The House impeachment managers devoted some of their time Thursday to pre-rebutting the coming arguments from President Donald Trump’s lawyers, specifically those that center on holding impeachment to the standards of a criminal trial.
“In no setting in this country where someone’s guilt or innocence is being adjudicated would this kind of approach be permitted,” Trump lawyer David Schoen said during a Thursday afternoon Fox News hit. “That’s why we have rules against things like hearsay and require other additions of credibility and reliability. For an impeachment process, it is offensive.”
In their pre-trial briefs and opening arguments, Trump’s lawyers specifically cited the former president’s First Amendment and due process rights as being infringed upon. They have also complained that Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), president pro tempore, a “partisan,” is presiding over the trial.
Lead House impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) picked apart that argument Thursday, pointing out that impeachment, a wholly political process, is not subject to the same high standards or rules of a criminal trial.
“While President Trump’s lawyers may be arguing otherwise, the question here is not whether President Trump committed a crime under the federal code, or D.C. law, or the law of any state,” Raskin said. “Impeachment does not result in criminal penalties.”
He homed in on Trump’s First Amendment rights specifically, saying that if an average American advocated totalitarianism or secession from the union, there’s nothing you could do. Anyone trying to prosecute that person, he said, would lose.
“But it is simply inconceivable, unthinkable, that a president could do any of these things: get up and swear an oath to foreign governments or leaders, advocate totalitarianism, advocate secession and not be impeached for it,” Raskin said.
While Trump’s lawyers try to characterize the impeachment process as unfair and unjust, the managers reminded senators — and the American public — that presidents are held to a special, high standard, and can be convicted for non-criminal offenses.
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) specifically addressed the due process part of Trump’s lawyers’ argument, saying that the House has the sole power to impeach and that it moved quickly because of the crisis Trump created and the readily observable body of evidence.
The managers also frequently returned to the theme that if senators don’t convict Trump, there is no certainty that this situation won’t arise again. An argument seemingly crafted to coax undecided Republicans to convict, they made the issue bigger than Trump, one of precedent and the standard to which future presidents will be held.
“If you don’t find this a high crime and misdemeanor today, you have set a new, terrible standard for presidential misconduct in the United States of America,” Raskin said.
Trump’s lawyers will take the floor Friday to argue the opposite — that impeaching a former president is a vindictive mistake. They will also argue at once that Trump should both not be held to the high standards the presidency demands, but also that his status as a former president makes him untouchable now.
“We humbly, humbly ask you to convict President Trump for the crime for which he is overwhelmingly guilty of,” added Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO). “Because if you don’t, if we pretend this didn’t happen, or worse, if we let it go unanswered, who’s to say it won’t happen again?”