Regardless of whether Democratic impeachment managers get to call witnesses in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, they are already making their case by using the president’s own words — and even those of a prominent Republican senator — in dramatic fashion in the Senate chamber.
The managers focused much of their arguments Thursday on the abuse of power charge the House used to condemn Trump, citing history and attempting to poke preemptive holes in the defense team’s upcoming arguments.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York outlined the abuse of power charge and the case against Trump on Thursday, saying that the president’s defense team cannot and will not be able to refute the evidence presented.
Trump’s defense team says impeachment is invalid without a crime. Nadler cited historical citations and constitutional law to rebut the president’s case before it is even presented. He asked senators to listen to the White House’s defense, with specific attention to whether it includes “a refutation of the evidence.”
Nadler even used a 1999 video clip of his Senate counterpart, Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, who served as an impeachment manager for the trial of President Bill Clinton when he was in the House.
The South Carolina Republican wasn’t in the chamber when the clip of his words from two decades ago played.
“What’s a high crime? How about if an important person hurts somebody of low means? It’s not very scholarly, but I think it’s the truth,” Graham said in 1999. “I think that’s what they meant by high crimes. It doesn’t have to be a crime. It’s just when you start using your office, and you’re acting in a way that hurts people, you’ve committed a high crime.”
Nadler used the quote of a former impeachment manager to bolster his assertion that a president does not have to break the law to be impeached and removed.
Graham returned to the chamber about 10 minutes later.
Later in the day, he told reporters that if he were in the position of the impeachment managers, he would have done the same thing and played the clip.
“That’s fair game,” Graham said.
During the dinner break, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and Graham crossed paths on the second floor, and the New York Democrat could be overheard asking about whether Graham had been talking to Trump.
Nadler predicted that Trump’s defense lawyers will center their message on complaints about process and the managers’ motives and keep a distance from the facts of the testimony.
“If the president had any exculpatory witnesses, even a single one, he would be demanding their appearance here instead of urging you not to permit additional witnesses,” he said.
Nadler pointed to Trump’s request of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential 2020 rival, and his son Hunter Biden as explicit evidence of the abuse of power charge.
“Just the ask constitutes an abuse of power,” Nadler said. “But President Trump went further in order to secure his favor from Ukraine. He withheld two official acts of immense value.”
The legal brief submitted by Trump’s team also argues that the president was only interested in combatting corruption in Ukraine. The House managers focused on evidence that Trump’s concerns surpassed general corruption and that the Bidens were his specific focus.
Throughout the day, impeachment managers used Trump’s own words to build their case against him. Video clips played on large screens at the front of the chamber for senators to watch, though some barely turned their heads, choosing to just listen as Trump’s voice boomed through the chamber.
Lead impeachment manager Adam B. Schiff showed several clips, including one in which Trump referred to the unfounded conspiracy theory that Ukraine interfered with his campaign in the 2016 election.
“There was a lot of corruption having to do with the 2016 election against us, and we want to get to the bottom of it, and it’s very important that we do,” Trump said in the clip.
After which, Schiff said: “He’s not concerned about actual corruption cases, only matters that affect him personally.”