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.”
Like grade school kids, Senate jurors must pay close attention to their teacher. Each day of the impeachment trial begins with the Senate’s sergeant at arms warning senators that failure to sit quietly and stay in the room would meet with a fate worse than detention: imprisonment.
Continuing his lesson on high crimes and misdemeanors, Nadler instructed: “A president who abuses his power in order to kneecap political opponents and spread Russian conspiracy theories, a president who uses his office to ask for, or even worse, to compel foreign nations to meddle in our elections is a president who attacks the very foundation of our liberty.
“That is a grave abuse of power,” the New York Democrat continued. “It is an unprecedented betrayal of the national interest. It is a shocking corruption of the election process. And it is without doubt a crime against the Constitution warranting — demanding — removal from office.”
Nadler called the argument by Trump’s defense team that abuse of power is not an impeachable offense “self-serving constitutional nonsense.”
Driving home his point, Nadler rolled tape of prominent Trump defenders — including South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, Attorney General William Barr and Trump legal team member Alan Dershowitz — saying an action does not have to be a crime to be impeachable.
Graham had left the chamber by the time Nadler played video of the South Carolina Republican’s comments, which came from his time as a manager in President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial.
House managers argued the investigations of Ukraine demanded by Trump aimed to advance the president’s own political prospects, not the national interest.
“The president wasn’t pushing Kremlin talking points just to do Vladimir Putin a favor,” Representative Adam Schiff said. “He was doing it because it helped him — because it helped him. Because it could get these talking points for him in his reelection campaign. And for that, he would sacrifice our ally and our own security.”
Democrats have noted that this point is underscored by Trump’s choice of messenger, his personal legal maven Rudy Giuliani. Witnesses testified that the Trump administration conditioned the aid and meeting on the announcement of the investigations, not their completion.
Representative Sylvia Garcia, another of the seven impeachment managers, pointed to Trump’s motive by emphasizing that the president did not express interest in the investigations until polling showed Biden was his biggest threat in the 2020 election.
Continuing to make liberal use of visual aids, impeachment managers played snippets of public hearings held by the House Intelligence and House Judiciary committees at the end of 2019.
The back-to-back long days have clearly worn on senators, with some rubbing their eyes, moving around the chamber and chatting during the managers’ arguments, becoming increasingly bold in testing the Senate rules for decorum during the trial. Some senators, including newly sworn-in Georgia Senator Kelly Loeffler, had fidget spinners.
The Hill reported North Carolina Senator Richard Burr handed out the fidget spinners, stress balls and other similar gadgets at the Republican lunch earlier in the day.
The House team is tasked with persuading Republican senators, who largely panned the presentation as repetitive and unconvincing. Democrats meanwhile have offered rave reviews to the politicians-turned-litigators, some of whom were litigators-turned-politicians.
Pushing back on Republicans’ criticism of the House case as repetitive, Senator Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, noted Republicans passed up the chance earlier in the week to enliven the trial.
“One of the things that I noticed is that the Republicans have said that we’re being repetitive,” Hirono told reporters. “Well, you know what, they spent all of Tuesday fighting back all of our efforts to present new evidence and new documents. They’re being totally hypocritical to say that we haven’t produced any new stuff.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters Thursday morning he thought it was interesting that Republicans who voted against bringing new witnesses into the trial earlier in the week claimed they hadn’t heard anything new in the manager’s opening presentation. If four Republicans buck their party and join Democrats in demanding the Senate call witnesses who did not appear in the House, they would have their fresh evidence, he said.
But Schumer was not sure Democrats would be successful in winning over those four colleagues, given Republicans have generally avoided even voicing an opinion on whether the president’s conduct was wrong.
“Am I certain that we’ll get those four Republicans?” Schumer asked. “Absolutely not. Am I certain we won’t absolutely get those four Republicans? Certainly not. When you have truth on your side, when you have facts on your side, you often win because that’s the way, I believe, God made the world and that’s the way our republic is structured.”
Speaking to reporters in the Capitol, Trump attorney Jay Sekulow said the amount of time House managers devoted Thursday to explaining why the investigation into the Bidens was baseless might make the topic a focus of the defense case.
“It’s been a lot about Joe Biden and Burisma,” Sekulow said. “They kind of opened the door for that response. So we’ll determine as a defense team the appropriate way to do that.”
Senator Lindsey Graham, a close ally of Trump, said Thursday that Trump’s attorneys would be wise to keep their arguments “relatively short” and poke for the weak points in the managers’ case.
“I think they’ve done a good job, particularly yesterday of painting, as I said, a tapestry,” Graham told reporters. “Taking a series of events and telling a story. So what the defense attorneys do, they start pulling on the threads.”
Graham, a solid Trump loyalist, shared that surprising and uncharacteristic praise for Schiff long before the California Democrat’s well-reviewed closing address labeled Trump a national security threat and called for his removal from office.