WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial continued Monday with closing arguments from both legal teams, setting up a likely acquittal vote on Wednesday afternoon.
House Democrats and Trump’s lawyers had a total of four hours to make their cases before the trial wraps up. Though Trump had hoped to have the trial ended quickly — and before his State of the Union address Tuesday night — senators will take Tuesday off and vote on whether to remove him from office on Wednesday at 4 p.m.
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Trump was charged with two articles of impeachment by the House in December: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The charges relate to Trump’s decision to withhold vital military aid from Ukraine until the country agreed to open an investigation into one of his political rivals, Joe Biden, largely based on conspiracy theories. Trump then stonewalled Congress’s investigation of the Ukraine affair, preventing members of his administration from testifying and refusing to hand over documents to the House, leading to the obstruction charge.
At this point in the trial, senators from both parties largely agree on the facts of the case — that Trump withheld the Ukraine aid in exchange for help in his reelection campaign. But while Democrats say he is a danger to the country and interfering in the 2020 election, Republicans believe his actions are not impeachable, though some concede they were inappropriate. The decision of whether to remove Trump from office, Republicans argue, is better left to voters in November than to the Senate.
Politicians are already starting to make their cases for how impeachment will look in the history books. In his closing statement, Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff argued that history will judge the Senate harshly if it lets Trump stay in office without punishment. Republican Sen. Roy Blunt said that kind of perspective will only become clear after the 2020 election.
"I think a lot of it will be impacted by how voters react to President Trump this coming November, and that's not many months away," said Blunt.
But Democratic Sen. Chris Coons said that presidents are not judged solely on whether they win reelection. "That's not the sole metric of success as a president," he said.
House Democrats spoke for just over an hour Monday morning, concluding with Schiff urging senators to remove Trump from office.
"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 remove from office Donald J. Trump, the 45th president of the United States," he said.
White House lawyers then began their presentation after a lunch break, starting off with Ken Starr, the prosecutor who headed the investigation into former president Bill Clinton, which led to his impeachment. White House Counsel Pat Cipollone wrapped up their arguments by urging senators to vote against removing Trump from office and leave the decision to voters in November.
"I urge you ... on behalf of all of your constituents to reject these articles of impeachment," Cipollone told senators. "It's the right thing for our country. The president has done nothing wrong, and these types of impeachment must end. You will vindicate the right to vote, you will vindicate the Constitution, you will vindicate the rule of law by rejecting these articles."
Democrats held on to some of their time in order to get the last word in. Schiff ended the day's arguments by citing the Founding Fathers, telling senators that they put impeachment into the Constitution for exactly this kind of scenario. "We have proven Donald Trump guilty. Now do impartial justice and convict him," he implored them.
Monday's closing arguments followed Republicans voting on Friday against calling any witnesses or subpoenaing more documents in the trial. Democrats had wanted to call John Bolton, among others, to present evidence to the Senate; the former national security adviser is the only potential witness in the impeachment inquiry who heard directly from Trump that the president was withholding aid from Ukraine specifically to force the country to investigate Biden, according to an unpublished manuscript of his forthcoming book, which was brought to light by the New York Times.
Sens. Mitt Romney and Susan Collins were the only two Republicans to vote in favor of calling witnesses, specifically saying they wanted to hear from Bolton. Their support was not enough, however, to get Democrats to the 51 votes they needed to call witnesses.