As they head into Day 4 of impeachment trial, Democrats hope to leave senators wanting more
Pace of Senate trial has been punishing, but Democrats hope they'll get a chance to present more testimony
As the impeachment trial of U.S. President Donald Trump enters its fourth day in the U.S. Senate, stamina is waning.
Among viewers at home, interest has dropped off — from about 11 million viewers to a little less than eight million, a mere six per cent of those expected to vote in the November 2020 election.
In the halls of the Senate, the press corps is getting restless, still chasing every media availability but privately cursing the long hours they've put in covering a trial that has stretched beyond nine hours each of the past three days.
On the Senate floor, while some senators keenly flip through massive binders of supporting documentation, highlighting relevant sections, others slouch, yawn or slip in and out of the chamber, where strict rules dictate they're only allowed to consume milk or water.
Democrats are hoping they can sustain the punishing pace for at least one more day as they wrap up their case against the president Friday and make a final push to convince the Senate and the American people that Trump's attempt to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political rival was a brazen abuse of power intended to give him an advantage in the 2020 election.
Hour 23 of redundant impeachment arguments. For those following at home: Drinking game—every time House Dems say “drug deal” or “get over it”...drink a shot of milk!—@tedcruz
"It is an unprecedented betrayal of the national interest," said Jerrold Nadler, one of seven Democratic legislators, or so-called managers, prosecuting the case, Thursday.
"It is a shocking corruption of the election process. And it is without doubt a crime against the constitution, warranting — demanding — removal from office."
WATCH | Jerrold Nadler lays out the case for abuse of power:
'Effective use of the House evidence'
The Democrats have been using video clips of testimony from the House impeachment hearings last year and Trump's own statements to methodically weave a director's commentary of sorts, chronicling a by now familiar story: Trump's withholding of $400 million US in military aid and a White House meeting as a means of pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter and revive a discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.
"This is actually a very effective use of the House evidence because it digests the moments that constitute evidence for the Democrats," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, an expert in political communication at the University of Pennsylvania who runs FactCheck.org.
And while much of the testimony was familiar to anyone who paid attention during the House hearings, several senators from both sides of the aisle admitted they were hearing some of it for the first time.
"This may have been the first time that they have heard the entire case presented sequentially," Jamieson said. "And they are having a very different experience than the public has had, because very few in the public are watching from one o'clock until whenever the proceedings [end]."
Although several of Trump's defenders in and outside the Senate denounced the presentation as same old, same old, Republicans might end up using their own samples of House testimony to rebut the Democrats' case when they begin presenting their defence Saturday.
'The breach between the parties'
It would be a mistake for the lawyers representing Trump to discount evidence of misconduct altogether, said Michael Gerhardt, an expert on constitutional law and the legislative process at the North Carolina School of Law.
Instead, they should clearly spell out how the Senate should assess whether it rises to the level of an impeachable offence.
"Merely saying all he did was perfect is shameful. It is false and leads any neutral observers to lose confidence in their case," said Gerhardt.
Gerhardt was a witness for both sides in the 1999 impeachment trial of Bill Clinton and in the Trump impeachment hearings in the House, and Nadler played some of his testimony at the start of Thursday's session.
He says he regrets that there are no joint witnesses in the current impeachment process.
"The breach between the parties is much worse than it was 20 years ago, and it was bad then."
Whetting senators' appetite
The importance of hearing from additional witnesses, such as former national security adviser John Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, has been a key focus for the Democrats. It will likely come up again in their final day of arguments as they attempt to prove the second article of impeachment and show that Trump obstructed Congress by stymying the inquiry into how he handled the Ukraine matter.
They'll need to convince at least two Republicans (along with the two independents, who are expected to vote with Democrats) to get the 51-member majority they need to vote in favour of calling of witnesses once Trump's defence team presents their case.
Adam Schiff, the congressman leading the prosecution, has goaded senators over the past two days, hinting at the incriminating details that might be in the diplomatic cables and other subpoenaed documents that the Democrats have also requested but that the White House has thus far refused to release.
"They're yours for the asking," he told senators on the first day of arguments.
WATCH | Adam Schiff calls on senators to demand the release of subpoenaed documents:
"As they built the narrative, they would establish what they knew, argue that it was strong enough to impeach based on what they knew and then say, 'But wouldn't you also want to know this?'" Louis Seidman, a professor of constitutional law at Georgetown University Law Center, said of the Democrats' strategy.
Most Americans want to hear from witnesses
It's a strategy that seems to be tapping into public sentiment. An ABC News/Washington Post poll taken Jan. 20-23 found that 66 per cent of Americans, including 45 per cent of Republicans, agreed that the Senate should call new witnesses to testify.
"They have to sustain public support for witnesses. In fact, get it to increase if they can, because that puts pressure on the susceptible Republicans who might be willing to vote that way," Seidman said.
Rick Scott, of Florida, is one of those Republicans. But he told reporters Thursday that Democrats had their chance to pursue witnesses during the House hearings and could have gone to court to fight the president's refusal to comply with their subpoenas.
He and other Republicans have, however, said they want Hunter Biden to testify about his association with Ukrainian energy company Burisma, where he was a paid member of the board from 2014 to 2019. Trump and other Republicans have alleged Joe Biden pressured Ukraine to dismiss the country's prosecutor general in order to shield Burisma from a corruption investigation.
In their arguments Thursday, Democrats tried to debunk that theory and show that Biden's actions were part a wider international effort to root out corruption.
"The whole idea of a fair trial is you bring in relevant witnesses," said Democratic senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren on her way into the Senate chamber Wednesday.
"Relevant witnesses here are people who know what Donald Trump did and what his intent was and what its impact was on our national security and on the security of the Ukraine. Hunter Biden doesn't have any knowledge of that or any bearing on that."
Her fellow presidential candidate Senator Amy Klobuchar said she's been keeping the pressure up on her Republican colleagues, urging them to at least agree to hear from witnesses, even if they don't vote to remove Trump from office.
"Why are you here if you're not going to stand up?" she said she told senators.
Democrats used strong language in their presentation to the Senate to characterize Trump's attempt to get Ukraine to announce investigations that the House managers said served only his own interests: "plot," "scheme," "unprecedented coverup." (He countered with some of his favourite terms: Nadler was a "sleazebag"; Schiff a "con job" and the trial "a hoax," he said from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.)
They went to great lengths to underscore the gravity of the charges and the historic nature of the process, repeatedly invoking the so-called Framers of the Constitution.
"Impeachment is not for petty offences," Nadler said on the second day of arguments. "It does not apply to acts that are merely unwise or unpopular. "
And if there was any doubt about just how sombre of an occasion it was, the opening words of the sergeant at arms at the start of every session were there to remind us: "Hear ye! Hear ye! Hear ye! All persons are commanded to keep silent, on pain of imprisonment."
As were the stern security staff who were quick to reprimand reporters and lookers-on for the smallest infraction, handing them a photocopied list of rules, with the one they've violated emphatically underlined: no cellphones, no talking, no eating, no leaning, no standing.
WATCH | Adam Schiff they'll be authors of their own decline if they don't hold Trump accountable:
Democrats argue against leaving Trump's fate to voters
In advance of their final day of arguments, the managers presenting the Democrats' case issued a warning to those who might be convinced Trump abused the power of his office but hesitant to remove him.
"The president's misconduct cannot be decided at the ballot box," Schiff said near the end of another nine-hour-plus session. "For we cannot be assured that the vote will be fairly won."
But it will take more than that to convince Trump's most vocal defenders in the Senate that he must go.
"When it comes to replacing this president nine months-plus from the election, you've got an uphill battle with me, because I really do believe that the best group people to pick a president are the voters," Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told reporters.
Even Seidman, who supports the impeachment process, thinks a vote to remove Trump would be risky and potentially destabilizing given that a percentage of Americans would find such a process tantamount to a coup d'état.
It's also highly unlikely to happen, contingent as it is on a two-thirds majority in the Republican-controlled chamber, where Democrats hold 47 of 100 seats.
But that doesn't necessarily mean the impeachment process is a futile exercise, said Seidman.
"There is the impact that this has on the American people, on Trump's chances for re-election, on his historical reputation, on how much political power he has going forward," he said.
WATCH | Adam Schiff warns of dire consequences if Trump remains in office:
With files from Reuters