© 2024 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Legal Strategies In The Senate Trial


On Tuesday, the Senate trial on the removal of President Trump will begin. And we're getting some idea of the arguments that will be made as both House impeachment managers and President Trump's legal team prepare their briefs. To talk us through what to expect, we're joined now by Karoun Demirjian, congressional reporter for The Washington Post.

Good morning.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. The two sides have sent a summary of their case, as required. What are the two sides arguing?

DEMIRJIAN: Well, the House Democrats have sent a very comprehensive legal brief that they filed yesterday evening. They're basically saying the president poses a threat to national security and that this must be eliminated through the Senate trial. And they're laying out the specifics of the case that they built through that several months' worth of the inquiry that we saw some of play out in public hearings and making the case that this evidence rises to the level of two impeachable offenses and that the Senate should find Trump guilty on both of those articles' counts.

The Trump team responded with a much shorter kind of summary of what is to come. Their ultimate deadline is tomorrow at noon. But they're basically saying, nothing to see here; the president acted completely within the bounds of his authority; this has been a Democratic vendetta to try to get him out of office, but he's the duly elected president, so back off. And no, he's not guilty of either of these things.

This is the clash that we've been seeing playing out for months...


DEMIRJIAN: ...At this point. It's just now formally in legal documents. And it's a reflection of the anger and the competition that's going to be playing out as we go into the next few weeks of this trial.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There's a lot we don't know yet and a lot of wrangling behind the scenes - in particular, the president is the wild card here, as he often is. He wants a swift trial, and GOP leaders are weighing whether or not to accelerate the pace. Clinton's trial lasted five weeks during his impeachment trial. There is some thought, apparently, to making it shorter this time around.

DEMIRJIAN: Yeah. The GOP leaders would like to get through this quickly. Five weeks, I think, is almost anathema to them and would probably require getting into a phase where you introduce new documents and new witnesses, which is what the Democrats want. The Democrats would like to do a more thorough vetting that builds on what the House impeachment inquiry would - did but also adds to what they did with what they weren't able to do because certain witnesses did not actually come forward.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: John Bolton, et cetera.

DEMIRJIAN: John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney and the various OMB officials and those people. And that is one of the clashes, too. We've put off the question of whether those witnesses will actually come up until after this opening phase where the two sides present their arguments. But right now, the question - the competition is, how do you get to the number 51? Are there four moderate Republicans in the middle who are swingable to actually take those votes for the witnesses? And that will really determine what the ultimate length of time is of this trial.

I mean, it also depends on how many hours per day you stack because the language of this often is in hours, not in days. And it gets into the nitty-gritty of congressional things. But there's a date here that everybody kind of is eyeing on the calendar, which is February 4. That's the date of the State of the Union.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: State of the Union - and that's, of course, very important for Trump. He's going to want to get up there and say, hey, I was exonerated.

DEMIRJIAN: Right. Is it going to be, he's in the middle of an impeachment trial, or is it a victory lap for him? And I think that really matters to - for - in different ways to both sides.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: A lot is riding on the presentation of the initial arguments - right? - because at least the issue of witnesses, as you mentioned, will probably be left to after these cases are argued. Depending on how strong the teams look, could it persuade some of those swing Republicans you mentioned to change their minds?

DEMIRJIAN: Potentially. I mean, I think that you - both sides right now - we're trying to figure out exactly how they're going to go about this, right?


DEMIRJIAN: There's many lawyers on Trump's team. You have the Jay Sekulows and the Pat Cipollones who have been there for a very long time. And then you also have the new additions of Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz, which raises the question...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The star power.

DEMIRJIAN: Right. Is this going to be for just the - you know, the bare-bones - do this in the very legal formal way that you have to get through the Senate, or is it going to be a little bit of a show because the cameras are going to be on, and the country will be watching? And I think...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And President Trump does want something that's made for TV.

DEMIRJIAN: He - that is what he knows, and that is what he is good at doing. And so I think that is a point of tension in his team. By the same token, the House Democrat impeachment managers are trying to coordinate their strategy of who plays point, who makes the argument. And I think it's pretty clear that Adam Schiff is the lead of that team. But what role do the others play, and how are they going to try to make this argument?

I think that, you know, a lot of what the opening round is going to be is going to depend on how compellingly they make that case, but also just the environment that we create, right? I mean, how serious does this end up feeling? The senators that are listening cannot talk. They just have to observe. And so, you know, can they grasp and keep everybody's attention? Does everybody seem to be engaged? These are just the intangibles...


DEMIRJIAN: ...That all kind of come together in the moment.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The presentation stuff.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right. That's Karoun Demirjian, who will be watching this all starting Tuesday, from The Washington Post. Thank you very much.

DEMIRJIAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.