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Takeaways from the Senate impeachment trial

Alan Dershowitz, lawyer for President Donald Trump, speaks

Alan Dershowitz, lawyer for President Donald Trump, speaks to members of the media at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. Credit: Bloomberg/Stefani Reynolds

WASHINGTON — The Senate impeachment trial reached the quiz phase of the proceedings on Wednesday, as Republicans and Democrats took turns asking questions to advance their cases and damage their opponents’ arguments.

Here are some of the interesting, and surprising, answers.

Dershowitz: Whatever reelection takes is OK

Is President Donald Trump impeachable if he had mixed motives — including public interest and self-interest — for holding back aid to Ukraine? Trump lawyer Patrick Philbin said no. “All elected officials to some extent have in mind how their conduct, how their decisions, their policy decisions will affect the next election,” he said. Are quid pro quos like the one Trump is accused of making impeachable? No, said defense attorney and former Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz. “If the president does something that he thinks will help him get elected, in the public interest," Dershowitz said, "that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.” 

Schiff: Dershowitz is wrong

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the lead House manager, rejected the Dershowitz declaration. Schiff posed a hypothetical of President Barack Obama in 2012 being caught on a hot mic telling Russian President Dmitry Medvedev: “Hey, Medvedev, I know you don’t want me to send this military money to Ukraine because they’re fighting and killing your people. I want you to do me a favor, though. I want you to do an investigation of Mitt Romney, and I want you to announce you’ve found dirt on Mitt Romney. And if you’re willing to do that, quid pro quo, I won’t give Ukraine the money.” Schiff concluded: “To target their political opponent is wrong and corrupt. Period. End of Story.”

Trump lawyer sets high bar for conviction

Historically, each senator has set their own standards of proof to convict a president in their unusual and unique role as juror-judges in an impeachment trial, most constitutional scholars have said. But Philbin insisted there’s “a very much higher standard here” that senators must apply. “The Senate sits as trier of fact and law, reviewing both factual and legal issues, de novo,” Philbin said, “and the House managers are held to a standard of proving ‘proof beyond a reasonable doubt’ of every element of what would be a cognizable impeachable offense.” House manager Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) later disagreed. “The Constitution does not specify either the House’s evidentiary burden of proof or the Senate’s,” she said, adding she trusts the senators to come to a “just result.”

Republicans try to out whistleblower

Three Republican senators asked about a published report that purportedly identified the whistleblower whose complaint about Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine’s new president led to the impeachment inquiry. Philbin declared he would not speculate, saying he could not confirm the publication's description of the whistleblower that he had worked for Vice President Joe Biden and was part of a plot to take Trump down. Schiff, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, later denied the report that he or his staff worked with the whistleblower. “I don’t know who the whistleblower is. I haven’t met them or communicated with them in any way,” Schiff said. “The committee staff did not write the complaint or coach the whistleblower what to put in the complaint.”

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