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Senate and legal experts analyze the prosecution in Trump’s impeachment trial

On Wednesday, House impeachment managers began making their case for the removal of President Trump. Georgetown University’s Victoria Nourse, John Hart of Mars Hill Strategies, former Democratic Secretary of the Senate Martin Paone of Prime Policy Group and former Republican Secretary of the Senate Elizabeth Chryst of Congressional Global Strategies join Judy Woodruff to discuss the arguments.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And joining me now here in the studio, our analysts who have been with us for live coverage of this Senate trial all day.

    They are Marty Paone. He was the Democratic Senate secretary for 13 years, including during President Clinton's impeachment trial. Elizabeth Chryst, she was the Republican Senate secretary during that Clinton trial. Victoria Nourse was special counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee in the early '90s. And John Hart, he worked for Congressman Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, also during the Clinton impeachment.

    Hello again to all of you.

    And I want to pick up on something that we just heard, Marty Paone, we just heard from former Congressman Barr.

    And that is that, while he may disagree with the argument that the managers are making, he thinks they are being effective in the way they are framing the case. How do you see that?

  • Martin Paone:

    I agree with him.

    I think, so far, what we have seen, they have done a very good job of weaving in their opinion of the founding — their recitation of the Federalist Papers, quoting Hamilton, Madison, Franklin, the founding fathers.

    And they weaved that in with the evidence they had from the witnesses that they already got to testify in the recitation of the charges. And I think he's on point there.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Elizabeth Chryst, what about that? How do you see the structure, the approach that the Democrats are taking?

  • Elizabeth Chryst:

    They seem to be very methodical. It is a difficult role. They seem to be very methodical, and I agree with former Congressman Barr, where they are being successful in introducing new names or a little bit of new information.

    And that could spark somebody's interest, especially these senators that maybe haven't heard it or want to hear more. And that begs the question, could they possibly vote for evidence or witnesses down the road?

    I think that they keep weaving in sort of rehashing of Mueller. I think that might lose some of the members. They tended to do that sort of later in the day, so that didn't seem to be the smartest move, as far as I was concerned.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We heard — and we — I didn't mean to interrupt you.

    But we heard Lisa Desjardins mentioning, as much as you can tell from somebody's face or demeanor…

  • Elizabeth Chryst:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … that didn't seem to be engendering a lot of interest.

  • Elizabeth Chryst:

    She didn't say they weren't rolling eyes, but you sort of get the impression, if they knew they weren't being looked at, they might do a little eye-roll or something like that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes.

    As someone who knows the Constitution, teaches constitutional law, Victoria Nourse, I mean, it is a challenging job that these managers have. They have been given 24 hours over the course of three days.

    And, as we said, the senators are a captive audience. They have got to sit there and listen. Some of them are taking notes. Is it — do you get the sense of a case that's being an effective case being built?

  • Victoria Nourse:

    I think I was very impressed with the seriousness and methodical nature of the argument.

    You know, we heard the chief justice admonishing folks late in the evening. But, today, we saw some — the demeanor was very much like in a trial, where a trial lawyer would present a case.

    Mr. Schiff presented the overall case, and then individual managers thereafter.

    As far as the law, we're going to see more legal arguments about the Constitution coming up quick, because Mr. Barr suggested that you need a crime. Many of my colleagues in the academy would say, you don't need a crime and that a crime against an election would suffice.

    So, that — more of that will be coming up.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That it's something unique that a president is able to do something unique, and he should be judged on that basis, rather than what's in the criminal code.

  • Victoria Nourse:

    Right, because that's a low bar. You certainly don't want your president to violate the criminal law, and that there are crimes against the public trust and against democracy that should be the subject of impeachment.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I want to come back to — John Hart, to this question. We were talking about this earlier today.

    But in terms of how the American people, who are paying attention — I mean, it's the senators who the Democrats need to persuade, but in terms of people watching, and to the extent anybody pays attention to public opinion, is this — are these arguments that you think are capturing people's attention, imagination, or what?

    How do you…

  • John Hart:

    Well, I think some of them that are happening off the Senate floor are.

    And so, Judy, we have to remember that we're starting from a point where they're 20 votes short of changing the outcome. So, the early test votes…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    They need 67.

  • John Hart:

    They need 67 votes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • John Hart:

    The votes yesterday, there were 11 — 47 votes would support impeachment right now, if you follow the logic of the previous votes.

    So, what that says is, the public has to be very animated, and they have to have a major sea change to see the outcome change.

    Lindsey Graham did an effective job, I think, articulating what the principle is on the Republican side, which is, the consent of the governed is the foundational constitutional principle at stake here, is that the bar for impeachment of a high crime and misdemeanor has to be so high that it has to nullify the consent of the governed who elected Donald Trump president and who want him to be on the ballot coming up in just a few months now.

    And so I think it's a very, very steep mountain. And I don't think the public has been stirred sufficiently by what we have seen so far. I think the presentations have been effective. And I think the constitutional arguments are very, very important that they will flesh out, but I don't see a game-changer yet.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes, the public opinion polls show a division of the American people. It's gone up and down a little bit.

    Marty Paone, as you listen to this, is there something in the Democratic argument that you're familiar with that you believe they should be stressing more or less? How do you — when you have got this much time and you have the captive audience we talked about, what more can — to build the case they need to build?

  • Martin Paone:

    I think, one, it would be interesting to see if somebody touches on the timing of when the whistle-blower report or the whistle-blower information was conveyed to the White House, and how that lined up with when they finally did release the aid.

    And, you know, was it being released because, OK, it was time to release it, or was it being released because you knew that this information was going to come out?

    And I haven't heard any of the Democratic House managers tie that up, but it's early. This is only the first day.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You heard some reference today of that from Adam Schiff. But you're right. I think they're going into more detail about the exact timeline.

    Elizabeth Chryst, what about that, in terms of what else the managers need to do here?

  • Elizabeth Chryst:

    I think maybe introduce new players a little bit, like Mr. Parnas. That would be new to the — probably the average…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    This is a Giuliani associate.

  • Elizabeth Chryst:

    Correct, that the average TV watcher would — I wonder who that gentlemen is and wonder how he plays into it, and that kind of thing.

    That might be something we see in the next — of course, we have got two more days of this.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Elizabeth Chryst:

    So that might be something we see in the next couple of days.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We have the hours tonight. They're supposed to go up to eight hours tonight.

    And, in fact, Victoria Nourse, they don't have to go the full 24 hours.

  • Victoria Nourse:

    That's true.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    They are given up to 24 over — spread out over three days. They may decide it works against them to be going on and on and on.

  • Victoria Nourse:

    I agree.

    We have already had a trial before the trial, and all of the objections and the motions to go after other evidence. We had the preview of a trial, and now we're having a repetition of the trial. So, at some point, they're going to get very tired of hearing the same things over and over again.

    And they may decide it's not worth it to do that. There is always a point at which senators really are starting — as your correspondent said, they're starting to mill out, and they're getting tired.

    And there's always a point in an impeachment — Andrew Johnson, they got tired of the trial there, too — that they will get tired and want things to come to a close.

    And then going over and over again your case can actually annoy people.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes.

    And just finally, John Hart, when you — I mean, we are covering this trial, you know, in minute detail, but we're also hearing from the senators on the outside. We're hearing from the president, who is slamming, you know, everything about the trial because he thinks it's the wrong thing to do.

    Are we — you know, how do we — I just — I basically want to ask you, how does the media make sure that we get it right as we cover this?

  • John Hart:

    Well, I think humility. I think humility on all sides. I think asking the other side what they really think, what is at stake here.

    And I think, you know, it's important — again, going back to what Lindsey Graham said, is that what's at stake is the — do the American people have the right to elect a president?

    And in order to overcome that bar, you have got to prove something very, very heinous. It has to be a high crime and misdemeanor, something very serious, and not just a bad motive with his call with the Ukrainian.

    And the reality is, Republicans wouldn't say this call was perfect, if you did a private poll, but they wouldn't say it's impeachable. There's not nearly the support needed to do that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, of course, Democrats feel very strongly in the other direction. They're saying to ask a foreign leader to provide assistance in getting a president reelected is a pretty egregious — that's the case. That's the nub of the case.

    All right, day — it's only day two, and we have got more to go. We're going to be together again this evening for several hours of live coverage and analysis.

    And you can join our ongoing coverage of the Senate trial for the remainder of the evening. Check your local listings for that, and online on our Web site or on YouTube, and again tomorrow, Thursday, when the trial resumes at 1:00 Eastern p.m.

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