Impeachment Trial Analysis, Day 2: Former Obama Official on Opening Arguments

As President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial unfolds, Courthouse News will be reaching out at the close of each day to prominent attorneys, scholars and other experts in the legal community for analysis on the historic proceedings. Joining us for the first day of opening arguments is Sam Berger, a former Obama White House official who now works as vice president of democracy and government reform at the Center for American Progress.

For analysis of yesterday’s proceedings from former federal prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers, click here.

WASHINGTON (CN) — After a marathon debate over the ground rules for how the trial should play out, House managers on Wednesday had their first chance to present their case to the Senate with opening arguments in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial.

Sam Berger, the vice president of democracy and government reform at the Center for American Progress, said the day has given House Democrats the chance to lay out their case in an uninterrupted fashion they have not been able to before.

“This is something that they’ve had opportunities to do at times in various formats, whether it be reports that were produced, presentations that were given in the House Judiciary Committee, but this was the first time where you got to see the House lay out its case step by step by step,” Berger said. “And I think it’s a very convincing one for people that were approaching this with an open mind with an interest in trying to determine what their constitutional duties require.”

House manager Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., speaks during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on Wednesday. (Senate Television via AP)

Below are Berger’s other takeaways from the day, including his assessment of how the House managers handled their new day jobs.

Q: What do you think the most important development from today’s proceedings has been?

A : I think the most important thing from today is just a reiteration of how extensive the evidence is against the president of the United States. We’ve spent a lot of time, and rightly so, focusing on whether or not the trial itself will be fair. Whether or not the Senate will acquiesce or in some ways assist the president in his obstruction of Congress, in his effort to hide information and witnesses. But what today reminded us of is even with all of his efforts to cover this up, the House was able to find an incredible amount of information. Not just in amount, but extremely damning information. Witness testimony, documents and the like, that all point in the same direction — that the president was engaged in a bribery scheme to force a foreign power to interfere in our elections for his benefit. It’s pretty shocking stuff and some of that has gotten lost in the back and forth, but I think today’ really brought that out again.

Sam Berger, vice president of democracy and government reform at the Center for American Progress. (Photo courtesy of the Center for American Progress)

Q: What do you think the impact of seeing [House Democrats’ arguments] like that in an unbroken stream is?

A: Well I think it really drives home the coherence of the story. One of the really surprising things is time and time and time again witnesses and documents are all saying the same thing, pointing in the same direction. Basically, when you look at the two sides and this is really not so much from today but from yesterday, it boils down to every bit of evidence and every single witness that testified, versus Trump after he knew that they were closing in on him telling two people, “oh I didn’t do it.” That sort of sounds almost comical to say, but that’s pretty much what the White House’s defense is, “look, Trump says he didn’t do it, so we should just ignore everything else.”

Q: Last night, like you mentioned, we went until 2 in the morning and we’re back this morning or this afternoon with a pretty long presentation. Do you think that was wise to do? What do you think the impacts of that could be?

A: I think it was important to put people on the record as to whether or not they were going to allow witnesses and evidence at the start of the trial. There’s a lot of talk about following the Clinton precedent. But of course the Clinton precedent dealt with when you were going to rehear from witnesses that had already testified, or already provided information. That’s not to say that there isn’t good reason that the Senate would want to hear from witnesses and in fact every impeachment trial has had witnesses, but it’s quite different to basically rehear from folks after you’ve already heard a presentation that includes their information than it is to go through the entire trial before you get witnesses and before you get documents. So even if senators ultimately decide to vote in favor of providing this information, the fact that they didn’t do so at the beginning is going to have a real impact. And so I think it was of critical importance to make everyone be very clear about whether they were standing up for the American people and for a fair trial or whether they were covering up for Trump.

Q: How would you grade the House managers’ presentation?

A: I’m not a litigator myself, so I would hesitate to judge anyone stepping up in that situation, but I think that I agree with the vast majority of commentators who said that they’ve done a fantastic job. I guess a thing that I can add to this statement is that the job that they’ve done of discerning the truth, of building a compelling, coherent and most importantly accurate case, is supported by the fact that all of the information that’s come out since, whether it be emails that have been provided pursuant to FOIA lawsuits, information that was provided to reporters, the GAO determination about the illegality of the hold, all of it is in line with the initial case that they set out, which I think is a testament to the fantastic work that the House did from top to bottom in pursuing this impeachment investigation, in writing up their reports, in collecting that information and putting it into a coherent narrative. So I think we’ve seen that reflected every step of the way and that continued over the last two days of the Senate trial.

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