Trump Trial Prosecutors Invoke Senate Duty Yet Await Acquittal

Laura Litvan and Daniel Flatley
Trump Trial Prosecutors Invoke Senate Duty Yet Await Acquittal

(Bloomberg) -- Impeachment prosecutors called on senators to convict Donald Trump, and his defense urged lawmakers to let voters decide his fate, as the trial paused for senators’ speeches ahead of Wednesday’s certain vote to acquit the president.

The seven House managers insisted they had proven their case that Trump abused the powers of his office and obstructed Congress. The lead prosecutor, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, spoke directly to the Republican majority in the chamber as he called on them to hold Trump accountable for making the U.S. “a nation whose elections are open to the highest bidder.”

“History will not be kind to Donald Trump,” Schiff said. “If you find that the House has proved its case and still vote to acquit, your name will be tied to him with a cord of steel and for all of history.”

Speaking just hours before Democratic voters in Iowa begin picking Trump’s 2020 challenger, Trump’s defense team argued that Democrats’ impeachment inquiry was a partisan exercise and the president’s actions regarding Ukraine don’t merit removal from office. Almost all GOP senators have thoroughly embraced this message, echoing both points last week as the trial moved into the final stages, without calling any additional witnesses.

“The American people are tired of the endless investigations and false investigations that have been coming out of the House,”said White House Counsel Pat Cipollone.

The closing argument from Trump’s lawyers came the day before the president will deliver the last State of the Union address of his first term. In his Tuesday speech, Trump will be addressing both the prosecutors and the jurors in the trial that won’t wrap up until the following day.

Undecided Democrats

After Monday’s closing arguments, the impeachment court adjourned until 4 p.m. Wednesday for the final vote on the House’s two articles of impeachment. In the meantime, the Senate floor will remain open, with the chamber mostly empty, for senators to explain how they approached their decisions about Trump’s trial.

All eyes will be on a few Democrats who have said they aren’t decided, including Doug Jones of Alabama, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. A vote for acquittal from any of them hands Trump a chance to say his reprieve was bipartisan.

Manchin was one of the first senators to take the floor Monday afternoon, and he said he was “truly struggling with this decision and will come to a conclusion reluctantly.” He said Trump’s actions were wrong and the Senate didn’t do enough to ensure a fair trial, but he also said that removing Trump would “further divide our deeply divided nation.”

The West Virginia Democrat suggested a censure resolution, which he predicted would get bipartisan support, as a way to “formally denounce the president’s actions and hold him accountable.” It’s unlikely that the Republican majority would consider this option, and Democrats have no mechanism to force the issue.

Sinema spent some of the breaks in the impeachment trial chatting with Republican leaders on the other side of the aisle. As the trial paused for lunch Monday, she spoke with moderate Republicans Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, as well as John Thune, a member of the GOP leadership team.

Jones said Monday that he’s still undecided over the charges, which stem from allegations that Trump withheld nearly $400 million in U.S. assistance from Ukraine to get that country’s president to announce an investigation of Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden.

Not a single Republican has said they would vote to remove Trump from office. Only two GOP senators -- Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah -- said the Senate trial should seek more evidence.

With 67 votes needed to convict, Trump is expected to be easily acquitted, even after some Republican senators allowed that he erred in his dealings with Ukraine.

Senator Lamar Alexander said Trump’s actions crossed a line, but voters, not senators, should decide what to do about it.

“I’m going to vote to acquit. I’m very concerned about any action that we could take that would establish a perpetual impeachment,” the Tennessee Republican who’s retiring this year said Sunday on NBC.

‘Impeachable Whatever’

GOP Senator Joni Ernst, who never wavered in her opposition to impeachment despite facing a tough re-election campaign in Iowa this year, warned that Republicans could immediately push to impeach Biden if he wins the White House. She said Democrats impeaching Trump for Ukraine-related allegations have lowered the bar for what is considered a chargeable offense.

“I think this door of impeachable whatever has been opened,” Ernst said Sunday in an interview with Bloomberg News. “Joe Biden should be very careful what he’s asking for because, you know, we can have a situation where if it should ever be President Biden, that immediately, people, right the day after he would be elected would be saying, ‘Well, we’re going to impeach him.’”

In their final arguments, which conclude the cases laid out to all 100 senators over two weeks, Trump’s defense said House Democrats were working to overturn the result of the 2016 election and that their months-long investigation of Trump’s actions on Ukraine were motivated by partisanship.

Ken Starr, the independent counsel during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment and part of Trump’s defense team, suggested that the House’s case wasn’t conducted in a thorough, fair and straightforward way.

“Rules are rules, they are to be followed,” Starr said. “Were the rules here faithfully followed? If not, if that was your judgment, then with all due respect the prosecutors should not be rewarded.”

Schiff argued that Trump sought foreign interference in the 2020 election and will continue to do so, posing a danger to American democracy.

The president has “betrayed his oath to protect and defend the Constitution,” Schiff said, “‘but is not too late for us to honor ours to wield our power to defend our democracy.”

“Today we urge you, in the face of overwhelming evidence of the president’s guilt, and knowing that if left in office he will continue to seek foreign interference in the next election, to vote to convict on both articles of impeachment, and to remove from office, Donald J. Trump, the 45th president of the United States,” Schiff said.

There are four senators still vying to run in November’s election: Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts’ Elizabeth Warren, Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar, and Colorado’s Michael Bennet. All four have plans to return to the campaign trail, and both Sanders and Warren immediately vacated the Senate chamber after closing arguments to return to Iowa.

--With assistance from Billy House, Steven T. Dennis, Erik Wasson and Ana Monteiro.

To contact the reporters on this story: Laura Litvan in Washington at llitvan@bloomberg.net;Daniel Flatley in Washington at dflatley1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kevin Whitelaw at kwhitelaw@bloomberg.net, Anna Edgerton, Laurie Asséo

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