Democrats made a final appeal for witnesses in President Trump‘s impeachment trial on Friday as the Senate moved closer to a vote.
House impeachment managers argued that failing to hear from people with firsthand accounts in this case will set a dangerous precedent for future trials.
“We agree with the president’s counsel on this much: This will set a new precedent,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the lead impeachment manager, said on the Senate floor.
“You can bet in every impeachment that follows — whether it is a presidential impeachment or an impeachment of a judge — if that judge or president believes that it is to his or her advantage that there shall be a trial with no witnesses, they will cite the case of Donald J. Trump,” he said.
Schiff also warned that their decision will cause institutional damage by allowing a president to railroad Congress’s impeachment powers, effectively nullifying them in the future. He also argued that acquitting Trump will send a signal that a president can seek to drag down a political opponent for personal gain and obstruct Congress without consequence.
Democrats have alleged that Trump withheld $391 million in U.S. aid to Ukraine and the promise of a White House meeting to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open two politically motivated investigations, including into a 2020 Democratic rival.
While several Republican senators on Thursday and Friday conceded that they believe the president acted inappropriately, they argued it did not amount to an impeachable offense.
All of the House impeachment managers spoke Friday, except House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who missed the conclusion of the Senate trial to be with his wife, who is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), holding up a pocket copy of the U.S. Constitution, ticked off lines from the legal text as she sought to argue that a fair trial would include witness testimony.
“It is up to the Senate how to try this impeachment with fairness, with witnesses, and documents,” Lofgren said. “Please decide for a fair trial that will yield the truth and serve the Constitution and the American people.”
Democrats focused some of their arguments Friday on the need to hear from Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton, particularly after a new report in The New York Times, citing an unpublished book by Bolton, said he wrote that he had been asked by Trump to set up a meeting between Zelensky and Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney.
Philbin warned that accepting this model of impeachment proceedings put forward by House Democrats will set a precedent for both chambers in which the Senate accepts a trial before the House fulfills its responsibility in tracking down all relevant witnesses and evidence.
“To show up not having done the work and to expect that work to be done in the Senate, by this body, has grave consequences for the institutional interests for this body and it sets a precedent … for the Senate and the House,” Philbin said on the Senate floor, warning that doing so could establish the “new normal.”
He also railed against the process, saying that Democrats heard from 17 witnesses, but that they blocked witnesses Republicans wanted to hear from during the House impeachment inquiry. Such witnesses included former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, as well as the anonymous whistleblower who first came forward with allegations about Trump’s contacts with Ukraine.
“They did a process that wasn’t fair,” Philbin argued.