In either case, it was the first of four wins for Democrats on Tuesday: When McConnell overreaches, his members might push him to modify his blatantly unfair rules.
The second win came from impeachment manager and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), who noted that Senate impeachment trials have always had witnesses. He reminded senators that President Trump had given a blanket order to refuse to respond to any subpoenas (including video clips of Trump saying as much) and never actually invoked executive privilege (as many Republicans had falsely asserted). He also warned the senators: “The facts will come out in the end. The documents, which the president is hiding, will be released through the [Freedom of Information Act] or through other means over time. Witnesses will tell their stories in book and film. The truth will come out. The question is, will it come out in time?”
In his calm and methodical presentation, Schiff scored a victory: Democrats have effectively built the case that the Senate would be guilty of a coverup if it allows Trump to continue to conceal witnesses and documents. (Since the public already believes by huge margins that witnesses should be allowed, Schiff has the wind of public opinion at his back.)
Third, in identifying the material that Trump (and, by extension, McConnell) will not let in, Schiff described in precise detail what some of it would reveal. In other words, he was effectively reading into the record the evidence Trump wants to suppress. He described documents provided by friendly witnesses that spoke to the halt on aid to Ukraine; he explained what the witnesses such as former national security adviser John Bolton and Robert B. Blair, an adviser to the acting White House chief of staff, could tell us. That’s a win, and a preview of what is to come: One way or another, Schiff will let the public know there is a wealth of incriminating evidence out there that Trump wants to hide, with the Senate’s help.
Fourth, the calm, logic-based and historically grounded explanations offered by Schiff — emphasizing that this was about whether the president could do anything he wanted and then hide the evidence — set up a stunning contrast with Pat Cipollone (the White House counsel) and Jay Sekulow, both of whom are members of Trump’s defense team. Instead of making arguments, the president’s team postured, grimaced, insulted and complained. It made no effort to explain how Trump had been mistreated in the House, after his own counsel (now standing in the Senate) announced he would not participate in the House inquiry. That’s the final win: Democrats exposed that the president has no coherent defense — a notion bolstered by the lack of coherent lawyers and absence of serious arguments.
Schiff and his fellow impeachment managers understand that Trump has been impeached, that a majority of the public believes he obstructed Congress and abused his power and that a really big majority want a real trial. They know Republicans are going to vote to acquit, so the purpose is not a favorable verdict. Rather, it is to hammer home to every persuadable voter that Trump violated his oath and engaged in a coverup, which Senate Republicans are enabling.
The jury is not really the Senate; it’s the public. The defendant is not really Trump; it’s the Republican senators. Understanding this, Schiff got off to a strong start.