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Many questions remain regarding how the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump will be conducted. Among the points of contention is whether or not witnesses should be called. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., joins Lisa Desjardins to discuss why he believes “you can’t have a trial without witnesses and evidence” and how it’s “no surprise” that most Americans are not following impeachment closely.
And now for a perspective from the Democratic leadership team, I'm joined by Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic whip. That's the number two Democrat in the Senate.
Thank you, Senator, for joining us.
As you just heard, I asked Senator Barrasso, why not plan on calling witnesses now?
I want to ask you the reverse question. Why should you plan on that now? Why not wait to see what happens in opening arguments?
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.:
I respect John Barrasso. And I have to tell you, I respect the — have to give a healthy respect and say that I disagree with him when it comes to witnesses.
He said at one point, if they wanted to call the witnesses, they could have called him in the House. No, John, the second count of the impeachment is the refusal of the president to cooperate when it came to discovery of witnesses and documents in the House of Representatives.
So there was no opportunity to call Mick Mulvaney, the president's chief of staff, by the House members who put together the articles of impeachment.
Why do I think witnesses would be appropriate? Because I spent most of my life before Congress as a trial lawyer. You can't have a trial without witnesses and evidence. You can have a cover-up without witnesses, but you can't have a trial.
And I don't think we ought to rule out the possibility that witnesses will get us closer to the truth, whatever that may be.
Are Democrats open to the idea of allowing Republicans to call a witness who they could choose, in exchange for you being able to call a witness you could choose?
Sen. Richard Durbin:
Here's how I think it will evolve.
I think if four or more Republican senators say, we want this to be a respectable undertaking under our Constitution, and witnesses should be allowed, at that point, Senator McConnell will understand that witnesses are going to be part of the proceeding.
I would assume at that point he would sit down with Senator Schumer and others and work out an agreement about the witness list.
That, to me, is pretty close to where we have been in the past, and it's where we're likely to be in the future.
You voted to acquit President Clinton in 1999.
What do you think the standards should be for removing a president? And, at this point, do you think that this president has met that standard?
Well, I can tell you that what Senator Barrasso said and other Republicans, that there's no law that's been broken, I could question that on its face.
But, really, that's not the standard under the Constitution at all. It's high crimes and misdemeanors. And it isn't defined. It isn't a question of felonies or criminal law. At the time that they wrote the Constitution, there wasn't even a criminal justice code in the United States.
So, they put a generic term, high crimes and misdemeanors,when it comes to deciding whether a president should be impeached. It doesn't have to be the commission of an actual federal crime or anything like it. It's whether or not the conduct of the president stepped beyond what we consider to be a respectable territory for a president to operate as leader of our nation.
And did this president's conduct stepped beyond — step beyond that?
Well, it certainly raised the question.
If you're going to take Congress and appropriate hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine to fight off Vladimir Putin and the Russians, and a president of the United States decides to withhold hundreds of millions to that country that's struggling to survive, and says that he will release it if that country will do an investigation of not just corruption, but corruption of his own potential presidential opponent in the future, that raises a serious question as to whether this president is going to be held accountable under the rule of law.
Congress is obviously divided over this president, but so is the American people, as we reported, split over the question of whether he should be removed or not.
The evidence from the House has not persuaded a majority of Americans that this president should be removed. Why do you believe that is?
Because the majority of Americans are not tuned into this conversation at all.
When we ask the pollsters, how do you account for these numbers, they say most Americans are too busy, concerned about other things. And think of everything that intervenes, aside from the daily requirements of life or family and job.
These folks have been putting up with news flashes on a momentary basis about attacks, Iran coming after the United States, about the elimination of General Soleimani.
So, to think that they're not following this day to day as closely as members of Congress is no surprise.
Well, we know our viewers are following it very closely.
And we appreciate you joining us, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois.
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