late hour. The Senate can still do the right thing,” one of the House impeachment managers, Representative Hakeem Jeffries, D-NY, said on Monday. “America is watching. The world is watching. The eyes of history are watching. The Senate can still do the right thing.”

Representative Adam B Schiff, D-California, the lead House impeachment manager, directly called out the partisan divide that has defined the impeachment trial.

“I hope and pray that we never have a president like Trump in the Democratic Party,” Schiff said. “And I would hope to God that if we did, we would impeach him, and Democrats would lead the way.”

He, like Jeffries, invoked the language of moral leadership and national values, asking senators to do the right thing.

“It is said that a single man or woman of courage makes a majority,” Schiff said. “Is there one among you who will say ‘enough’?”

“America believes in a thing called truth. She does not believe we are entitled to our own alternate facts. She recoils at those who spread pernicious falsehoods. To her, truth matters. There is nothing more corrosive to a democracy than the idea that there is no truth,” Schiff said. “America also believes there is a difference between right and wrong. And right matters here.”

Five key takeaways from Donald Trumps impeachment trial president likely to be acquitted after Wednesdays vote

A protester outside the Capitol following closing statements in the Senate impeachment trial. TJ Kirkpatrick © 2020 The New York Times

The defence closes its case, insisting there was no quid pro quo

Trump’s lawyers returned on Monday to Trump’s original defence of his 25 July phone call with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine, ignoring disclosures since the start of the trial about the president’s motivations for freezing nearly $400 million in military aid for the country.

Michael Purpura, a deputy White House counsel, said, “First, the president did not condition security assistance or a meeting on anything in the 25 July call.”

And, Purpura added, “none of the House witnesses ever testified that there was any linkage between security assistance and investigations.”

Both statements are strictly true and echo Trump’s own words last year when questions mounted about Trump’s call with Zelenskiy. But the arguments do not take into account the larger context of the call or some witnesses’ testimony that they had concluded there was a link between security aid and investigations, even though they had no direct knowledge of one.

And the arguments do not address new details from Trump’s former national security advisor, John R Bolton, revealed recently in an unpublished manuscript. In the manuscript, Bolton said the president told him that he intended to withhold the military aid until Ukraine agreed to the investigations. After days of arguments, the Senate voted against calling witnesses, such as Bolton, to testify.

Voters were on the minds of House managers and the defence during closing arguments

With little hope of changing any of the senators’ minds on whether to acquit Trump on Wednesday, House managers and Trump’s lawyers focussed instead on the upcoming election.

“As we speak, the president continues his wrongdoing, unchecked and unashamed,” Jeffries said. “Trump remains a clear and present danger to our national security area and to our credibility around the world.”

Jeffries also suggested that letting the voters decide is a flawed plan.

“If we are to rely on the next election to judge the president’s efforts to cheat in that election, how can we know that the election will be free and fair?” he asked.

Trump’s defence team similarly framed closing arguments around a free and independent election.

“At the end of the day, this is an effort to overturn the results of one election and to try to interfere in the coming election,” one of Trump’s lawyers, Pat Cipollone, said, referring to a widely debunked theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 elections to help Democrats, as opposed to Russia being behind the effort to help Trump.

“The only appropriate result here is to acquit the president and to leave it to the voters to choose their president,” Cipollone said.

The president’s defence says his actions were appropriate even as some Republican senators speak out

Some Republican senators have begun defending their upcoming vote to acquit Trump with the argument that while what the president did may have been inappropriate, it is not an impeachable offence.

Senator Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, who is retiring, offered this defence last week, when he announced his vote against hearing new witness testimony in the trial. The measure to block witnesses was long seen as a decision to acquit the president, and Democrats had hoped Alexander would vote with them.

After Alexander’s response, several Republicans followed suit.

“Long story short, @SenatorAlexander most likely expressed the sentiments of the country as a whole as well as any single Senator possibly could,” Senator Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, one of Trump’s most frequent defenders in the Senate, wrote on Twitter. “Those who hate Trump and wish to take the voters choice away in an unfounded manner, Senator Alexander rightly rejected their arguments.”

As the trial comes to a close, a final vote is still to come

The senators began delivering their own versions of closing arguments in the lead-up to a final vote at 4 pm Eastern Time on Wednesday (2.30 am IST on Thursday). Under the trial rules, the senators have been quiet while in the chamber, listening to arguments from the House managers and the president’s lawyers.

With the trial now in recess, senators have up to 10 minutes to speak during floor sessions to make their own statements about why they intend to vote for or against Trump’s conviction. The sessions began on Monday afternoon, and will continue on Tuesday and Wednesday.

One highly watched moderate Republican used Monday evening’s session to end the suspense over her decision: Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said she would vote to acquit.

In the midst of this, Trump will deliver the State of the Union address on Tuesday night without having been formally acquitted.

Eileen Sullivan c.2020 The New York Times Company

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