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“The Senate Voted for a Cover-Up”: GOP Senators Tilt Impeachment Trial in Trump’s Favor

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After the first marathon day leading up to President Trump’s impeachment trial, we speak with Vince Warren and Baher Azmy, executive director and legal director, respectively, of the Center for Constitutional Rights. In a 13-hour session, the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate approved rules for the impeachment trial that Vince Warren says are tantamount to a “cover-up.” Under the rules, each side will be given 24 hours over a three-day period for opening arguments. Senators also agreed to automatically admit evidence from the House inquiry into the trial record. Republicans rejected 11 amendments from Democrats to subpoena witnesses and documents at this stage in the trial.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: On the opening day of just the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history, the Senate approved the rules for the trial of President Trump in a party-line vote. The vote came after a nearly 13-hour marathon session. During the opening day of the trial, Republican senators rejected 11 amendments from Democrats to subpoena documents and witnesses, including former national security adviser John Bolton. This is House impeachment manager Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF: The American people want a fair trial. They want to believe their system of government is still capable of rising to the occasion. They want to believe that we can rise above party and do what’s best for the country. But a great many Americans don’t believe that will happen. Let’s prove them wrong. Let’s prove them wrong. How? By convicting the president? No, not by conviction alone. By convicting him if the House proves its case, and only if the House proves its case, but by letting the House prove its case, by letting the House call witnesses, by letting the House obtain documents, by letting the House decide how to present its own case, and not deciding it for us — in sum, by agreeing to a fair trial.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined by Vince Warren and Baher Azmy Baher Azmy, the executive director and legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Vince, you were following this all through yesterday, commenting and on television. The center is the Center for Constitutional Rights. The significance of what took place, with the rules that were laid out yesterday?

VINCE WARREN: Well, it’s essentially that the Senate voted for a cover-up, that the issue that’s here is whether there’s going to be enough information for the House to be able to prove its case. They’re not manufacturing information. They’re not creating arguments. This is the information that they need to get. And essentially, the Senate voted to delay that decision.

Why that’s important is because we have to remember that the reason why the House doesn’t have the information that they need — they don’t have the documents, they don’t have the witnesses — is largely because the Trump administration refused to allow them to get that information. And Adam Schiff was making the case, essentially, that the president shouldn’t benefit twice. Number one, he shouldn’t benefit by not giving the information that’s necessary to find out what happened, and, number two, that the Senate should not allow that to move forward by refusing to make that information available, when they very easily could.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the whole issue of very few Republicans breaking ranks with Mitch McConnell in terms of any changes to the original proposed rules?

VINCE WARREN: Yeah. You know, these are party-line votes, and they’re party-line votes for a reason. Essentially, the Republicans are in lockstep with the president. And it’s one thing to be lockstep with him policy-wise, which is problematic enough from my perspective, but what they’re also doing is that they’re gaming the system to ensure that there is no chance for the American public to understand in detail what actually happened and what this president did. So, essentially, what they’re doing is they’re strangulating the trial process, they’re strangulating the impeachment process, by taking these party-line votes that refuse, in every manner possible, to generate information for the American public and for us to take a look at to determine whether or not the president violated his constitutional oath.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s talk about the schedule, very quickly, Baher Azmy, as they fought over it. That seems to be the extent of a little bit of a roiling of some of the Republicans, even the most conservative Trump supporters. Now they’re going to do three days of the House managers presenting their case. And, of course, Senate Majority Leader McConnell got his way when yesterday the trial went 'til, what, 1:51 in the morning. Who exactly was watching? They're also controlling the framing of this, the actual TV frame. C-SPAN can’t go in. The networks can’t go in. The picture of who we are looking at is determined by the Republican leadership. You have CBS, ABC dropping out quickly soon after the impeachment trial began, despite the fact this is historic. They felt it wasn’t good TV. But so you have the House managers for three days, and they extended it from — McConnell agreed to extend it from two. Then Trump’s lawyers for three days?

BAHER AZMY: Yeah, and then there will be 16 hours of questioning. But the deep problem with this performative thing that McConnell has created, which is functionally a show trial on behalf of McConnell’s client, the president of the United States, is there is no evidence available of the kind that you would have to have in a trial. And I think the House managers made a very persuasive case that the Senate’s job is to try the president, having been impeached. And a trial, we all know, includes the production of evidence, not just to adjudicate guilt or innocence in a particular case, but also to preserve accountability against a constitutional office of the president of the United States for an abuse of power and to learn what he intends to do possibly in the next election, because part of the abuse of power is, as Adam Schiff put it, using his office to cheat in an election. And we need information not just about what he has done that has abused his office, but what he intends to do in the next election.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about some press reports that are indicating that, behind the scenes, key Senate Democrats are actually entertaining the idea of calling the Republicans’ bluff on their own witnesses by allowing Hunter Biden to testify possibly in exchange for getting John Bolton to actually appear and be questioned.

BAHER AZMY: Yeah. I mean, I’m sort of skeptical of the kind of moderate Republican bluff that we’ll ask for witnesses after. I mean, at this point, they’re saying it’s too soon to ask for witnesses. And after the show trial will be over, they’ll say it’s too late And I think this is just potentially click bait for Fox News and the right, because to suggest that Hunter Biden is in any way relevant to the question that’s before the Senate — what the president did — is absurd. And I would hate to see any Democrats agreeing to that proposition.

VINCE WARREN: I agree with that. In fact, you know, when you talk about problematic quid pro quos, that’s a problematic quid pro quo. As Baher said, these are not equivalent witnesses. And at some level, we shouldn’t be in a negotiation — or, they shouldn’t be in a negotiation with the defense team in order to be able to get the witnesses that they want, that the information that they need is for the purposes of prosecuting this president. The defense can call whoever they like, but they shouldn’t be in this negotiation period creating false equivalencies between the two.

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