Several GOP senators criticise performance of Donald Trump's lawyers at impeachment trial
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Amy B Wang, Felicia Sonmez
Washington - Several Republican senators on Tuesday criticised the performance of lawyers representing former president Donald Trump at his impeachment trial, with at least one saying that the "disorganised, random" arguments by Trump's attorneys were what motivated him to change his mind and vote with Democrats.
After listening to opening statements, the Senate voted 56 to 44 to move forward with the impeachment trial, rejecting Trump's legal team's arguments that it was unconstitutional to do so. The vote mostly split along party lines and was almost identical to a similar one that was held last month.
Senator Bill Cassidy, R-La., the only Republican senator to switch his vote to support moving forward with Trump's impeachment trial, blasted the meandering opening statements by Trump's attorneys as incoherent and ineffective.
"It was disorganised, random," Cassidy told reporters after Tuesday's proceedings. "[Trump's lawyers] talked about many things but didn't talk about the issue at hand... The issue at hand, is it constitutional to impeach a president who's left office? And the House managers made a compelling, cogent case, and the president's team did not."
Cassidy was one of six Republican senators voting with the Democratic caucus to say that it was constitutional to carry out the impeachment trial of a former president even after he has left office. The other five Republicans - Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania - had done so in a similar vote last month.
Unclear is how senators will vote when faced with the question of convicting Trump, who was acquitted by the Senate last year on separate impeachment charges.
Cassidy said at one point that as one of Trump's lawyers was speaking, he leaned over, confused, to ask Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, whether he was missing something.
"If I'm there as an impartial juror, respecting my oath of office to uphold the Constitution of the U.S., and one side makes the argument, and the other side does everything but make the argument, then to live with myself, I make that vote," Cassidy added. "I've always said I'm approaching this as an impartial juror."
Almost immediately afterward, the Louisiana Republican Party condemned Cassidy for his vote.
However, even Republicans who voted against proceeding with the impeachment trial were not impressed with Trump's lawyers - particularly with Bruce L. Castor Jr, who opened for Trump's legal team and spoke for 48 minutes, touching on subjects as diverse ancient Greece, Rome and Nebraska's being "quite a judicial thinking place." At one point, Castor admitted that his team had changed strategy after observing the thoroughness of the House impeachment managers' presentation.
Asked his opinion of Castor, Cruz paused for six seconds of silence, then laughed.
"I don't think the lawyers did the most effective job," Cruz said at last. "I'll leave it to others to, uh, to fill out a scorecard on that front."
Cruz added that the lead House impeachment manager, Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., was "impressive."
"He's a serious lawyer," Cruz said.
Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, who is among Trump's defenders on Capitol Hill, said that he has seen "a lot of lawyers and a lot of arguments" and that Castor's "was not one of the finest I've seen."
"I thought the president's lawyer - the first lawyer - just rambled on and on and on and didn't really address the constitutional argument," Cornyn told reporters at the Capitol after the day's proceedings had concluded. "Finally, the second lawyer got around to it and, I thought, did an effective job."
Murkowski, one of the Republicans who voted to proceed with the trial, said she that thought the House impeachment managers presented a "pretty good legal analysis" but that she was "really stunned at the first attorney who presented for former president Trump."
"I couldn't figure out where he was going - [he] spent 45 minutes going somewhere, but I don't think he helped us with better understanding where he was coming from on the constitutionality of this," Murkowski said.
She added that she thought that Trump's other attorney, David Schoen, "did a better job" but that Castor's presentation was "a missed opportunity."
Asked whether he agreed with Murkowski, Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., declined to call Castor's presentation a "missed opportunity" but expressed confusion at the lawyer's performance.
"Well, I think I - I thought I - I really didn't know - I thought I knew where he was going," Graham told reporters. "And I really didn't know where he was going."
He added that "nobody's mind was changed one way or the other," perhaps with the exception of Cassidy's.
Asked about his performance, Castor told reporters, "I thought we had a good day." Pressed about Cassidy's switch, Castor said, "I don't make anything of it. If it leaks down to 34 then I'll start to worry."