Who actually didn't do anything wrong?
Impeachment procedure : In terms of defense, Trump can't really go wrong
As a US Senator, one thing above all has to be proven these days: long-suffering. The hand of the gold-colored clock advances hour after hour in the plenary, proof of how this day passes again - in the windowless hall on the second floor of the Capitol you cannot tell whether it is dark or light outside.
After all, the question-and-answer part began this Wednesday at 1 p.m. local time in the impeachment proceedings against US President Donald Trump. The 100 senators now have around eight hours each over two days to put questions to the prosecution and defense in the Ukraine affair. As always, the Senate chaplain has the floor before the first round begins.
Barry Black says a short prayer, everyone in the hall stands up, including the audience and the journalists in the press box. Black doesn't have to adhere to guidelines and always gives the assembled senators something to consider. A week ago he reminded her that words have consequences - even those that are not said.
And on this Wednesday he encourages them: "It is never wrong to do the right thing." Just what's right in this case? Or: what is all this about?
The senators must be silent
None of this is an easy matter for the senators. If only because they have been silently watching the prosecution representatives who want to remove Trump from his office and the president's defense team present their arguments in all possible variants for days.
The actually quite power-conscious men and women of the second Congress Chamber themselves are not allowed to speak. They are only allowed to step away from their heavy wooden counters for a short time, if at all, and even their choice of drinks is limited: there is water and, in exceptional cases, milk. No coffee helps you stay awake. Anyone who breaks the rules can expect jail time, a reminder is given at the beginning of each session.
It has been going on for eight days now, and the first part of the proceedings ended on Tuesday with the defense pleadings. The discipline in the hall, as much can be ascertained, has already decreased significantly: the absences are longer, the whispering more frequent, and hearty laughter is repeated several times on this day. Even if more at the beginning of the session, which once more lasts until 11 p.m.
Hardly anyone here exudes curiosity
This first question day is surprisingly uninvestigative at first. Most of the time, the Democratic senators put their questions to the prosecution, while the Republicans mostly want answers from the defense that reinforce their point of view. Hardly anyone here exudes real curiosity, the fronts seem solid. Most have heard what is said many times.
But there are also a few Republican senators who are under very special scrutiny these days. They are trusted to deviate from the otherwise cemented party line, to end this process as soon as possible and in the interests of the President. It will depend on them when a vote is expected on Friday on the question of whether witnesses will be heard at all. Or whether the trial ends this week.
There are, for example, the Senators Susann Collins from Maine and Lisa Murkowski from Alaska, who are considered to be moderate, who always sit next to each other and always listen attentively and take a lot of notes. Your question goes straight to the heart of the matter: you want to know if Trump ever spoke to Ukraine about corruption and the Bidens before Joe Biden announced he was running for the presidency. The short answer from the defense, which would actually have five minutes for it: "I can't tell you anything about that."
The defense evades the question of when Trump stopped military aid
It is similar with Mitt Romney's question, which the Senator from Utah only submits in the evening. After all, Romney was the Republican presidential candidate in 2012 who lost to Barack Obama. As one of the few in the Grand Old Party, he makes no secret of his skepticism against Trump. As always, the usher laboriously brings the question slip to the front to John Roberts, the chief judge, who is in charge of the proceedings and who reads the questions out at this stage. "On what day exactly did President Trump stop the military aid to Ukraine, and did he justify this at the time?" Asks Romney.
Here, too, the defense, in this case the lawyer Patrick Philbin, replied evasively. Because this point has still not been clarified despite weeks of investigations by the House of Representatives - which is mainly due to the fact that the White House refused to cooperate with the investigators.
They are good questions, and they suggest that the questioners are actually not taking it easy on themselves.
Ever since it became known that Trump urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden in a phone call in July 2019, the Democrats have suspected that the US President abused his office to defeat his possible challenger in the election to harm in November. In a horse trade, a "quid pro quo", he made the release of almost $ 400 million in military aid dependent on an investigation against Biden and asked a foreign power to interfere in the American elections. That is why, and because he hindered the educational work of Congress, he should be impeached, they think.
John Bolton mixed up the case - is he testifying?
Trump's defenders, on the other hand, claim that his only concern was to fight corruption in Ukraine. And since Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden was on the board of the corrupt Ukrainian gas company Burisma when his father was Vice President, Trump had every reason to be interested. The arguments are used flexibly: Sometimes it is said that this is normal foreign policy - "So what?", No cause for alarm. Then again it says: But there was no "quid pro quo". Everything that the prosecution put forward results from "hearsay" that not a single witness was able to produce the prosecution who personally heard it from Trump, Trump's people argue.
But ever since excerpts from an as yet unpublished manuscript of a book were leaked to the public by Trump's former National Security Advisor John Bolton, these witnesses have existed, at least in theory. According to the New York Times, Bolton writes that he heard this personally from Trump. He denies that.
Bolton mixed up the case. Only: Whether he will testify in the Senate is open. Or: it is due to the handful of Republican dissenters. Whether four of them will vote with the Democrats for more witnesses on Friday is the most debated question about the Capitol. The Republicans have 53 senators and the Democrats 47.
Alan Dershowitz is eloquent in promoting that all Republicans stay on the line. The 81-year-old law professor emeritus from Harvard, who in his long career as a criminal defense lawyer rarely shied away from accepting controversial mandates - for example, he represented ex-football professional OJ Simpson, who was accused of murder, and most recently the millionaire Jeffrey Epstein, who was charged with various sex crimes - is probably the biggest star in the president's team.
And he uses his experience: on Monday he tried to give a detailed legal justification why, even if Bolton's description was correct, this was not a problem. Abuse of power is not a legitimate reason for impeachment. It is an opinion that not many constitutional lawyers will share.
The Democrats call Trump's understanding of office "absolutist"
On Wednesday he goes one step further. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican, himself a Harvard graduate, asked him whether the question of a "quid pro quo" played a role at all, because that sort of thing happens regularly in foreign policy. Dershowitz takes the opportunity to take the "so what" to extremes. Many politicians would equate their choice with the good of the country. Even if the president had thought of his re-election, i.e. if he had done something to help him, that was not reprehensible. In no case is this a reason for the impeachment of a president.
The curious thing is that the Democrats have been scourging Trump's understanding of office as "absolutist" for days: he believes that as president he is above the law. Anyone who listens to Alan Dershowitz's description of the presidential abundance of power could sneak into the thought that the star lawyer ultimately sees it that way.
The big question now is whether Dershowitz and his colleagues will be able to convince the potential dissenters among the Republicans by Friday. If not, and the defense has painted this threateningly on the wall several times, there are still many hours of silent work waiting for the senators. The anticipation should be limited. Because in the end, because it takes a two-thirds majority for a conviction, the process should end with an acquittal for Trump.
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