Public pressure on moderate Republican senators had, for the moment, forced McConnell to soften a couple of the most egregious trial rules — notably, a plan that would have forced the case to be argued in the middle of the night — but it did nothing to slow McConnell’s pell-mell rush to acquit. McConnell, who during a break in proceedings Tuesday huddled with White House counsel Pat Cipollone, succeeded in rebuffing, along party lines, efforts to call witnesses and demand documents that Trump withheld.
Why such a hurry? The answer became apparent as soon as Trump’s lawyers opened their mouths for the first time during the impeachment proceedings.
They shouted. They spouted invective. They launched personal attacks against the impeachment managers. But they offered virtually nothing in defense of the president’s conduct, nor anything but a passing reference to Ukraine.
“These Articles of Impeachment … are not only ridiculous, they are dangerous to our republic,” declared Cipollone.
“It's ridiculous,” he added.
“It's ridiculous! It's ridiculous,” he repeated, for those who may have missed the point.
“They’re here to steal two elections — it’s buried in the small print of their ridiculous articles of impeachment,” he alleged.
Cipollone closed with a request to “end this ridiculous charade.”
But he didn’t rest his case there. He and his colleagues built on this playground-worthy argument: “Outrageous!” “No crime!” “No case!” “False allegations!” “Concocted!” “Hypocrisy!” “They don’t have the guts!” “A complete fake!”
Here were the president’s men, in the flesh, occupying a factual universe all their own. “The president was not allowed to have a lawyer present” in House proceedings, said the presidential lawyers who refused to be present in House proceedings.
“They ask you to trample on executive privilege,” they said, even though Trump hasn’t invoked executive privilege.
The impeachment managers have “evidence … that we haven’t been allowed to see,” said the White House officials who blocked the release of all documents.
Day One offered the starkest of contrasts: House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and his impeachment managers framing their case in somber terms and painstaking detail — and the other side responding with what amounted to an extended reading of Trump’s tweets.
Most of the 53 Senate Republicans are lawyers, so they had to be aware that what they were getting from the White House did not amount to a defense. Their body language suggested they wanted the whole thing to end — quickly. Patrick Toomey (Pa.) chewed his reading glasses. Marco Rubio (Fla.) chewed at a fingernail. Ted Cruz (Tex.) slouched in his chair.Tim Scott (S.C.) studied the ceiling. Bill Cassidy (La.) sent for a fresh glass of water, though his was not empty. John Hoeven (N.D.) yawned. So did Lindsey Graham (S.C.).
The White House’s case is unlikely to improve from here. Also appearing for Trump will be Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz, lately members of Jeffrey Epstein’s defense team. Dershowitz has already distanced himself from the brief the White House filed. And the New York Times reported that one of the lawyers cited in Trump’s brief has called the White House argument “constitutional nonsense” and “sophistry.”
Republicans find themselves defying public opinion in their attempts to avoid testimony. A CNN poll found that 69 percent of Americans say witnesses should testify in the trial, including 48 percent of Republicans. Trump himself said in December that he wants White House officials “to testify in the Senate where they’ll get a fair trial.”
But Trump is now trying so hard to avoid witnesses that the White House is working on backup plans to silence them even if the Senate votes for testimony. Tuesday’s arguments made clear why: The White House has no substantive defense.
Rather, it has grievances. Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow stood at the lectern with a notebook full of what looked like ransom notes: typed pages full of scrawls in the margins, with scribbled note cards haphazardly interspersed. Like Cipollone, he shouted. He attacked two of the impeachment managers. He attacked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). He ricocheted from Eric Holder to Peter Strzok to the “failed” Russia investigation.
Cipollone returned to the lectern with yet another complaint. The House’s case, he declared, “is too much to listen to, almost.” But he didn’t attempt a refutation.
No wonder McConnell can’t be done with this trial fast enough.
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