Almost all the major players on Capitol Hill have lamented that these are dangerous times in Washington. But if you want to know why — it depends who you ask.
President Donald Trump’s lawyers gave their reasons on Tuesday, as they wrapped up their presentations on the Senate floor. Led by Jay Sekulow, a personal attorney to the President, they hammered home the point that Trump’s impeachment sets a dangerous precedent.
“You’ve now heard from legal scholars from a variety of schools of thought, from a variety of political backgrounds, but they do have a common theme with a dire warning — danger, danger, danger,” Sekulow said, using a phrase that he repeated several times on the Senate floor.
“These articles must be rejected,” Sekulow later said. “The Constitution requires it. Justice demands it.”
His argument, in a nutshell, paints Trump as the victim of a long-running Democratic plot to undermine his presidency and ultimately undo his election victory. Sekulow pointed to the Russia investigation, which began before Trump won in 2016, and touted a laundry list of legitimate gripes about the probe, blended with allegations that touched on conspiracy theories.
If senators rewarded Democrats by convicting Trump, Sekulow claimed, they’d tarnish the nation’s democracy forever. He also relied on legal arguments that are rejected by most scholars, that Trump can’t be removed from office because he hasn’t been accused of any crimes.
This was the exact opposite of what senators heard form House Democrats last week.
Led by Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, the House impeachment managers pleaded with their colleagues to consider the ramifications of allowing a president to use his official powers to secure political favors from foreign governments — the centerpiece of the abuse-of-power case against Trump.
Trump’s actions “endangered out elections and it sent our country on a dangerous path that if left unchecked will cause irrevocable damage to the balance of power contemplated in our Constitution,” Schiff said last week. “If someone sacrifices the national interest in favor of his own and is not removed from office our democracy is in jeopardy. It’s just that simple.”
As they argued during the House impeachment inquiry, Democrats said they didn’t relish the opportunity to potentially remove him from office, but instead considered it a patriotic necessity.
“He is who he is, that will not change,” Schiff said. “And nor will the danger associated with him.”
Both sides encouraged senators to put themselves in someone else’s shoes, urging them to step away from their own political leanings and consider an alternate view — if just for a moment.
Schiff wanted senators to consider how former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch felt when Trump publicly smeared her reputation and ended her coveted diplomatic career in Kiev.
Sekulow told senators to imagine how suspicious they’d be of US law enforcement if they, like Trump, learned early on in their presidency that the FBI was investigating their campaign.
Many senators say they’re keeping an open mind while the trial is ongoing. It’s not clear how many of them are leaning into the rhetoric and actually considering the views of both sides. Only Democrats voted to impeach Trump in the House, and only Republicans voted to approve the trial rules in the Senate. (Both votes were bipartisan in President Bill Clinton’s impeachment.)
For their part, the framers of the US Constitution also warned of some dangers — of unyielding partisans who put factions over their country. They might not like what they’re seeing today.