House Democrat impeachment managers on Wednesday began their case for removing President Donald Trump from office on the first day of opening arguments in Trump’s impeachment trial.
The managers presented their two articles of impeachment charging Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress as they begin what will be as much as 24 hours of opening arguments over three days.
Adam Schiff of California, the Democrats’ lead impeachment manager, previewed the case that his fellow House managers will make over the next three days.
“Today we will begin our trial with the factual chronology,” said Schiff. “We will go into extensive detail about what happened and when and how we know that it happened.”
In a two-hour, 25-minute narrative that followed, he told how the president and his associates sought to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations of former vice-president Joe Biden and his son Hunter while withholding $391 million in American aid. Then he said the managers will explore the constitutional ramifications of the case.
The Senate has so far refused to allow witnesses, but on Wednesday, Schiff brought a few to the Senate floor by playing video clips from current and former officials who testified last year before the House Intelligence Committee chaired by Schiff.
He also played a few of Trump himself, showing the president in 2016 publicly calling on Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s email and last year publicly calling on Ukraine and China to investigate Biden.
Each of the seven House managers, led by Schiff, presented different elements of the case. House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler of New York followed Schiff and also showed video from the House impeachment investigation.
They made their points without being challenged by senators, who are bound by a vow of silence, or the White House lawyers, who will have the opportunity to make their arguments later.
After Schiff’s presentation, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called for a 20-minute recess before the Democrat managers resumed their case.
The Democrats allege that Trump interfered in the upcoming 2020 presidential election by seeking investigations against a political rival. They argued that senators are responsible for removing him, saying his actions resulted in a threat to national security.
The White House could have forced a vote on a motion to dismiss the impeachment charges against Trump before arguments got underway. The president’s lawyers had until 9 am to offer such a motion but didn’t do so.
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a close ally of Trump, said Wednesday that 45 Republicans are ready to dismiss the charges and he would keep pushing to rally a majority of Republican senators to end the trial.
“There are 45, with about five to eight wanting to hear a little more,” Paul said in an interview with The Washington Post. “I still would like to dismiss it, but there aren’t the votes to do it just yet.”
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York told reporters Wednesday that any deal with Republicans on a witness swap is not being considered.
“I think that’s off the table,” Schumer said when asked whether he would agree to a deal of Hunter Biden appearing in exchange for former national security adviser John Bolton. “First of all, the Republicans have the right to bring in any witness they want. They haven’t wanted to. And that trade is not on the table.”
After the Democrats and White House counsel present their arguments, a 16-hour question-and-answer period in which senators submit questions in writing to Chief Justice John Roberts comes next, followed by a vote on whether the Senate wants to request fresh testimony or new evidence.
On Tuesday and into early Wednesday, Republicans approved mostly by 53-47 votes along party lines the trial rules and rejected 11 motions by Democrats to subpoena witnesses and documents related to the impeachment charges against the president.
Tuesday’s session went on for nearly 13 hours until nearly 2 am Wednesday morning.
White House counsel Pat Cipollone adopted the strategies of Trump’s House defenders. He didn’t dispute the evidence but alleged a wider conspiracy — that the president’s enemies had always been determined to overthrow him and deprive him of due process.
“The only conclusion will be that the president has done absolutely nothing wrong, and that these articles of impeachment do not begin to approach the standard required by the Constitution,” he said.
Early Wednesday, rancor erupted as Nadler and Cipollone traded insults amid debate over Schumer’s amendment to subpoena Bolton.
Nadler accused Senate Republicans of wanting to participate in a cover-up by blocking additional witnesses and documents. “History will judge, and so will the electorate,” he said, prompting groans from Senate Republicans in the chamber.
Cipollone chastised Nadler for his remarks and demanded that he apologize to the president, to the United States and the American people.
“The only one who should be embarrassed, Mr Nadler, is you for the way you’ve addressed this body,” Cipollone said, which prompted clapping. “This is the United States Senate. You’re not in charge here.”
Roberts then intervened:
“I think it is appropriate 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. 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.”
After presiding over the Senate trial, the chief justice then takes on his permanent job, presiding over oral arguments at the Supreme Court at 10 am. He then returns to the Senate for the next session starting at 1pm.
Although Trump was thousands of miles from the Senate chamber in Davos, Switzerland, attending the World Economic Forum, during a news conference Tuesday he attacked two of the Democratic House managers. He called Nadler a “sleaze bag” and branded Schiff a “con job” and a “corrupt politician”.
Trump said he would love to attend the trial so he could “sit right in the front row and stare into their corrupt faces”. But he acknowledged that his lawyers would most likely advise him against doing so.
Trump said that he favored a drawn-out process that would allow witnesses such as Bolton, White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to testify but said that allowing them to do so would create “a national security problem”.
Trump also expressed reservations about Bolton — whom he forced out in September as national security adviser — appearing as a witness because “you don’t like people testifying when they didn’t leave on good terms”. He said his break with Bolton was “due to me, not due to him”.