by Ken Bredemeier
House Democrats prosecuting the impeachment case against President Donald Trump and his defense team offered forceful closing arguments Monday at his Senate trial, even as his acquittal remains all but certain.
Congressman Adam Schiff, the lead House manager prosecuting Trump on two articles of impeachment, passionately implored the 100 members of the Senate acting as jurors, “We have proven Donald Trump guilty. Now, do impartial justice and convict him.”
Schiff asked the majority bloc of 53 Republicans, “Is there one among you who will say, ‘Enough’?” Schiff said Trump should be removed from office for his request last July to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to launch an investigation into one of Trump’s chief 2020 Democratic rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden, while at the same time blocking release of $391 million in military aid Kyiv wanted to fight pro-Russian separatists.
But Trump’s lawyers called for his exoneration when the Senate votes late Wednesday afternoon on whether to remove the country’s 45th president from office. White House counsel Pat Cipollone told senators there was no evidence of Trump wrongdoing, and that rather than ousting Trump from office, the only solution was “to leave it to the voters” to decide his fate.
Despite the arguments, the impeachment outcome seems preordained, with 67 votes needed for conviction, and no Republican calling for his ouster nine months ahead of the November presidential election.
Congresswoman Val Demings, another of the House lawmakers prosecuting Trump, contended that Trump perpetrated “a grave abuse of power unparalleled in American history.”
She said that when Trump asked Zelenskiy for the investigation of Biden and his son Hunter’s work for a Ukrainian natural gas company, “the president was not focused on corruption,” but rather looking to help himself politically on the assumption that Biden would be his opponent in next November’s national election.
Demings said that Trump then blocked key aides from cooperating with House impeachment investigators and refused to turn over White House documents about his Ukraine-related actions.
“That’s what guilty people do,” Demings argued.
But Trump defense attorney Kenneth Starr called the House impeachment investigation of Trump “a rush to judgment,” said it was unfairly conducted, and added that the Senate “shouldn’t reward the prosecutors.” He said that to convict Trump would be to tell Trump’s 2016 voters, “Your vote in the last election is hereby null and void.”
Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow added, “This entire campaign of impeachment … was a partisan effort” targeting Trump. He said House Democrats “have cheapened the power of impeachment and, unfortunately, the country is not better for that.”
But another House impeachment manager, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, said that if Trump is not removed from office for his conduct, it would deal “a death blow” to the possibility of impeachment of U.S. presidents in the future as laid out in the U.S. Constitution. Jeffries said behavior such as Trump’s “would become the new normal.”
The Wednesday vote will be on two articles of impeachment against Trump — that he abused the power of the presidency with the Ukraine request, and obstructed congressional review of his actions. With Trump’s exoneration all but assured, the only question on the outcome appears to be whether any Democrats will vote to clear Trump, or possibly a Republican vote to convict him.
Trump’s lawyers, and the president himself, argue he did nothing wrong, and that his actions did not rise to the level of an impeachable offense. Trump has long described his call to Zelenskiy as “perfect.”
As the Democrats’ arguments played out in the Senate, Trump resumed his broadsides on Twitter against his impeachment.
“I hope Republicans & the American people realize that the totally partisan Impeachment Hoax is exactly that, a Hoax,” he tweeted.
I hope Republicans & the American people realize that the totally partisan Impeachment Hoax is exacty that, a Hoax. Read the Transcripts, listen to what the President & Foreign Minister of Ukraine said (“No Pressure”). Nothing will ever satisfy the Do Nothing, Radical Left Dems!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 3, 2020
Criticism from Republicans
But in recent days, a handful of Republicans have said they believe that Trump was wrong to ask Ukraine for the politically tinged investigations of the Bidens, although they said that the offense did not rise to impeachable misconduct severe enough to require his removal from office.
Both Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa said in interviews broadcast Sunday that Trump erred in asking Zelenskiy to “do us a favor” to launch the Biden investigations at the same time he was withholding the military aid Kyiv wanted to help fight the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Alexander, who provided a key vote late last week against the Democrats’ effort to call Trump aides as witnesses in the impeachment trial, told NBC News’ “Meet the Press” show that it was “crossing the line” for Trump to ask for the Biden investigations.
“I think he shouldn’t have done it. I think it was wrong,” Alexander said.
“If the president was upset with what the Bidens were doing in Ukraine, he should’ve called the (U.S.) attorney general,” Alexander said. Asked why Trump didn’t then, Alexander said, “Maybe he didn’t know to do it.”
Alexander added, “I think what he did is a long way from treason, bribery, high crimes and misdemeanors,” the U.S. Constitution threshold for an impeachable offense requiring removal from office. “I don’t think it’s the kind of inappropriate action that the framers would expect the Senate to substitute its judgment for the people in picking a president.”
He said voters in next November’s national election, when Trump is running for a second term in the White House, should decide his fate.
“You know, it struck me, really for the first time early last week, that we’re not just being asked to remove the president from office,” Alexander said, “We’re saying, ‘Tell him he can’t run in the 2020 election.'”
As the heart of the case against Trump ended Friday, another Republican, Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska said, “Let me be clear, Lamar speaks for lots and lots of us.”
Ernst told CNN that Trump’s request to Ukraine was “not what I would have done. He maybe did it in the wrong manner. He knows now he needs to go through the proper channels,” such as the U.S. Justice Department, if he sees the need for an overseas investigation.
Nonetheless, she concluded, “Does it come to the point of removing a president? I don’t think it does.”
Vote against calling witnesses
The key 51–49 vote against calling witnesses in the trial came Friday over Democratic objections. Democrats wanted to hear testimony from Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton, whom Trump ousted from his White House position last September. Bolton reportedly says in a forthcoming book that Trump told him directly last August that he wanted the Biden investigations before he would release the military aid, a direct contradiction of Trump’s claim there was no reciprocal quid pro quo deal with Ukraine, the defense assistance in exchange for the Biden investigations. Trump denied Bolton’s claim.
Trump released the aid in September after a 55-day delay without Zelenskiy opening the Biden investigations — proof, Republicans say, he had no quid pro quo deal with Ukraine.
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Ken Bredemeier, a veteran, award-winning Washington reporter and editor at the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune in years past, is a national and international writer for Voice of America.