U.S. President Donald Trump’s defense team and the prosecutors of his impeachment are laying out their arguments over whether his conduct toward Ukraine warrants his removal from office.
Trump’s lawyers on Sunday previewed their impeachment defence with the questionable assertion that the charges against him are invalid, adopting a position rejected by Democrats as “nonsense.”
The trial resumes on Tuesday with what could be a fight over the ground rules. By then, both sides will have submitted briefs and four Democratic presidential candidates will have been forced back to Washington from the early nominating states to join every other senator in silence, sans phones, on the Senate floor.
What they’re likely to hear in this extraordinary setting is the House Democrats’ impeachment articles that charge Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress over his pressure on Ukraine for political help. From the White House, the senator-jurors are expected to hear that Trump committed no crime, the impeachment articles are invalid and he’s the victim of Democrats who want to overturn his election.
“Criminal-like conduct is required,” said Alan Dershowitz, a constitutional lawyer on Trump’s defense team. Dershowitz said he will be making the same argument to the Senate and if it prevails, there will be “no need” to pursue the witness testimony or documents that Democrats are demanding.
But the “no crime, no impeachment” approach has been roundly dismissed by scholars and Democrats, who were fresh off a trial brief that called Trump’s behavior the “worst nightmare” of the country’s founders. In their view, the standard of “high crimes and misdemeanors” is vague and open-ended in the Constitution and meant to encompass abuses of power that aren’t necessarily illegal.
The White House is pushing an “absurdist position,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the lead Democratic prosecutor of the impeachment case. “That’s the argument I suppose you have to make if the facts are so dead set against you.” Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., another impeachment prosecutor, called it “arrant nonsense” and said evidence of Trump’s misconduct is overwhelming.
The back-and-forth came as all concerned agitated for the Senate to get on with the third impeachment trial in the nation’s history. Behind the scenes. the seven House managers were shoring up which prosecutor will handle which parts of the case and doing a walk-through of the Senate. .
No senators were more eager to get going than the four Democratic presidential candidates facing the prospect of being marooned in the Senate ahead of kickoff nominating votes in Iowa and New Hampshire.
“I’d rather be here,” said Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on New Hampshire Public Radio while campaigning Sunday in Concord.
During the trial, Sanders and other senators are required to sit for perhaps six grueling hours of proceedings daily — except Sundays, per Senate rules — in pursuit of the “impartial justice” they pledged to pursue. But there was scant evidence that anyone’s mind was really open about whether Trump earned vindication or ouster.
Mystery, however, abounded over the trial’s ground rules. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., shed no light on how the proceedings will follow — and differ from — the precedent of President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial in 1999.