WASHINGTON - Democratic impeachment managers on Wednesday wrapped up the first day of presenting their case against U.S. President Donald Trump and why they believe the Senate must remove him from office.
The House impeached Trump last month on two articles — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Impeachment managers, who are acting as prosecutors, have three days to present their case before the president’s defense team has its turn.
The Democrats accused Trump of designing "a corrupt scheme" to press Ukraine to investigate a political rival, former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden, for one reason — "to cheat" to win re-election this year.
“The president has shown he believes he’s above the law and scornful of restraints,” Intelligence Committee head Adam Schiff told the Senate. Schiff is the lead House manager. He spoke for more than two hours Wednesday, saying Trump sought “help from abroad to help himself politically at home. … He used state powers only available to him” and “violated his sacred oath of office.”
Schiff said the president withheld $391 million in congressionally approved military aid for Ukraine, “a country at war with Russia,” while pressing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to open the investigation of Biden, one of the leading challengers to Trump’s re-election bid. Trump also called for a probe of Biden’s son, Hunter, for his work at a Ukrainian natural gas company and a debunked theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that meddled in the 2016 U.S. election.
Schiff said Trump was asking a foreign leader “to do his political dirty work” when he asked Zelenskiy “for a favor” by investigating the Bidens.
“There are no serious disputes about the underlying facts,” Schiff said, adding that instead, White House lawyers defending Trump will simply argue that he can’t be removed from office for abusing the power of the presidency. Trump eventually released the military aid to Ukraine, and Zelenskiy never opened an investigation into the Bidens — proof, Republicans say, that Trump did not engage in a quid pro quo with Ukraine.
But Schiff said Trump released the funds only because “he got caught” when an intelligence whistleblower became concerned about a July 25 telephone call in which the president asked Zelenskiy for “a favor.”
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Other impeachment managers
Other impeachment managers addressed the senators after Schiff. Judiciary chairman Jerrold Nadler talked about Trump’s “smear campaign” against former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who balked at cooperating with efforts to investigate Biden.
Florida’s Val Demings said Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani was no “rogue agent” when he went to Ukraine to dig up dirt on the Bidens. Demings said he was acting directly for Trump. She said former National Security Adviser John Bolton was trying to send the American people a “very powerful message” when he said he did not want to be a part of whatever “drug deal” he said Giuliani was cooking up in Ukraine.
Hakeem Jeffries of New York called Giuliani a “cold-blooded” political operative working for Trump’s reelection. Jeffries told the Senate said that whenever Trump said “they say” Biden is corrupt, “they” mean Russia, Vladimir Putin, and those, Jeffries said, are enemies of the United States.
Rules of the trial
Under the much debated rules, both the Democrats and Trump’s legal team will each have 24 hours spread out over three days to make their cases.
Trump’s defense is expected to start presenting its case Saturday. While the president’s lawyers cannot dispute that Trump pressured Ukraine, they have said he was carrying out legitimate foreign relations, did nothing wrong, and should be quickly acquitted. They claim the House rushed to impeach Trump in a flawed process in which the president was not treated fairly.
But it’s the Democrats who contend the Senate trial is unfair. Republicans turned down amendment after amendment to subpoena White House, State Department and Defense Department documents and such key witnesses as Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.
Democrats want such evidence at the outset of the trial. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ruled that the Senate could only vote on evidence and witnesses after the two sides present their cases and senators have a chance to ask questions of the House managers and Trump lawyers.
Schiff said a trial that opens with no evidence or witnesses is “not a fair trial, or even a trial at all.”
Acquittal nearly certain
No matter what happens, Trump is all but certain to be acquitted. A two-thirds vote in the 100-member Senate would be needed to remove him from office. But Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the chamber, and no Republican has, at least so far, called for his ouster.
Trump has almost daily ridiculed the Democratic impeachment effort targeting him and did again from Davos, Switzerland, Wednesday, where he attended the World Economic Forum.
“Their case was so ‘overwhelming’ in the House that they need & demand Witnesses in the Senate!” Trump said on Twitter, later adding that he had placed “NO PRESSURE” on Zelenskiy.
Asked about the Democrats’ quest for Ukraine documents, Trump boasted, “Honestly, we have all the material. They don’t have the material.”
He told the Fox Business Network his Democratic accusers “are crazy. They have gone totally nuts.” He called Schiff “a fraud” and “a corrupt politician.”