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OPINION

Day 4: Democrats detail obstruction charge, and eyes turn to Trump’s defense lawyers

Lesley Becker

House Democrats were set to wrap up their opening arguments on Friday, putting forward their case that President Trump obstructed Congress by failing to cooperate with the Ukraine investigation. Outside the chamber, senators continued to bicker over whether they should call witnesses or subpoena documents from the White House in a later stage of the impeachment trial. Democrats want to hear from the president’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, and former national security advisor, John Bolton, among others. A few Republican senators, including Maine’s Susan Collins, have strongly hinted they want to hear from witnesses too. But whether any of them are willing to openly break with the president and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell to support Democrats’ demands might be a different story.

CHARACTER WITNESS: President Trump swore an oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States,” only to later call one of its provisions “phony.” So we know he isn’t a stickler for the letter of the law. But Democrats are not missing any chances to point out that Trump is unconcerned with the spirit of the law as well. Lest anyone think impeachment is an overblown charge on a mere technicality, the lead impeachment manager, Representative Adam Schiff, Democrat of California, argued Thursday night that this case illustrates how Trump simply can’t be trusted to do the right thing. If forced to choose between himself and his country, he’d look out for himself first, Schiff said. Representative Hakeem Jeffries, Democrat of New York, picked up that thread Friday afternoon while discussing the White House’s attempts to classify documents related to Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s president. The attempted coverup is troubling on its own, but it’s also an example of Trump’s general dishonesty and disdain for accountability, which Jeffries said have amounted to “an extraordinary attack on our character.” “There’s a toxic mess at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.,” he said. “And I humbly suggest that it’s our collective job on behalf of the American people to try to clean it up.” — BRIAN BERGSTEIN

SEND IN THE CLOWNS: The president’s defense team is scheduled to begin its arguments on Saturday. His lawyers might mount a serious, sober defense of the president’s actions in the Ukraine affair. Also, you might win the lottery. The far greater likelihood, if the rhetoric emanating from Trump’s defenders provides any clues, is that the defense presentation will be a festival of conspiracy theories and Fox News talking points. Would that really come as any surprise? After all, it would be up to GOP senators, as defenders of the institution, to insist the president’s lawyers actually respond to the charges lodged by House Democrats. Behind closed doors, a few Republican senators have supposedly expressed reservations about the partisan way Mitch McConnell has set up the trial. But there’s nothing about their actual votes so far that suggests they care enough about the integrity of the trial to defy the president publicly. — ALAN WIRZBICKI

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IT’S NOT SUPPOSED TO BE EASY: As the Senate was preparing for the concluding day of the House managers’ argument in support of convicting and removing President Trump, Gallup was underscoring the most important reason such an outcome is inconceivable: There is no American consensus for doing so.

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Frank Newport, a senior Gallup social scientist, rounded up all the national polls conducted this month in which voters were asked about removing Trump from office. In six separate surveys (by Pew, Monmouth, CNN, Quinnipiac, NPR/Marist, and Gallup itself), respondents were torn roughly down the middle on whether the president should be convicted. In three polls, a very narrow majority supported Trump’s removal, in two there was a narrow majority for acquittal, and in one, there was an exact split.

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US voters, in other words, are as divided on the question as the US Senate. And since the Constitution requires support from two-thirds of all senators before an impeached president can be removed, it’s safe to say Trump is in no danger of losing his job. That may be maddening to Democrats and conservative NeverTrumpers, but the Framers purposely set the bar for removal very high. Before a president can be removed from office, a solid majority of the public has to want to see him go. Americans haven’t turned against Trump, so senators won’t either. — JEFF JACOBY