Dems make final Trump impeachment plea

 

WASHINGTON — Calling President Trump an “ongoing threat” to American democracy, referencing figures both fictional (Harry Potter) and historical (Daniel Webster), Democratic prosecutors from the House of Representatives, known as impeachment managers, made their final plea to the U.S. Senate, which will vote either to convict or to acquit Trump on Wednesday. He has been accused of abusing power and obstructing Congress, according to two articles of impeachment endorsed by the House in December.

“The facts are clear, and so is the U.S. Constitution,” argued Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., who was a young Capitol Hill staffer when Richard Nixon was forced from office as his own impeachment neared. “The only question is what you, the Senate, will do.”

In fact, there is little question about what the Senate will do. Last Friday the Senate voted not to hear from new witnesses, in particular from former national security adviser John Bolton, whose forthcoming book reportedly alleges that Trump told him directly to tether military aid to Ukraine to an announcement of investigations aimed at one of his Democratic rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden. 

Democrats had hoped that testimony from Bolton would prove damning enough to break Trump’s hold on the GOP. But despite votes in favor of witnesses by two Republicans — Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine — and admissions by other Republicans that they recognized that Trump had acted improperly in trying to pressure Ukraine, the additional defections never materialized.

That robbed Monday morning’s proceedings of high drama, especially with much of the nation focused on the Iowa caucuses taking place that same evening. The votes cast there formally open the Democratic primary for the presidential nomination, which will eventually decide who goes on the ballot against Trump in November. In his own closing remarks on Monday, Trump attorney Jay Sekulow argued that Democrats should seek redress at the ballot box, saying that “the answer is elections, not impeachment.” 

House impeachment manager Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., speaks during closing arguments in the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Monday, Feb. 3, 2020. (Senate Television via AP)

Democrats have generally retorted that if Trump interferes with the electoral process — as he is alleged to have done by pressuring Ukraine to conduct an investigation that affects a potential rival — then the results of a presidential election cannot be fully trusted.

That was the point Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, appeared to be making. “We all know he will do it again,” she warned as the Democrats’ arguments came to an end. It was a final plea, tinged with something approaching desperation. 

By and large, Democrats used their last hours before the full Senate to make arguments about the constitutional necessity of removing a president who holds himself above the law. Impeachment manager Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., opened the Democrats’ closing argument by citing Daniel Webster’s famed “Seventh of March” speech from 1850, delivered for the sake of keeping the nation from plunging into a civil war over slavery. He quoted, in particular, from a section in which Webster called the Senate “a body to which the country looks, with confidence, for wise, moderate, patriotic, and healing counsels.”

Even as they all voted against witnesses the previous Friday, Republicans Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Rob Portman of Ohio and Marco Rubio of Florida all made statements that left little doubt they grasped the impropriety of Trump’s pressure campaign. 

And later that same evening, a filing by the Department of Justice revealed the existence of two dozen emails — the contents of which have not been made public — that supposedly describe how Trump and other top administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, discussed and considered “the scope, duration and purpose of the hold on military assistance to Ukraine.”

This was all a microscopic opening for Democrats, but it was all they had. 

Crow also cited Harry Potter, noting a poster hanging in his son’s room. That poster bore a quotation from Dumbledore, the graying headmaster of Hogwarts: “It is our choices that show who we truly are, far more than our abilities.” 

House impeachment manager Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., speaks during closing arguments in the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Monday, Feb. 3, 2020. (Senate Television via AP)

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., went in a different direction, alluding to the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a nemesis of Trump’s but a figure of reverence for many Republicans. “Sen. McCain understood the importance of this body, this distinguished body, and serving the public,” Jeffries said of McCain, who died of brain cancer in 2018. Trump first attacked him during his presidential run in 2015 and has continued to attack him since his passing.

It was McCain’s late-night vote that helped sink Trump’s 2017 effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the signature health law of President Barack Obama. But whereas a simple majority in the 100-member chamber was needed to end that effort, a two-thirds majority would be required to convict Trump in an impeachment trial. Given the current dynamics in the Senate, that is an impossible prospect. 

Still, the president’s attorneys hardly rested on Monday, using their own closing remarks to offer a robust defense of Trump. “The president has done nothing wrong,” maintained White House counsel Pat Cipollone, despite the fact that a handful of Republicans have come to the opposing position. 

Cipollone and his deputy Patrick Philbin argued that the impeachment process was improperly initiated and therefore invalid from start to finish. Philbin, for his part, warned that it was “incredibly dangerous” to allow Congress to make what he described as excessive demands on the executive branch, the presidency in particular. This argument was in keeping with how Philbin and other conservatives see the presidency: that is, as largely unconstrained in its powers.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone speaks during closing arguments in the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Monday, Feb. 3, 2020. (Senate Television via AP)

Calling the impeachment inquiry a “waste of tax dollars” and time, Cipollone also said Congress could work with Trump instead of trying to remove him from office.

Sekulow sounded the same note by playing several video clips of Democrats participating in bill signings with Trump. There have been a few such occasions, with the 2018 criminal justice reform bill, known as the First Step Act, as perhaps the most notable example of genuine bipartisanship. 

That sort of bipartisanism doesn’t seem likely in Washington right now. His voice on the point of breaking, Jeffries warned that, should the Senate acquit Trump, “America is in the wilderness.”

Schiff made the last plea, warning that it was “midnight in Washington.” He told the assembled senators that the Founding Fathers “gave you an oath, and they meant for you to observe it. We have proven Donald Trump guilty,” he said with anger in his voice. “Now do impartial justice and convict him.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell adjourned the Senate shortly after that, precisely at 3 p.m. It was a stark contrast to previous days in the impeachment trial, which sometimes stretched well into the night. This time around, there just wasn’t much more left to say.

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