As the U.S. Senate nears a final vote on President Donald Trump’s impeachment, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin joined Reset for a breakdown of last night’s events and his concerns about the long-term impact of the impeachment trial.
On the likelihood of calling former national security advisor John Bolton, others as witnesses
Sen. Dick Durbin: It’s clear from the president’s attorneys — who were asked several different ways yesterday in the chamber — that they are not receptive and open to John Bolton’s appearance before the Senate to make this a real trial. In fact, they’ve gone so far as to say that the manuscript that he submitted to the White House for review before it’s released to the public is in fact being held up going through security on it. I think it’s probably in the same desk drawer is President Trump’s tax returns — we may never see it.
Jenn White: You would need at least four Republican colleagues to vote with you to call witnesses. Are you in conversation with anyone right now, or do you have a sense that you might be able to get four Republicans who crossover?
Durbin: I guess I’m skeptical at this moment. A lot of time has passed. Public sentiment is overwhelming: 70% of the American people have stuck around to watch the second half of law and order, watched what we call the trial and can’t understand the Republican position that there’ll be no documents, no witnesses, no evidence. I think that’s a compelling argument. And so does an overwhelming majority of people in this country. But only three Republican senators have even hinted that that’s persuasive. We need a fourth. No one has stepped forward. I’m not sure if there is one.
On Trump attorney Alan Dershowitz’s controversial legal defense
Durbin: This is what happens to a professor from Harvard—50 years, a respected professor in criminal law—when he takes off his hat as a professor and becomes an advocate, a paid attorney. Of course, I’ve been in that position before I was elected to Congress. You do everything you can to argue the law, the facts in favor of your clients [and] sometimes you reach a point that is just unintelligible and this is one of those points. Professor Dershowitz is basically saying if, in the mind of the president, it is in the national interest for him to be re-elected, all bets are off. At that point you can do what you wish and not worry about being held accountable under impeachment in the Constitution. That is just an outrageous conclusion from a man who’s been respected for his expertise for years.
On the long-term implications of the outcome of this trial
Durbin: I’m most concerned about Article 2, the obstruction of Congress. I was in the Senate serving during the Clinton impeachment. Bill Clinton, accused of some serious wrongdoing, released 90,000 documents to the investigators. [He] not only turned over his staff to testify under oath, but he himself went under oath for deposition — which ended to be an undoing ultimately when it came to his law license, for example.
In this case, President Trump has produced no documents — not one — and of course wouldn’t even consider sitting and answering questions under oath. The relevant witnesses, people he hired and currently or recently worked for him, are the only ones worth asking to be called as witnesses, and there’s just a stone wall here. They won’t allow it. It went so far yesterday as the Democrat senators as well as house manager team said, “We’re going to let the final decision on witnesses rest on the Chief Justice John Roberts and we will defer to his ruling, whatever it may be.” We asked the Republicans to take the same position. They said “We reject it. We’re prepared to fight everything every step of the way.” This is not a trial. Without witnesses and evidence, it is not a trial.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.