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Schiff ends day in the impeachment trial by telling the Senate, “If right doesn’t matter, we’re lost”

Democrats need to convince Republicans what Trump did was wrong, not that he did it.

Rep. Adam Schiff speaks during Thursday’s Senate impeachment trial.
Senate Television via Getty Images

Rep. Adam Schiff ended the second day of Democrats’ arguments in President Trump’s impeachment trial Thursday night with a plea to his fellow members of Congress: Don’t trade our most basic moral principles for politics.

“If the truth doesn’t matter, we’re lost. [The] framers couldn’t protect us from ourselves, if right and truth don’t matter,” Schiff said, speaking to Republican senators. “And you know that what he did was not right.”

Schiff came to his emotional conclusion by laying out the facts of the case against Trump — which are roughly the same from the start of the impeachment saga and aren’t in dispute.

“No one is really making the argument, ‘Donald Trump would never do such a thing,’ because of course we know that he would, and of course we know that he did,” Schiff said. “We all know what we’re dealing here with this president.”

The evidence shows that Trump used public money as leverage to try to strong-arm a foreign government into doing him a personal political favor. The scheme was foiled when a government worker blew the whistle.

Given Trump’s unrepentant position and his history of putting himself before the country, there’s little reason to suspect he wouldn’t try to cheat once again — especially as he heads into a tough reelection campaign.

Schiff’s conclusion captures the state of impeachment in the Senate. The hurdle for Democrats isn’t to convince Republicans Trump did what he’s accused of doing. It’s to convince them that what Trump did was wrong — and that that is more important than partisanship.

The facts aren’t in dispute

On Thursday, Schiff laid the groundwork for the charge of abuse of power by going over a set of known facts: Trump subverted the authority of the American intelligence apparatus by enlisting his personal lawyer to work with a foreign government in an effort to dig up dirt on a domestic political foe:

Donald Trump chose Rudy Giuliani over his own intelligence agencies. He chose Rudy Giuliani over his own FBI director. He chose Rudy Giuliani over his own national security advisers. When all of them were telling him this Ukraine 2016 stuff is kooky, crazy Russian propaganda, he chose not to believe them. He chose to believe Rudy Giuliani. That makes him dangerous to us, to our country. That was Donald Trump’s choice. Now, why would Donald Trump believe a man like Rudy Giuliani over a man like [FBI Director] Christopher Wray? Okay. Why would anyone in their right mind believe Rudy Giuliani over Christopher Wray?

Because he wanted to and because what Rudy was offering him was something that would help him personally. And what Christopher Wray was offering him was merely the truth. What Christopher Wray was offering him was merely the information he needed to protect his country and its elections, but that’s not good enough. What’s in it for him? What’s in it for Donald Trump? This is why he needs to be removed.

The question is whether Republicans will concede the obvious conclusion, which is that Trump did all this not in the national interest, but in his personal interest.

So far there’s little reason to suspect they will. Trump’s interests have become increasingly synonymous with the interests of the Republican Party.

Giuliani himself went on Fox News Friday morning and pushed a conspiracy theory as a defense.

Schiff pointed to the testimony of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman — who fled Ukraine with his family when he was 3, rose to become the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, and came forward to talk about what he knew about Trump’s abuses of power — as an example of someone who puts country before his personal interest.

Schiff quoted Vindman in his closing statement: “‘Here, right matters. Here, right matters,’” he said recounting the testimony. “Well, let me tell you something, if right doesn’t matter, if right doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter how good the Constitution is. It doesn’t matter how brilliant the framers were. Doesn’t matter how good or bad our advocacy in this trial is. Doesn’t matter how well written the oath of impartiality is. If right doesn’t matter, we’re lost.”

Schiff closed by emphasizing the theme:

If the truth doesn’t matter, we’re lost. [The] framers couldn’t protect us from ourselves, if right and truth don’t matter. And you know that what he did was not right. That’s what they do in the old country, that [Lt.] Col. Vindman’s father came from. Or the old country that my great-grandfather came from, or the old countries that your ancestors came from, or maybe you came from.

But here, right is supposed to matter. It’s what’s made us the greatest nation on earth. No constitution can protect us if right doesn’t matter anymore. And you know you can’t trust this president to do what’s right for this country. You can trust he will do what’s right for Donald Trump. He’ll do it now. He’s done it before. He’ll do it for the next several months. He’ll do it in the election if he’s allowed to. This is why if you find him guilty, you must find that he should be removed. Because right matters. Because right matters and the truth matters. Otherwise, we are lost.

Watch for yourself:

Schiff’s remarks represented a notable moment in American history. But Fox News didn’t even broadcast them.

Instead, at the very moment one of the major figures in the Trump impeachment saga was imploring the Senate to rediscover its moral compass, viewers of Trump’s propaganda panel were watching Laura Ingraham and guests push the very conspiracy theories that motivated Trump’s corrupt Ukraine scheme and resulted in his impeachment.

As poignant as Schiff’s remarks were, it’s unlikely they’ll have any impact on Senate Republicans, who have responded to the impeachment managers’ case with self-refuting talking points and smears against people like Vindman who came forward to testify about the president’s misconduct.

On Friday morning, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) went on CNN and basically said he was bored by Schiff’s presentation — never mind that he and every other Republican senator voted repeatedly on Tuesday night to block Democrats from subpoenaing new documents and testimony.

“In some ways it’s like Groundhog Day — about every hour and a half they start over again,” he said.

The news moves fast. To stay updated, follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter, and read more of Vox’s policy and politics coverage.

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