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On eve of trial, majority in poll says Trump is guilty as charged

President Donald Trump outside the White House on

President Donald Trump outside the White House on Monday. Credit: AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta

View from the cheap seats

Only the 100 members of the Senate get to vote on whether President Donald Trump is guilty of impeachable crimes and deserves removal from office. But that doesn't mean public opinion won't have any influence as the trial unfolds with a Tuesday session to set the rules.

A new CNN poll finds that by 51% to 45%, Americans say Trump should be convicted and kicked out of the White House before his term is up. Bigger majorities don't believe his protestations of innocence — 58% think he abused his power, as charged in one article of impeachment, and 57% say it's true he obstructed Congress, as he is accused in the other.

Even more Americans oppose any Republican effort to quickly dismiss the case after arguments are presented, and are curious to hear more. More than two-thirds — 69% — say the upcoming trial should feature new witnesses who did not testify in the House inquiry.

More Republicans favor witnesses than don't, by 48% to 44%. But the partisan divide remains intact on the ultimate verdict — 89% of Democrats said Trump should be removed. Just 8% of Republicans feel that way. Independents are divided almost in half, with 48% to 46% for removal.

The White House filed its legal brief Monday — read it here — calling on senators to "immediately” acquit the president, contending he “did absolutely nothing wrong.” A central argument — that the articles of impeachment are invalid because they do not state any specific violation of law — rests on the notion that abuse of power in itself wouldn't count.

One of Trump's lawyers has been on both sides of that theory. In 1998, during the run-up to President Bill Clinton's impeachment, Alan Dershowitz contended on CNN: "It certainly doesn't have to be a crime if you have somebody who completely corrupts the office of president and who abuses trust and who poses great danger to our liberty."

The House impeachment managers asserted in their legal brief that Trump corruptly solicited foreign interference to help himself in the 2020 election by pressuring Ukraine to announce investigations into his political rivals while withholding U.S. military aid.

All through the night

If Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gets his way on trial rules, each side would have 24 hours to present arguments. There would be marathon 12-hour sessions starting at 1 p.m. each day.

Senators would be allowed up to 16 hours for questions to the prosecution and defense, followed by four hours of debate. Only then would there be votes on calling other witnesses.

Expect Democrats on Tuesday to wage an all-out fight against McConnell. "The only reason to restrict the impeachment managers to 24 hours over 2 days is to make sure the evidence is presented in the dead of the night, when no one is watching," tweeted Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). "It’s not about finding the truth or honoring our duty. It’s all about the coverup."

McConnell's plan is "nothing short of a national disgrace," said Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.

Block those witnesses

Trump's lawyers will fight Democrats' calls for witnesses, and it's not just former national security adviser John Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney who they don't want the Senate to hear from.

The Wall Street Journal reports they also are determined to keep Lev Parnas, Rudy Giuliani's indicted associate in the Ukraine scheme, from testifying.

Parnas went public last week on his role with a group of inside and outside players pressuring Ukraine. He revealed a letter to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky from Giuliani stating he was acting with Trump’s “knowledge and consent."

Janison: Beyond the impeachable

Several big questions about the day-to-day conduct of the Trump administration are likely to get lost in the trial's focus on allegedly impeachable actions, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

State Department appointments and actions were plainly guided from outside the official hierarchy. Is this a good method of operation? 

If gas oligarch Dmytro Firtash had delivered on the elusive "dirt" on the Bidens sought by Giuliani and Parnas, one question is whether the Justice Department would have cut him a break on pending bribery allegations for which Firtash is charged in Illinois.

Law enforcement aside, is it proper for Trump businesses to make money from his position? This "emoluments clause" question was excluded from the House impeachment articles, but it could be raised again in Congress regardless of the trial's preset outcome in Trump's favor.

Trump's Swiss watch

With parting tweets about "corrupt pol Shifty Schiff" and "What a disgrace this Impeachment Scam is," Trump flew off to Switzerland Monday night for the annual World Economic Forum at Davos.

His two-day visit will test his ability to balance his anger over being impeached with his desire to project leadership on the world stage, The Associated Press writes

The six-hour time difference should leave him time to catch up on the Senate proceedings after wrapping up meetings with business and foreign government leaders.

The chill is gone?

It's gotten better between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders since she refused to shake his hand after last week's Democratic debate.

As the 2020 candidates gathered in Columbia, South Carolina, before a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event, the rival progressives shook hands. They also were seen in friendly conversation, in contrast to the animosity earlier this month that erupted over Warren's account — denied by Sanders — that he told her privately in 2018 that a woman couldn't win.

Then they marched side by side, arms linked with each other and with Amy Klobuchar, Joe Biden and Tulsi Gabbard. (See a photo.) Another group parading arm-in-arm featured Pete Buttigieg, Tom Steyer and Deval Patrick.

Most of the candidates headed later to the 2020 Iowa Brown & Black Democratic Presidential Forum.

Trump's MLK minute

Trump and Vice President Mike Pence made a brief, unannounced visit to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington on Monday in a nod to the national holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader.

There was a mix of cheers and boos from onlookers as Trump and Pence stood for about a minute with their heads bowed at the base of the statue that honors King.

Earlier, White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway claimed, without any known historical basis, that King would have opposed Trump's impeachment.

Washington Post-Ipsos poll late last week found 83% of black Americans believe Trump is racist, and 76% believe he is doing things as president that are bad for African-Americans.

What else is happening:

  • CNN found another Dershowitz gem from yesteryear. When asked in 1999 how he would defend Clinton in his Senate trial, he replied: "Well, the first thing I would do is say, 'Fire Dershowitz.' We don't want to get involved with people saying, ‘O.J.'s lawyer is representing the president.’ ”
  • Rep. Lee Zeldin of Shirley is one of eight House Republicans named to Trump's impeachment trial team. It isn't clear what they will be doing, except it likely won't be on the Senate floor. See Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
  • Parnas' lawyer Joseph Bondy, who has steered him in his turn-against-Trump strategy, has a colorful list of past clients. CNN reports it includes a wheelchair-bound drug lord convicted in seven killings; Peter Gotti, brother of late organized-crime boss John Gotti who was convicted of plotting to kill mob turncoat "Sammy the Bull" Gravano; and an NYPD detective who turned hit man. The ex-cop, too, was convicted.
  • Bondy filed a request on Monday for the recusal of Attorney General William Barr in connection with the campaign-finance law prosecution of Parnas, alleging Barr has a conflict of interest.
  • Andrew Peek, a White House adviser on Russia and Europe, was escorted out of the White House on Friday amid a security-related investigation, The Associated Press reported. His two predecessors — Tim Morrison and Fiona Hill — both testified in the House impeachment inquiry.
  • The Washington Post Fact Checker database has updated its tally of false or misleading claims by Trump during his three years in office. The new number: 16,241. A recent surge of almost 1,000 comes from the Ukraine investigation.
  • Michael Bloomberg's massive ad spending has made buying TV time more expensive for other pols, from his 2020 rivals to Senate, House and state legislative candidates around the country, Politico reports. Prices for the short supply of available time have risen 20%.

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