WASHINGTON, January 23: Using self-incriminating video clips of US President Donald Trump seeking foreign meddling among other evidence, Democratic lawmakers-turned-prosecutors made a strong case on Wednesday for removing him from office in opening arguments in a historic impeachment trial.
Among the clips were some dubbed Donald Trump’s Greatest Hits, including one from the 2016 election when candidate Trump called on Russia, “if you are listening,” to find Hillary Clinton’s 30,000 “missing” emails (comment which the President later dismissed as a joke). Another clip showed Trump’s telling ABC News that if a foreign power had election dirt “I think I’d want to hear it,” and a third clip was his call asking China to “start an investigation into the Bidens.”
But the incriminating video clips and an elaborate timeline showing Trump sought to pressure Ukraine to announce a probe
into his putative presidential opponent in 2020 by withholding aid (which forms the basis of the abuse of power charges) had little impact on 53 Republican Senators, at least 20 of whom have to join the 47 Democratic Senators to form the two-thirds majority required to convict the President.
Despite some token show of impartiality by three or four moderate GOP Senators, there was no sign of breach in the Republican ranks as their Senate leadership thwarted Democratic efforts to bring in new evidence and witness testimony. Both sides backed down from talk of a witness exchange plan — getting former National Security Advisor John Bolton as a witness in exchange for offering testimony from Biden’s son Hunter Biden — that would have enlivened proceedings.
In fact, the Senate Republican leadership, which has tried to build a firewall around Trump, sought to make the trial as boring and anodyne as possible, restricting media access and taking the process late into the night to obviate TV viewer interest. Having voted down all Democratic efforts to introduce new evidence and witness testimony, Republicans loyal to Trump complained that they had heard nothing new in the Democratic presentation.
Despite this, a Reuters-IPSOS poll released Wednesday showed 44% respondents saying Trump should be removed from office, another 15% saying he should be reprimanded formally with a congressional censure, and 31% said the charges should be dismissed.
Also, 72% of respondents agreed that the trial “should allow witnesses with firsthand knowledge of the impeachment charges to testify,” including 84% of Democrats and 69% of Republicans, and 70% of the public, including 80% of Democrats and 73% of Republicans, said senators should “act as impartial jurors” during the trial, indicating the Republican leadership is defying the sentiment of the electorate.
Conceding that the real jury in the trial is not the 100-member Senate but the voters, Democrats laid out an elaborate opening argument, with their lead manager Adam Schiff casting the event in historic terms.
Schiff played video clips of Trump claiming that Article II of the U.S Constitution gave him the “right to do whatever I want as President,” to warn against an imperial Presidency.
“If we don’t stand up to this peril today, we will write the history of our decline with our hand,” he warned, even as lawmakers Senators filtered in and out of the chamber in defiance of arcane Senate rules that when the trial is going on, forbids talking, walking around, eating, and drinking (except water and milk) “on pain of imprisonment.”
Reflective of the changing mores from the ink-and-quill era, one lawmaker joked about keeping unwrapped candy in his table drawers so the rustling does not invite reprimand from the Chief Justice, the presiding officer who admonished members on Tuesday because one of them used strong language in accusing Republican Senators of a “cover-up” to protect the President with what he (the Democrat member) said would be “an absolutely indefensible vote, obviously a treacherous vote.”
President Trump too joined his Senate loyalists in ridiculing the Democratic case, trolling his lead prosecutor and his tormentor-in-chief Adam Schiff with a video showing him as the cartoon character Wile E.Coyote chasing the Roadrunner.
Trump returned to Washington DC on Thursday after attending the World Economic Forum in Davos. He is scheduled to address pro-life, anti-abortion rally on the National Mall on Friday (the first President to do so) in a purported bid to consolidate his political base. (TNN)