Trump impeachment trial collides with presidential election year

In this image from video, House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., speaks during closing arguments in the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Monday, Feb. 3, 2020. (Senate Television via AP)

The Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump is winding down, while the 2020 presidential campaign is firing up with the Iowa caucuses Monday night.

Trump is the first U.S. president to face an impeachment trial while running for reelection and that was abundantly clear as closing arguments were presented Monday to the U.S. Senate.

As they have throughout the trial, members of the White House legal team stressed that this is a year when Americans are going to the polls.

“This is an effort to overturn the results of one election and to try to interfere in the coming election that begins today in Iowa,” said White House counsel Pat Cipollone.

In this image from video, White House counsel Pat Cipollone speaks during closing arguments in the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Monday, Feb. 3, 2020. (Senate Television via AP)

White House lawyers also played a video that included quotes from various Democrats calling for impeachment well before the House impeachment inquiry into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine began.

Cipollone said he felt senators would “put their faith in the American people.”

“You will leave this choice to them, where it belongs,” he said. “We believe that they should choose the president.”

But lead House manager Adam Schiff, D-Calif., took issue with the argument that the president can’t be impeached because an election is on the way.

“‘He’s guilty as sin, but can’t we just let the voters decide?'” Schiff said, referring to the argument from the president’s attorneys. “‘He’s guilty as sin, but why not let voters clean up this mess?'”

Schiff urged senators to convict the president of the two articles of impeachment — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — arguing that the president has shown he’ll reach out to foreign governments again.

“You can’t trust this president to do the right thing. Not for one minute, not for one election, not for the sake of our country,” Schiff said. “You just can’t.”

The issue of this year’s presidential election has hung over the impeachment proceedings. Many Republicans, along with Trump, wanted the vote on the articles of impeachment to take place last Friday night, so the president would be acquitted before the State of the Union address Tuesday.

A few Republican senators have now acknowledged that what the president did was wrong, ahead of the final vote on the articles this week. But they say it does not rise to the level of forcing him from office.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said on NBC’s “Meet The Press” that he felt what the president did was “inappropriate” but not an impeachable offense. He also said the president shouldn’t be prevented from running for reelection this year.

Alexander was a key GOP vote against allowing witnesses in the trial.

Other Republicans, as well as the White House defense team, steadfastly defended the president and accused Democrats of carrying out a partisan impeachment process.

But Trump’s lawyers throughout the trial, for the most part, didn’t challenge the essential charge of House managers: that Trump withheld aid to Ukraine and that he sought investigations that included former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who once worked for a Ukrainian company.

The lawyers argued it was part of a policy debate within the administration, and that Trump was concerned about corruption and burden sharing related to aid for Ukraine. The assertion was flatly rejected by House managers, who repeatedly asked why no one seemed to know exactly why the money was withheld over a period of several months last year.

“The facts about the president’s misconduct are not seriously in dispute,” said House manager Val Demings, D-Fla. “As several Republican senators have acknowledged publicly, we have proved the president abused his power in precisely the manner charged.”

But with the trial bumping up against the Iowa caucuses and the intensifying presidential campaign, the Senate will soon move on. Senators will vote Wednesday on the two articles of impeachment.

And though Republicans and Democrats sharply disagree over many aspects of the impeachment inquiry, as well as the evidence presented in the trial over the past two weeks, they do agree on one major point.

Trump, only the third sitting president to be impeached, will not be the first president ever forced from office. Lawmakers from both sides expect him to be acquitted, since 67 votes would be needed for his conviction.

Mitchell Miller

Mitchell Miller has worked at WTOP since 1996, as a producer, editor, reporter and Senior News Director. After working "behind the scenes," coordinating coverage and reporter coverage for years, Mitchell moved back to his first love -- reporting. He is now WTOP's Capitol Hill reporter.

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