Chief Justice Roberts Scolds Both Sides After Tense Exchange During Impeachment Trial

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Posted: Jan 22, 2020 7:30 AM
Chief Justice Roberts Scolds Both Sides After Tense Exchange During Impeachment Trial

Source: AP Photo/Larry Downing, Pool

Tempers flared in the Senate early Wednesday when President Trump’s legal defense team lost it on impeachment manager Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) during a debate on a Democratic amendment to the rules resolution seeking to immediately subpoena former national security adviser John Bolton. The tense exchange between the two sides forced Chief Justice John Roberts to step in, scolding the parties for their misconduct.

Nadler argued Republicans were “afraid” to let Bolton testify because “they know he knows too much.”

"Ambassador Bolton is a first-hand witnesses to President Trump's abuse of power," Nadler said, adding that the Senate blocking him from testifying is tantamount to a “cover-up” by the GOP. 

“It’s embarrassing,” he continued. “The president is on trial in the Senate, but the Senate is on trial in the eyes of the American people. Will you vote to allow all the relevant evidence to be presented here? Or will you betray your pledge to be an impartial juror? ... Will you bring Ambassador Bolton here? Will you permit us to present you with the entire record of the president's misconduct? Or will you instead choose to be complicit in the president's cover-up? So far, I'm sad to say I see a lot of senators voting for a cover-up, voting to deny witnesses, an absolutely indefensible vote, obviously a treacherous vote.”

Nadler’s argument went too far for White House legal counsel Pat Cipollone, who quickly accused him of making “false allegations.”

"We've been respectful of the Senate," he shot back. "We've made our arguments to you. And you don't deserve, and we don't deserve, what just happened. Mr. Nadler came up here and made false allegations against our team. He made false allegations against all of you; he accused you of a cover-up. He's been making false allegations against the president. The only one who should be embarrassed, Mr. Nadler is you, for the way you've addressed the United States Senate. This is the United States Senate. You're not in charge here. ... It’s about time we bring this power trip in for a landing."

Trump’s legal team didn’t stop there, however. The president’s attorney Jay Sekulow also weighed in.

"At about 12:10 a.m., January 22, the chairman of the [House] Judiciary Committee, in this body, on the floor of this Senate, said 'executive privilege and other nonsense,'" Sekulow said. "Now think about that for a moment. 'Executive privilege and other nonsense.' Mr. Nadler, it is not 'nonsense.' These are privileges recognized by the Supreme Court of the United States. And to shred the Constitution, on the floor of the Senate. To serve what purpose? The Senate is not on trial. The Constitution doesn't allow what just took place. Look what we've dealt with for the last, now 13 hours. And we hopefully are closing the proceedings, but not on a very high note."

Sekulow continued, recalling when President Obama's Attorney General Eric Holder cited executive privilege to deny House Republicans documents during their ‘Fast and Furious’ investigation. 

"'Only guilty people try to hide evidence?'" Sekulow questioned, quoting Nadler. "So, I guess when President Obama instructed his attorney general to not give information, he was guilty of a crime? That's the way it works, Mr. Nadler? Is that the way you view the United States Constitution? Because that's not the way it was written, that is not the way it's interpreted, and that's not the way the American people should have to live."

The exchange prompted Roberts to step in.

"It is appropriate at this point for me to admonish both the House managers and the president's counsel in equal terms to remember that they are addressing the world's greatest deliberative body," Roberts said. "One reason it has earned that title is because its members avoid speaking in a manner, and using language, that is not conducive to civil discourse. "

He continued: "In the 1905 [Judge Charles] Swayne trial, a senator objected when one of the managers used the word 'pettifogging' -- and the presiding officer said the word ought not to have been used. I don't think we need to aspire to that high a standard, but I do think those addressing the Senate should remember where they are."

The vote on the Bolton amendment failed along party lines, as did several other Democratic amendments.