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 third day of the historic proceedings is Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor from the Southern District of New York.
WASHINGTON (CN) – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appears to have consciously selected a team of lawyers — and one former law enforcement officer — to make the case for President Donald Trump’s removal from office.
According to Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor from the Southern District of New York, it shows.
In this daily feature of expert analysis on Trump’s impeachment trial, Honig dishes on how the presentations by the House managers reminded him of his days learning how to prosecute cases for the famed “Sovereign District.” He also contrasts the diverging styles between the Democrat House managers and the White House legal team, which is set to launch their opening arguments on Saturday afternoon.
What has jumped out to you about how the impeachment managers are presenting the case today?
“It’s bringing me to my SDNY days. A lot of what you are seeing is textbook AUSA [Assistant U.S. Attorney], federal prosecuting training being put into play. And I know of course that Adam Schiff came up as a federal prosecutor. But I think a lot of the precepts that you’re taught, we’re seeing on display here and why they’re so effective.
“I think the presentations have been extraordinarily clear. I think they have done an excellent job of weaving in different pieces of evidence, including audio/visual. I think they have done a good job of signposting, as we say, meaning ‘Okay, now we will discuss this issue,’ breaking the issues into discrete pieces. And of maintaining credibility, of not resorting to hyperbole and hysteria, and not getting anything wrong, in contrast to, for example, Cipollone. [Editor’s note: Cipollone falsely claimed that Republicans did not have access to the closed hearings in the Capitol basement.] So to me, it almost reminds me of when you would go watch your colleagues at the prosecutor’s office give a jury address.”
In terms of the contrast of the two teams – the White House hasn’t come up yet – do you think selecting House managers who are lawyers was a conscious choice and how is it showing in the respective presentations of the two sides?
“Well I think each side made a conscious choice and I think the choices sort of reflect the positions. The Democrats position is just the facts, straightforward, and I think we will see a very different presentation from Trump’s lawyers, based on what we saw on the procedural argument day, I guess that was Tuesday, and based on the history of those individuals who represent Trump.
“I mean, look, Trump’s team is certainly not a lightweight team by any stretch of the imagination. I mean, they have long, impressive credentials. But the style is very different. It’s much more of a group of flamethrowers, it’s much more of a controversial group, an outspoken group. And I think they have already shown that a lot of their defense is going to be based on just anger, and maybe righteous indignation, and perhaps a bit of distortion and sleight of hand as we saw the other day. So I think, yeah, that you will see a real contrast in styles.”
Before this all began, Democrats sent a letter basically telling Cipollone he has a conflict of interest and might be a material witness. Another lawyer on Trump’s team, Jay Sekulow, was seen in the Lev Parnas trove. Do you think that the fact that they have turned up in the House’s evidence may be an issue?
“Well, they are not going to recuse. Like in a normal case, you probably would have to recuse or at least the judge would hear the parties out and then order one side to recuse or not. But it’s important that people understand that there is a lot of things happening here that would never happen, or if they did happen would be met with severe consequences, in a criminal case. But on the other hand, we call this a trial, but it’s not a criminal trial. The Constitution gives the Senate sole power, and sole power means sole power.
“So if this was a normal criminal case, given the potential conflicts, the prosecution, here the House managers, would have to explain to the judge where the conflict sits and why this requires disqualification and then the judge would rule thumbs up or thumbs down. Here, I doubt we will have a formal motion or a formal ruling from the chief justice, although the Democrat House managers could seek one. But I think it’s more to put out there in the environment that some of these lawyers are not coming at this as purely detached advocates.
“Cipollone, I think it’s clear how he plays into the story. Several of the witnesses in the House talked about they were instructed to, and did on their own, report things up the chain to Eisenberg. And I think one of the witnesses said that Eisenberg said he had spoken to Cipollone. So Cipollone is probably a fact witness on the question of what did the lawyers do with all this when these complaints started making their way up the chain to him. So I think the House managers there are sort of sending a message, ‘We know what’s happening here,’ and I think they’re sending a message to the public, understand that these lawyers might have some conflict of interest.”