Jan. 24 (UPI) — The third day of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate began Thursday with Democratic manager Rep. Jerrold Nadler arguing the president didn’t necessarily need to commit a crime to be removed from office.
Nadler’s comments support the Democrats’ overall plan to focus Thursday on the Constitution and lay out legal justification for Trump’s removal.
In making his point, Nadler cited Trump attorney and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz and played a video that showed him speaking about the impeachment proceedings against former President Bill Clinton 20 years ago.
“It certainly doesn’t have to be a crime if you have somebody who completely corrupts the office of president and who abuses trust and poses great danger to our liberties,” Dershowitz said in the video. “You don’t need a technical crime.”
Now a member of Trump’s legal team, Dershowitz told CNN on Monday his view is “far more correct now,” and that there must be a criminal act to justify removal from office.
Nadler’s opening statement supported the House Democrats’ charge of abuse of power against Trump.
“The president’s conduct is wrong. It is illegal. It is dangerous. And it captures the worst fears of our founders and the framers of the Constitution,” he said.
“First, he withheld the release of $391 million in vital military assistance as appropriated by Congress on a bipartisan basis which Ukraine needed to fight Russian aggression. And second, President Trump withheld a long-sought-after White House meeting which would confirm to the world that America stands behind Ukraine in its ongoing struggle.”
The meeting in question would have involved Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
House intelligence committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Trump cited a “very specific conspiracy theory” that Ukraine and not Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
“This theory was brought to you by the Kremlin,” Schiff said. “So we’re not talking about generic interference … what Donald Trump wanted investigated or announced, this completely bogus Kremlin-pushed conspiracy theory.”
Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, said Trump pursued the conspiracy theory because it was beneficial to both him and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“While Putin and Russia clearly stood to gain from promoting this conspiracy theory, so did Donald Trump,” she said. “He knew it would be politically helpful to his 2020 election.”
Rep. Zoe Lofgren noted that Trump did not provide a reason for the hold on Ukrainian aid and that no one in the administration knew why the money wasn’t being released.
“I think we know why the president ordered the hold,” said Lofgren. “He was so determined to turn up the pressure on Ukraine that he kept the hold for no legitimate purpose and without an congressional notification for long enough to violate the law.”
The seven managers, who are acting as the de facto prosecutors in the Senate, spent about 8 hours Wednesday detailing the first article of impeachment — arguing the president abused his power last year by withholding Ukraine’s military aid and a White House meeting to pressure Kiev to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
Democrats are expected to take 8 hours per day to fulfill the 24 hours they’re allotted to make their opening presentation before Trump’s White House attorneys make their case, most likely beginning Saturday.
Senators and their aides told CNN on Thursday there’s been some discussion among the chamber of holding an short, early session Saturday. The trial begins each day at 1 p.m. EST to accommodate Chief Justice John Roberts’ morning duties on the Supreme Court. He doesn’t have those obligations Saturday. A change in the schedule could give senators more time for rest and those running for president the chance to squeeze in some campaign time in Iowa.
“I’m hoping for an early start on Saturday,” Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said.
The Senate would have to unanimously approve the change in schedule.
Trump’s team will continue their opening remarks Monday and Tuesday before the questioning stage begins mid-next week. After that, the off-ramp stage will consider motions, including any by the White House to dismiss the case and those to include witnesses.
Trump attorney Jay Sekulow told reporters Thursday that the attention House managers paid to asserting Biden’s innocence provided Trump’s legal team the opportunity to focus on him during their portion of the trial.
“They kind of opened the door for that response, so we’ll determine as a defense team the appropriate way to do it,” he said.
Sekulow indicated Wednesday, however, the president’s defense team will not seek to dismiss the case.
“I want to let them try their case,” he told reporters. “And we want to try our case because we believe without a question the president will be acquitted. There is not a doubt.”
Wednesday’s session followed a marathon fight to set the rules on Tuesday, during which Republicans defeated nearly a dozen Democratic amendments — including those to include key administration witnesses like former national security adviser John Bolton. Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer assailed his GOP counterpart, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, and accused him of continuing a coverup on behalf of Trump.
Trump, who returned to the United States Wednesday after attending the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, said he would like to see witnesses such as Bolton appear at the trial, but said it’s out of the question due to national security concerns.