Trump impeachment trial: Closing arguments focus on 2020 presidential election

Key Points
  • Closing arguments wrap up in Trump's impeachment trial with a focus on the 2020 presidential race.
  • Democrats argue that, "If left in office, [Trump will] continue to seek foreign interference in the next election."
  • Trump's lawyers counter:  "Leave this choice [with voters] where it belongs." 
In this screengrab taken from a Senate Television webcast, House manager Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) speaks during impeachment proceedings against U.S. President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol on February 3, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Senate TV | Getty Images

WASHINGTON – As the Iowa caucuses officially kicked off the 2020 presidential election Monday, November's ballot was foremost on the minds of the president's lawyers and the House impeachment managers as they delivered closing arguments in President Donald Trump's impeachment trial.

"The president's personal interest is now clear: to cheat in the next election," said Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., one of the Democratic managers making the case for the removal of the president.

Lead House manager Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., asked senators to vote on Trump's guilt or innocence, "knowing that, if left in office, [Trump will] continue to seek foreign interference in the next election."

Yet the president's defense lawyers also zeroed in on this November's election, arguing that voters, and not senators, should be the ones to decide whether Trump stays in office or not.

"We put our faith in the Senate because we know that you will put your faith in the American people," White House counsel said Pat Cipollone in his closing arguments. "You will leave this choice to them where it belongs," he said. "We believe that they should choose the president."

With the Republican-majority Senate poised to acquit the president in a vote Wednesday afternoon, Monday's closing arguments offered Democrats an opportunity to leave the viewing public with two final thoughts: Firstly, that Trump's actions were craven and corrupt, and second, that Trump still presents a clear danger to both national security and the integrity of the 2020 presidential election.

Here are the top moments of Monday's closing arguments:

Crow's impeachment muse: Dumbledore

Throughout the trial, the House managers buttressed their arguments with weighty, high-minded references to the Constitution, the founding fathers, and a slew of other historical and political icons.

In his closing statement, Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., invoked a much different authority: Dumbledore, the patriarchal wizard of the "Harry Potter" fantasy novel series.

"Many of us in this room are parents. We all try to teach our kids the important lessons of life. One of these lessons is that you won't always be the strongest, you won't always be the fastest, and you won't always win," Crow said.

"There are a lot of things outside our control, but my wife and I have tried to teach our kids that what we can always control are our choices."

He added: "It's in that spirit that, hanging in my son's room, is a quote from Harry Potter. The quote is from Professor Dumbledore, who said, 'It is our choices that show who we truly are, far more than our abilities.'"

Defense downplays Trump, focuses on Dems

According to Trump's personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow, internal and external objections to Trump's pressure campaign on Ukraine were not objections to crimes, but merely "policy disputes" with career bureaucrats and Democrats.

"Elections have consequences. We all know that," Sekulow said. "If you do not like the policies of a particular administration or a particular candidate, you are free and welcome to vote for another candidate. But the answer is elections, not impeachment."

Cipollone took the point a step further. "At the end of the day, this is an effort to overturn the results of one election and to try to interfere in the coming election that begins today in Iowa," he said.

"There is only one answer to that, and the answer is to reject those articles of impeachment. To have confidence in the American people, and to have confidence in the result of the upcoming election, and to have confidence and respect for the last election and not throw it out," he added. "And to leave the choice of the president to the American people."

Schiff: 'The sun will rise again'

But Schiff's lofty closing argument was the part of Monday's proceedings that are most likely to be replayed in the coming months.

The president and his lawyers, Schiff argued, have retreated to their "final defense. He's guilty as sin, but can't we just let the voters decide? He's guilty as sin, but why not let the voters clean up this mess?"

"Can we be confident that he will not continue to try to cheat in that very election? No you can't. You can't trust this president to do the right thing, not for one minute. Not for one election. Not for the sake of our country. He will not change, and you know it."

The nation's founders, Schiff said, "gave you a remedy, and they meant for you to use it. They gave you an oath, and they meant for you to observe it."

He added: "It may be midnight in Washington, but the sun will rise again. I put my faith and my optimism in the founders. You should, too."

The House voted to impeach Trump in December on two articles, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, both stemming from Trump's handling of the U.S. relationship with Ukraine. Trump has denied wrongdoing.

Next steps

The Senate is scheduled to hold a vote to acquit or convict Trump on Wednesday afternoon.

Following Monday's arguments, the trial adjourned until Wednesday, and senators were given their first opportunity to speak on the Senate floor since the trial began. Like past impeachments, the current trial's rules have prohibited senators from speaking during the proceedings. On a practical level, this has created a highly unusual scenario for the upper chamber, where senators are accustomed to being given broad latitude to speak and argue on the floor.

Monday's open floor speeches are expected to continue through Tuesday, as senators offer their responses to the information presented during the impeachment trial and seek to convince their Senate colleagues to vote one way or another on the final verdict.

While there is effectively zero chance of Democrats convincing 20 Republicans to abandon their party and vote to remove the president from office, there are still some unknowns about the final verdict vote.

Several moderate senators in both parties have refused to say how they plan to vote on the final verdict, telling reporters they are still considering the evidence that was presented at trial. The list includes Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin, W.Va., and Doug Jones, Ala., as well as Republicans Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.