(Bloomberg) -- House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff presented the U.S. Senate with a dark portrait of a deeply flawed, even dangerous president as he argued that Donald Trump should be removed from office.
Leading off the House prosecution of Trump on Wednesday, Schiff cited evidence at the heart of accusations in the articles of impeachment to describe a president who is vindictive, untruthful, unbound by the law and above all, out for himself even at the expense of the national security of the U.S. and its allies.
The opening argument Wednesday over the course of eight hours suggests a prosecution with two juries in mind: The senators in the chamber who will vote on the articles of impeachment and the American public, which will decide in less than 10 months on whether to return Trump to office.
“He has shown no willingness to be constrained by the rule of law, and has demonstrated that he will continue to abuse his power and obstruct investigations into himself, causing further damage to the pillars of our democracy if he is not held accountable,” Schiff said.
While it will be all but impossible to convince enough Republicans to remove Trump from office, the House prosecutors made repeated appeals for senators to subpoena additional documents and witnesses.
They used quotes and video clips from testimony in the House inquiry to build the case against the president and ask senators if they would like to know more.
“There are documents that prove this,” Schiff said about various witness statements. “They’re yours for the asking.”
Pattern of Corruption
Whether the Senate will seek additional evidence will be the most important question after House managers and Trump’s team have presented their arguments and taken senators’ questions. Democrats need to convince at least four Republicans to join them in a vote for more evidence, and that plea will continue to surface in their remaining 16 hours of allotted time over the next two days.
“I would urge you even if you are prepared to convict and remove this president to find out how far this corruption goes,” Schiff said. “You and the American people should want to know who else was involved in this scheme.”
As the impeachment managers tried to establish an illicit pattern in Trump’s actions, there is some evidence that the American public has reservations about the president’s behavior. Almost two-thirds of Americans believe Trump has definitely or probably done things that are illegal, either while in office or when he was running for president, according to a Pew Research Center poll released Wednesday. Slightly more say he has probably or definitely done things that are unethical.
Still, Americans are closely divided on whether Trump should be removed from office, with 51% saying the Senate should remove him and 46% say he should remain in the presidency, according to the poll.
The judgment of Americans -- particularly affluent and educated suburban voters who may back Republican policies but have reservations about the president’s conduct -- is likely to be more important than any influence the arguments may have on the senators.
A verdict of acquittal is almost universally expected in Washington, with the GOP in control of the Senate 53-47 and a two-thirds majority needed to convict. But the historic proceedings -- only the third presidential impeachment trial in history -- may shape the views of voters in November’s election, particularly those not closely aligned with either party.
Members of Trump’s defense team will likely begin their arguments on Saturday, and attorney Jay Sekulow said they will combine a rebuttal of the Democratic case with a positive defense of the president’s actions.
“We will challenge aggressively the case that they’re putting forward based on what we’re hearing and we also have an affirmative case that we’re going to make as well,” he told reporters at the Capitol.
It’s not yet clear whether Trump’s defense will take the full amount of time alloted to them. Trump joked to reporters in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday that he’d like to attend the trial himself but that his lawyers would probably object.
“I’d love to go,” he said. “I’d sit in the front row and stare in their corrupt faces. I’d love to do it. Don’t keep talking, because you may convince me to do it.”
As Schiff was presenting his case, Trump was retweeting commentary from supporters from Air Force One on his way back the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He added his own response as well, saying that he didn’t pressure Ukraine to conduct politically motivated investigations.
Schiff set the impeachment trial in the arc of American history, invoking the words of Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Paine, Ben Franklin and the nation’s founders about foreign influence over the U.S. government, corrupt bargains and uncontrolled populist demagoguery.
He tied that to the impeachment charges that Trump withheld military aid to pressure the new government in Ukraine to announce an investigation related to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who had served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, to help his re-election campaign.
“In other words, to cheat,” the California Democrat said of the president’s demands to Ukraine. “The effect of his scheme was to undermine our free and fair elections.”
Schiff argued that Trump views his powers as president as “political tools to be wielded against his opponents, including asking a foreign government to investigate a United States citizen.”
“There is no question” that Trump intended to press Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to look into Biden, Trump’s political rival, Schiff said. “These facts are not in dispute.”
Schiff noted that Trump’s July 25 call to Zelenskiy came one day after Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony to Congress about his investigation that found that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help elect Trump, and his campaign willingly made use of that aid.
Trump “did not feel shamed by what the special counsel found, he did not feel deterred by what the special counsel found, he felt emboldened by escaping accountability,” Schiff said. “For the very, very next day he is on the phone soliciting foreign interference” from Ukraine.
Senators were not always the most diligent audience. Some members left their seats to take extended breaks in the cloakrooms beside the chamber and others whispered to their colleagues at nearby desks.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stared at the presenters for nearly the whole day, expresionless, with nothing on this desk. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, two of the moderate Republicans who could join Democrats on procedural votes, took frequent notes and occasionally reacted to the presentation.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said Wednesday that Republicans’ rejection of his party’s initial requests to call witnesses reveal the trial as a “charade” and that Democrats will continue to press for testimony and documents.
“The pressure will continue to build on Senate Republicans,” Schumer said.
Some Republicans have suggested that they could be open to calling witnesses like acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and former National Security Adviser John Bolton if Republicans are allowed to to call Joe and Hunter Biden as well as the intelligence community whistle-blower who triggered the House inquiry.
“The idea of witnesses will not get anywhere if it’s not reciprocal,” Indiana Senator Mike Braun said.
Braun said that Biden should be made to answer before the Senate whether he orchestrated the firing of a Ukraine prosecutor to benefit Hunter, who served on the board of the Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma.
Biden has denied the charge and the allegation has been widely debunked, but Hunter Biden’s former position at Burisma has raised questions about whether he profited off of his father’s position as vice president.
“That trade is not on the table,” Schumer told reporters. He said that the Senate should only call witnesses who can testify to whether or not Trump committed the offense for which he was impeached.
--With assistance from Josh Wingrove, Jordan Fabian, Erik Wasson, Daniel Flatley and Steven T. Dennis.
To contact the reporters on this story: Mike Dorning in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org;Billy House in Washington at email@example.com;Laura Litvan in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at email@example.com, John Harney, Anna Edgerton
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