WASHINGTON (CN) - In an instantly iconic coda to a third grueling day of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, the lead House impeachment manager Adam Schiff ended Thursday night with a passionate monologue, not reviewing the details of the scandal in Ukraine, or parsing legal arguments, but appealing to senators’ basic sense of right and wrong.
“If right doesn’t matter,” Schiff said, then paused, “if right doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter how good the Constitution is.”
“It doesn’t matter how brilliant the framers were,” he continued. “It doesn’t matter how good or bad our advocacy in this trial is. It doesn’t matter how well written the oath of impartiality is. If right doesn’t matter, we’re lost.”
Schiff adopted the rhetorical device at the heart of his closing speech from Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who testifying to the House Intelligence Committee contrasted the Soviet tyranny that his family escaped with U.S. democracy by saying: “Here, right matters.”
Narrating the decorated veteran’s story, Schiff repeated the phrase time and again as a steady and persistent refrain while making the case for removing Trump from office.
In an impeachment awash in references to the wisdom of the framers and the highest ideals of democratic government, Schiff dispensed with historical invocation, calling them secondary to that underlying moral compass.
“No constitution can protect us if right doesn't matter anymore,” Schiff warned late Thursday night. “And you know you can't trust this president to do what's right for this country. You can trust he will do what's right for Donald Trump.”
Instantly capturing headlines across the country, #RightMatters became the top trending hashtag on social media at a time that senators and the public had grown fatigued by impeachment proceedings that stretched into a series of late nights this week.
Unfazed by the marathon proceedings that left many senators folded over in their wooden desks, Schiff took the podium in the well of the Senate for the final 30 minutes of Thursday’s nine-plus hours of argument, cautioning senators that the conduct House Democrats have pinned on Trump is not just wrong, but fundamentally dangerous.
Reminding the weary senators that Trump took Rudy Guiliani’s advice on Ukraine over intelligence from top advisors, Schiff ran through a list of senior level officials Trump ignored, including FBI Director Christopher Wray.
“Why would anyone in their right mind believe Rudy Guiliani over Christopher Wray?” Schiff questioned. “Because he wanted to and because what Rudy was offering him was something that would help him personally. And what Christopher Wray was offering him was merely the truth.”
The seven House Democrats acting as prosecutors during Trump’s impeachment trial spent nearly nine hours Wednesday laying out a careful timeline of events as they tried to prove Trump leveraged a coveted White House meeting and a nearly $400 million military aid package in exchange for Ukraine announcing investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden’s son and a discredited theory about the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
From this material, Representative Jerry Nadler gave senators a lesson in what he called the “ABC’s of high crimes and misdemeanors,” spelling out the mnemonic device as abuse, betrayal and corruption.
The expanded version that Nadler displayed on a slide, helpfully underlined at the initials, read: “Abuse of Power,” “Betrayal of the Nation, Particularly Through Foreign Entanglements” and “Corruption, Particularly Corruption of Elections.”