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2020-01-21 12:33:531 Oct 2018 01:53 AM EST
By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Sen. Mitch McConnell (Image source: Public domain)
As assumed, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is pushing for a speedy trial that won't allow House Democrats the time they need to lay out the impeachment case they have methodically put together. Unlike what is expected, while he was promising to follow the rules of former President Bill Clinton's 1999 impeachment trial, McConnell is deviating from those somewhat, to Trump's benefit. On the same day the plan was released, Trump's defense team released a brief showing how they will defend him.
After McConnell finally released his plan, Trump's defense asked the Senate to "swiftly reject" the case against him and acquit him, with the argument that if he is removed from office because of the charges lodged against him, it will "permanently weaken the presidency."
The defense is led by White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Trump's personal attorney Jay Sekulow, with help from former Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, former Clinton independent counsel Kenneth Starr, former Clinton special counsel Robert Ray, and former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi.
The team dismissed the articles of impeachment against Trump as invalid, as they don't state a specific violation of the law, calling into question an interpretation of the Constitution. The facts of the case are not being contested, but the defense impresses the point that the impeachment's design is to punish Trump for his foreign policy decisions and his efforts to preserve executive prerogatives.
"They do not remotely approach the constitutional threshold for removing a president from office," the brief explained of the charges against the president. "The diluted standard asserted here would permanently weaken the presidency and forever alter the balance among the branches of government in a manner that offends the constitutional design established by the founders."
The White House is also adding more defenders to the team, going directly against McConnell. However, it was agreed they would not argue the case on the Senate floor but provide guidance and appear as surrogates. Eight of Trump's staunchest defenders amongst the House Republicans were added to the team. This includes Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX), Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA), Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ), Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), and Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-TX).
In McConnell's rules that he set for the trial, each side will be limited to 24 hours over two days. The defense doesn't have as much to present, so it's very beneficial to them. Additionally, it was left open for the Senate to decline to hear new evidence that was not covered in the House impeachment inquiry and even push past considering the House case altogether. The last event is considered unlikely, but the other event again goes against the Democrats, as they want to include the documents from Les Parnas that were just received last week.
"Under this resolution, Senate McConnell is saying he doesn't want to hear any of the existing evidence, and he doesn't want to hear any new evidence," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). "It's a coverup, and the American people will see it for exactly what it is." He promised to address this in a debate on the rules on Tuesday.
The defense's legal brief doesn't deny he pressed Ukraine to conduct investigations into his political rivals but maintains it was not tied to the rewards of a White House meeting and military aid. It also contends the president has the right to conduct relations with other countries as he sees fit and that he has valid reasons for doing so, making it not an abuse of power, with the belief that it is a "novel theory" and a "newly invented" offense.
"House Democrats' concocted theory that the president can be impeached for taking permissible actions if he does them for what they believe to be the wrong reasons would also expand the impeachment power beyond constitutional bounds," read the brief. "It is the president who defines foreign policy," and Trump had "legitimate concerns" to ask Ukrainians to conduct the investigations.
With regard to the second article of impeachment, obstruction of Congress for blocking witness testimony and the submission of documents, the defense says the article is "frivolous and dangerous" because it would invalidate a president's right to confidential deliberations that would violate the separation of powers.
The two sides are interpreting the Constitution differently with regard to what a president may be impeached for. Alexander Hamilton, however, described impeachment as a way to solve the "abuse or violation of some public trust."
Additionally, the House Judiciary Committee adopted articles of impeachment that accused both Clinton and Richard Nixon of abuse of power, with one of those reasons being defying congressional demands for information — meaning it was seen as an impeachable offense twice before, but now the White House is interpreting the Constitution differently.
It has long been argued by constitutional scholars, including Dershowitz, whether there needs to be specific crimes committed to be impeached. But one of the articles against President Andrew Johnson, the first president to be impeached, was not a violation of law but for speeches that brought Congress into "disgraces, ridicule, hatred, contempt, and reproach."
The Government Accountability Office, an independent nonpartisan government watchdog, released a report last week stating that it found the Trump administration violated the law by withholding aid from Ukraine that was allocated by Congress. The defense calls this irrelevant because it was not included in the articles of impeachment.
By no one's surprise, Trump addressed the trial as well on Twitter. "Cryin' Chuck Schumer is now asking for 'fairness,' when he and the Democrat House members worked together to make sure I got ZERO fairness in the House," he wrote. "So, what else is new?"
While McConnell has said repeatedly that he would conduct the trial via the rules of Clinton's 1999 trial, especially with regard to not allowing witnesses until a vote after opening arguments are heard, he also made changes to the format that were not in Clinton's trial, changes to Trump's favor. There were no time limits on oral arguments in 1999, while McConnell is forcing them into 24 hours in two days.
After the oral arguments, Senators will be allowed to ask questions to the two sides before they debate whether to allow witnesses or documents. A senior Republican leadership aide admitted on Monday that McConnell did not follow the Clinton rules. The aide argued the change was necessary because the House denied the president proper due process rights.
This is the outcome of Trump saying repeatedly he did not get his due process by the House. However, he was invited to take part in the hearings and defend himself, and he declined.
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