Thursday’s session of President Trump’s impeachment trial began with a seminar in constitutional law, a history lesson and some of the pithiest descriptions we have heard so far of the president’s impeachable conduct. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) took us through a historical and textual explanation of the impeachment power, demolishing the anticipated argument from Trump attorney Alan Dershowitz that abuse of power is not a legitimate basis for impeachment.

Nadler quoted the Framers, showed clips of the lawyers testifying in the House (including Jonathan Turley, who Republicans called to testify) and played a clip of now-Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.):

The clip was devastating, although Graham was not in the room when it played, as he had exited for one of his breaks (which reporters say is not an unusual occurrence for him).

Nearly as embarrassing to Trump’s team was a clip from 1998 that Nadler played showing Dershowitz arguing that a statutory crime is not necessary for impeachment. (“It certainly doesn’t have to be a crime," Dershowitz said. "If you have somebody who completely corrupts the office of president and who abuses trust and who poses greater danger to our liberty, you don’t need technical crime.”)

Nadler explained that it makes no sense to argue you can neither prosecute a sitting president nor remove him when he poses a danger to the country. “The Constitution is not a suicide pact. It does not leave us stuck with presidents who abuse their power in unforeseen ways that threaten our security and democracy,” he said, invoking the famous phrase uttered by the late Justice Robert H. Jackson. Nadler added dryly, “Until recently, it did not occur to me that our president would call a foreign leader and demand a sham investigation meant to kneecap his political opponents, all in exchange for releasing vital military aid that the president was already required by law to provide."

It was a devastating performance that demolished the notion that impeachment is not a remedy for abuse of power, especially abuse of power involving the betrayal of our national security by extorting a foreign power to investigate the president’s opponent.

Trump’s feeble defenders have been arguing that Trump did not really do that, but rather was deeply concerned about corruption in general. This is fanciful on its face considering that this president is perhaps the most personally corrupt in history (refusing to divest himself of his business, steering business to his resorts and allowing his children to profit from their businesses while maintaining government jobs). Aside from that, the “Trump’s a corruption fighter” defense is preposterous.

Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-Tex.) marched through the facts, in the process debunking the notion that former vice president Joe Biden had done anything that anyone could legitimately see as corrupt. If Trump was interested in corruption (rather than smearing his political rival), he would have wanted an investigation before Biden announced that he was running against Trump. (She even put up poll numbers showing Biden was leading Trump in the polls!) Trump would have said the word “corruption” rather than naming Burisma and the Bidens, and he would have said publicly he was holding up aid to fight corruption. He would have asked the Justice Department — not Ukraine — to investigate the matter, and he would not have released the aid when caught red-handed. He would not have demanded an announcement of an investigation, rather than the investigation itself. And if corruption was the real issue, Trump’s lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani would not have bragged he was gathering dirt on the former vice president. It was the most thorough and effective debunking to date of the accusations against Biden and of the notion that Trump’s motive was legitimate.

Republicans have taken to complaining there is “nothing new” in the House managers’ case. That’s a barely disguised effort to avoid confronting the overwhelming mound of evidence. But even taking Republicans at their word, today’s legal and factual arguments were original, fascinating and compelling — unless you really don’t give a damn about the Constitution.

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