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Assessing the strength of the legal arguments made against Trump

President Trump's defense team will make their argument Friday in his impeachment trial. Elizabeth Chryst, the Republican Senate secretary during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial, and Melody Barnes, of the University of Virginia's Democracy Initiative, helped broker that trial's rules as chief counsel to Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy. They join Judy Woodruff to discuss Trump’s trial.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And joining me again tonight are two experts on the Senate. They are Elizabeth Chryst. She's a 26-year veteran of the Upper Chamber, serving — having served as a Republican Senate secretary during the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton. And Melody Barnes of the University of Virginia's Democracy Initiative, Miller Center and Law School, she was chief counsel to the late Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy, when she helped broker the rules for President Clinton's impeachment trial.

    Welcome again to both of you. Very good to have you with us.

    Melody Barnes, to you first.

    How do you assess the — overall, the strength of the case made by the impeachment managers and, in particular, this focus on — not just on punishing former President Trump, but on making sure that this doesn't happen again?

  • Melody Barnes:

    Well, first of all, it's great to be with you, Judy, and to be with Elizabeth again.

    I think it was another very strong day for the House managers. They felt like that a student that was extremely well-prepared and wanted to get everything in the report that they shared with the teacher and shared with the class.

    But I think it's because they believe that they have a real uphill battle to persuade the number of Republicans and make sure the Democrats feel that they have the evidence that they need to convict the former president.

    I also think that they played to the senators' sense that they are the upper body — you just referred to the Upper Chamber — that they — at least in the past, there was a sense of a club, for better or for worse, and the sense of what happened to their staff, what happened to the Capitol Police, what happened to the Capitol itself.

    I think they wanted to wrap all of those things together, and then to point the senators toward the future. This isn't just about punishment. This is about prevention. This is about the Constitution. I think about Raskin's wrap-up of when he told them to think about what this meant for democracy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Elizabeth Chryst, how would you size up the presentation by the impeachment managers?

  • Elizabeth Chryst:

    Well, I think they made a strong case about Senate jurisdiction, but I think they were weak on the president being responsible for January 6, and they were also weak on him violating his oath of office.

    And let me say this, Judy. I think there were way too many references to Trump's mob or to Trump's armed insurrectionists. It made it feel like to me it was a political exercise, maybe to shore up what might be a rocky 2022 midterm election. Those midterm elections are usually pretty brutal when it comes to the president's party, averaging sometimes as many as 30 losses.

    So, I sort of fell like it might be a little bit like that.

    I would agree with Melody, though. Maybe we could figure out a way for this not to happen again. Maybe the president's lawyers could mention that there should be a blue-ribbon panel, a commission that could study what security — how did this happen? How did the security fall down, should — what to do to make sure this doesn't happen in the future.

    And I really hope the president's lawyers condemn the violence as strong as possible. And I am expecting them to bring up other member — members of Congress' words that are also inflammatory. That wouldn't surprise me at all. And it wouldn't surprise may if there were Democratic members.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Melody Barnes, is there something to Elizabeth's point that maybe this was too political, that they tried to call it Trump's mob too many times?

    And in connection with that, how good a job did they do of anticipating what the pushback, the defense is going to be tomorrow?

  • Melody Barnes:

    Well, a couple of things.

    I believe that the references to Trump's mob were in part because they were starting to lay the groundwork to create an unfriendly environment for the argument that former President Trump's lawyers plan to make tomorrow, and connecting the dots between everything that has happened and the fact that to a — person after person, individuals who have now been arrested, the arguments that their lawyers are making to defend them that indicate that they were there because the former president called them to be there.

    And I don't think that you can look at the tape, look at that security footage from yesterday, and not refer to this as a mob or as a riot or as an insurrection.

    But, in addition to that, I think that they were making the arguments that they knew were going to be raised tomorrow, both about the First Amendment issues that have been addressed by the best of the legal community from the left and from the right, as well as this incitement argument, and working their way through the elements, and connecting that to the words that — and to the tapes and to the information that we have all now seen over the last two days.

    And to make sure that people understand that not only are the — are we looking at the facts, not only is this a horrible thing, but this also meets the element of incitement that they want to prove, based on the article of impeachment that was brought before the Senate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Elizabeth Chryst, I would like for you to comment on any of that.

    But I'm also curious to know. You are a Republican. You have worked for Republicans in the Senate. Do you think what we have heard and seen over the last two days does damage to former President Trump?

  • Elizabeth Chryst:

    There is no doubt it would — this will damage him some. There is no doubt about that.

    There are going to be people all throughout history that are going to say that this was something that he caused, or he certainly could have foreseen it, stopped it, slowed it down, all of those things.

    Will it drive a wedge between some Republican senators seeking reelection and their base or some of their voters? There will probably be issues after they have their vote, after they conduct their vote on whether this — to be guilty or not. But this will cause issues with them.

    But, again, I think the connecting of the dots by the House leadership, the House managers was a little over the top. And, again, I mentioned this many times. Members of Congress are so worried about social media posts or a picture or anything like that going viral and really harming them.

    And I think, in a lot of cases, they can take a lot of what happened as far as some of the video that was shown and then some of the posts and some of the awful language and all of that, that was set all during it in the video that was shown to be more of this, oh, this is this viral stuff.

    So, I think it hits home with them. It was certainly very, very emotional, but, overall, I think that tomorrow will be a better day for the president, hopefully. And if all is right, they will wrap up in one day, and we will have some kind of vote Saturday afternoon or Saturday evening.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we are so glad to have the two of you watching along with us.

    Elizabeth Chryst, Melody Barnes, we thank you both very much.

  • Melody Barnes:

    Great. Thank you.

  • Elizabeth Chryst:

    Thank you.

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