In Impeachment Case, Schiff Accuses Trump of Trying ‘to Cheat’ in Election
WASHINGTON — The House Democratic impeachment managers presented their case on Wednesday for convicting President Trump and removing him from office on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, opening oral arguments in an already rancorous Senate trial.
Taking the lectern in the well of the Senate as senators sat silently preparing to weigh Mr. Trump’s fate, Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the lead House prosecutor, accused the president of a “corrupt scheme” to pressure Ukraine for help “to cheat” in the election.
Invoking the nation’s founders and their fears that a self-interested leader might subvert democracy for his own personal gain, Mr. Schiff argued that the president’s conduct was precisely what the framers of the Constitution had in mind when they devised the remedy of impeachment, one he said was “as powerful as the evil it was meant to combat.”
“If not remedied by his conviction in the Senate, and removal from office, President Trump’s abuse of his office and obstruction of Congress will permanently alter the balance of power among the branches of government,” Mr. Schiff said in his opening remarks. “The president has shown that he believes that he’s above the law and scornful of constraint.”
As Mr. Schiff began what is expected to be an uninterrupted, three-day presentation of evidence by the House prosecutors, Mr. Trump — impatient for his legal team to have a chance to mount a vigorous defense of his behavior — seethed from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
At a news conference in Davos, Switzerland, where he was attending the World Economic Forum, Mr. Trump hurled insults at the House Democrats bringing the case against him, branding Mr. Schiff a “corrupt politician” and telling reporters he would like to personally attend the Senate trial in order to “sit right in the front row and stare into their corrupt faces.” But he acknowledged that his lawyers would probably advise against it.
The oral arguments began just hours after the conclusion of a lengthy fight over witnesses and documents that stretched into the wee hours of Wednesday morning and cleaved the Senate along party lines. It was dominated by bitter exchanges between the Democratic House managers and the president’s legal defense team that grew so hostile after midnight that they drew a reprimand from Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who is presiding over the trial.
Wednesday’s proceedings unfolded in more measured tones as Mr. Schiff methodically summarized the central charges that the House approved on a nearly party-line vote in December. Yet the Senate proceeding, only the third impeachment trial of a president in the nation’s history, was fraught with partisan rancor and political consequence both for Mr. Trump and for the two parties grappling over his future.
Mr. Schiff reprised the House case against Mr. Trump, asserting that the president sought help from Ukraine in the 2020 election, by pressuring the country to announce an investigation of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. while withholding as leverage security aid for Kyiv and a White House meeting for its president. When he was caught, Mr. Schiff added, the president ordered a cover-up, blocking witnesses and denying Congress the evidence that could corroborate his scheme.
“Guarding against a president who undertakes official acts with the corrupt motive of helping himself is at the heart of the impeachment power,” Mr. Schiff said.
Mr. Trump had embraced the idea of pushing for a quick dismissal of the case against him, and some of his conservative allies said the Senate should vote quickly to bring the trial to an end. Mr. Trump’s lawyers, however, chose not to take an opportunity on Wednesday to seek a dismissal. Republican leaders discouraged the defense team from seeking a vote this week that would almost certainly have failed, dividing Republicans and dealing Mr. Trump an early symbolic defeat. A motion to dismiss the case could still be offered later in the trial.
Mr. Schiff’s presentation in the Senate chamber played out against the backdrop of deepening partisan squabbling that spilled over from Tuesday’s 12-hour debate over the rules governing the trial. Several senators said they were particularly piqued by the managers’ repeated insistence — put most bluntly by Mr. Nadler — that the Senate was abetting a cover-up of Mr. Trump’s misconduct and preparing to hold a sham trial by rejecting Democrats’ demands for witnesses and documents.
“What Chairman Nadler said and how he conducted himself was outrageous and an insult to the Senate,” said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas. “We don’t need to continue the clown circus that started over in the House.”
The tenor of the House Democrats’ presentation on Tuesday also bothered some Democratic senators, who took issue with what they characterized as an overly accusatory tone by the impeachment managers. Senator Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana, told reporters that Mr. Nadler, who at one point accused Republican senators of “treacherous” behavior, “could have chosen better words.”
Lawmakers also continued to clash over whether the Senate should subpoena additional witnesses and documents. While Republicans succeeded on Tuesday in turning back repeated Democratic attempts to issue subpoenas, the issue remains a flash point that is likely to resurface next week after both sides make arguments in the case.
On Wednesday, Mr. Schiff appeared eager to address the criticism. He opened by thanking senators for listening attentively during Tuesday’s debate and he asked for their patience during what he promised would be detailed presentations, adding: “We have some very long days yet to come.”
In making his arguments, Mr. Schiff sought to tap into the weight of history. He quoted Alexander Hamilton’s warning about “a man unprincipled in private life, desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents, having the advantage of military habits, despotic in his ordinary demeanor, known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty.”
Mr. Schiff heaped praise on government officials who agreed to testify in the House investigation despite objections from the president.
“Notwithstanding his unprecedented and wholesale obstruction of the investigation,” he told senators, “you will hear and read testimony from courageous public servants who upheld their oath to the Constitution and their legal obligations to comply with congressional action despite a categorical order by President Trump not to cooperate.”
The House inquiry that Mr. Schiff led conducted 18 depositions behind closed doors — but open to House Republicans on the relevant committees — including members of the president’s national security staff, diplomats, budget officials and Pentagon aides. Twelve of them testified in high-profile public hearings, laying out in gripping detail the pressure campaign on Ukraine’s government.
In two weeks of public hearings, the civil servants from within Mr. Trump’s own government offered blockbuster revelations about the actions of the presidents and a rogue group of officials who sidestepped the usual diplomatic channels to implement the president’s wishes.
The White House blocked the testimony of twelve witnesses, including John R. Bolton, the former national security adviser; Mick Mulvaney, the president’s acting chief of staff; Robert Blair, a senior aide to Mr. Mulvaney; and Michael Duffey, a White House budget official who worked on Ukraine issues.
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