WASHINGTON — In the hours before House impeachment managers presented their initial arguments for the removal of President Donald Trump on Wednesday, senators of both parties delivered a warning: Attack us, the jurors, at your peril.
The warnings — delivered gently by Democrats and sharply by Republicans — came after a testy marathon debate over the rules for the impeachment trial that continued until nearly 2 a.m. — culminating in an admonishment from Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial.
“I’m sorry it was necessary, but I think it was appropriate to remind us that we have to maintain decorum and respect for one another throughout this process,” said Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill. “Emotions were running high on both sides.”
“Outrageous and an insult to the Senate,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. “We don’t need to continue the clown circus that was started in the House.”
During the debate, multiple Democratic impeachment managers declared that, alongside Trump, “the Senate is on trial” and suggested that senators themselves would be part of a “cover-up” if they oppose their efforts to call additional witnesses and subpoena unseen documents that the Trump administration refused to provide.
At one point, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., accused GOP senators of “treacherous” behavior.
Meanwhile, Trump’s defense team — led by White House Counsel Pat Cipollone — engaged in a scorched-earth approach of its own, including suggestions that Democrats were seeking to undermine democracy and that senators running for president were trying eliminate their competition, peppered with statements that ranged from incomplete renditions of the facts to outright falsehoods.
The rhetoric escalated to feverish heights shortly after 12:30 a.m., when Nadler argued that the Senate should subpoena testimony from former national security adviser John Bolton — after seven previous Democratic amendments to the trial rules fell on party lines.
“So far, I’m sad to say, I see a lot of senators voting for a cover-up, voting to deny witnesses — an absolutely indefensible vote, obviously a treacherous vote,” he said, adding: “Either you want the truth, and you must permit the witnesses, or you want a shameful cover-up. History will judge and so will the electorate.”
Cipollone, in high dudgeon, immediately rose to rebut him: “You don’t deserve, and we don’t deserve, what just happened,” he said, accusing Nadler of making “false allegations” against the Senate and the White House. “The only one who should be embarrassed, Mr. Nadler, is you, for the way you’ve addressed this body. This is the United States Senate. You’re not in charge here.”
At that point, Roberts stepped in to “admonish both the House managers and the president’s counsel in equal terms, to remember that they are addressing the world’s greatest deliberative body.”
“Those addressing the Senate should remember where they are,” he said.
Hours later, as senators trickled into the Capitol, feelings remained raw — particularly among Republicans who declared themselves offended by Nadler’s suggestion of treachery and cover-up
“Totally inappropriate,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. “If the Democrat managers are smart, they’ll keep him off the field.”
“Way out of bounds,” said Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont. “Outrageous!”
But several Democratic senators also spoke up to note that broadsides against Republican senators — four of whom they will need to vote for additional subpoenas, 20 for Trump’s conviction and removal, assuming the 47-member Democratic caucus remains united — might not be the wisest strategy.
“When I make the argument, it’s about the fundamentals — witnesses, documents, and the evidence,” said Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa. “I think that’s better.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said Nadler “could have chose better words.”
“I understood what Nadler was saying,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.Y., but praised the “thoughtfulness and intellect” shown by lead impeachment manager Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the House Intelligence Committee chairman, and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.: “I think those were the most insightful.”
Asked about Nadler’s remarks, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., answered a different question: “I’ll talk about Adam Schiff, who I’ve worked with on many, many, many issues. I thought he did an exceptionally good job.”
The reaction showed, among other things, that the pointed rhetoric that marked the four-month House impeachment investigation — and characterizes the rough-and-tumble House generally — does not necessarily play well in the more genteel Senate.
Off Capitol Hill, however, the discourse remained plenty coarse — a tone set at the top by Trump himself.
“These are bad, corrupt people,” Trump told reporters Wednesday during remarks at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, referring to Schiff and Nadler as “sleazebags” at one point. “These are bad people. And very bad for our country.”
Trump also seemed to taunt Democrats by noting that their efforts to subpoena documents from his administration had failed: “We have all the material; they don’t have the material,” he said.
A Democratic official working on the impeachment team said that the managers, “unlike the president’s lawyers … focused on the facts of the president’s scheme and made the legal and factual case to both the senators and the American people.”
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., also defended Nadler, saying the Judiciary Committee chairman was appropriately trying to address the “totally false statements” from Cipollone, including a claim that the president wasn’t invited to participate in the House proceedings.”
“I think it’s perfectly appropriate to point out that voting against calling relevant witnesses is the same as working in lockstep with the president to prevent the truth from coming out,” he said.
But Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., insisted that taking aim at the jurors in the impeachment case would only backfire.
“I think as they come over to the Senate side, and they call us liars and cheats and say we’re doing a cover-up, and the Senate is on trial … all it does is serve to unify” Republicans, he said.