House impeachment managers wrap up their case with Trump's obstruction

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WASHINGTON (CNN) — House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff and the impeachment managers are finishing their opening arguments Friday in their final chance to make an uninterrupted pitch to senators on the fence that they should hear from more witnesses in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

The House managers wrapped up their case for why the President abused his office and turned to the argument that Trump conducted unprecedented obstruction of the House’s impeachment investigation, which is the second article of impeachment the House passed last month.

Schiff had made an impassioned closing argument to end the House’s second day of presentations on Thursday evening, urging the removal of Trump and repeating that “right matters.” He continued that theme Friday with a personal pitch to senators in concluding the House’s abuse of power case, even playing a clip of the late Sen. John McCain — an Arizona Republican beloved by many in the Senate chamber who famously clashed with Trump — talking about the importance of Ukraine as a bulwark against Russia.

Schiff showed Trump’s news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2018 in which Trump talked about the Democratic National Committee server conspiracy, calling it an “intelligence coup” for Russia. And the California Democrat urged senators to put themselves in the shoes of former Vice President Joe Biden or former US Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch when they think about Trump’s conduct.

“One day someone releases a transcript of a call between the President of the United States and a foreign leader and the President says there’s going to be some things happening to you or to you or to you,” he said, pointing at senators around the chamber. “How would you feel about the President of the United States? Would you think he was abusing the power of his office? And if you would, it shouldn’t matter that it wasn’t you. It shouldn’t matter that it was Marie Yovanovitch. It shouldn’t matter that it was Joe Biden, because I’ll tell you something: The next time it just may be you.”

The House managers’ presentation Friday gave them one more chance to land points with the key moderate Republican senators before the President’s team will get its opportunity to lay out the defense of the President beginning on Saturday. But it’s not clear whether the House managers are winning over the four Republican senators they will need to extend the trial beyond next week with witnesses and documents.

“I think we have done a very good job of doing what the House managers asked to do. We are hearing the case eight or nine hours a day,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican. “We are going to hear the President’s argument. We are going to listen to the answers to our questions, study the record and see if we need more evidence at the point. I’ll make my decision after I hear all of that.”

Asked if he was open to hearing from witnesses like former national security adviser John Bolton or acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado said: “We’ve heard a lot of impeachment witnesses.”

Getting ahead of Trump’s team
The House managers used video, quotes and tweets from Trump to bolster their case, including the President’s attacks on witnesses who testified during the impeachment inquiry like Yovanovitch and Bill Taylor, who was the top US diplomat in Ukraine after Yovanovitch was ousted.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, a Democrat from New York, concluded his presentation about the President’s defiance of subpoenas by calling Trump a “dictator.”

“If he is permitted to defy the Congress, categorically, to say that subpoenas from Congress in an impeachment inquiry are nonsense, then we will have lost — the House will have lost, the Senate certainly will have lost — all power to hold any president accountable,” Nadler said. “This is a determination by President Trump that he wants to be all powerful. He does not have to respect the Congress. He does not have to respect the representatives of the people. Only his will goes. He is a dictator. This must not stand.”

For the second day, Democrats used their time to try to get ahead of arguments likely to come from the President’s legal team. Democratic Rep. Jason Crow of Colorado opened the day Friday by pushing back on the expected defense about the withholding of US security aid.

“One defense you may hear is that the aid was held up to allow for a policy review. But the evidence shows the opposite,” said Crow, one of two House freshmen on the House impeachment manager team. “The evidence shows the administration didn’t conduct a review at any time after the President ordered the hold. … No review was necessary because it had already been done.”

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, pointed for the second day to Sen. Lindsey Graham’s comments two decades prior when he was an impeachment manager during the Bill Clinton impeachment, this time saying that the day President Richard Nixon failed to answer a congressional subpoena was “the day he was subject to impeachment.”

Graham took a sip of water when Lofgren cited him, and nodded while she recited his quote, before leaning over to Republican Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas and whispering something to him.

The House managers’ presentation has been detailed and thorough across the three days they’ve spoken. Republican senators have derided it as repetitive, but the managers are making a pitch to the public as well as Republican senators they hope will consider backing subpoenas for witnesses and documents.

Trump’s team starts Saturday
On Thursday, Democrats pushed back on the notion there’s any legitimacy to investigating former Vice President Joe Biden in Ukraine, as the President and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani have claimed. Trump attorney Jay Sekulow, however, suggested their focus on the Bidens “kind of opened the door for that response” from the defense team.

The President’s lawyers will begin their arguments Saturday, and the trial is starting earlier, at 10 a.m. ET. Sekulow said they will go until about 1 p.m. ET, wrapping up early and giving senators a chance to go home — or to campaign in Iowa — for the rest of the weekend before resuming Monday. Republicans don’t expect the President’s team to use the full 24 hours allotted to them.

Sekulow said that Saturday’s session would be a “sneak preview” of the case they will detail next week.

Trump complained about the start date on Twitter Friday morning, suggesting that the Saturday session would get bad TV ratings.

“After having been treated unbelievably unfairly in the House, and then having to endure hour after hour of lies, fraud & deception by Shifty Schiff, Cryin’ Chuck Schumer & their crew, looks like my lawyers will be forced to start on Saturday, which is called Death Valley in T.V.,” Trump tweeted.

Of course, it’s been Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who has set the schedule, including the late night for amendment votes to set the trial rules and cutting the number of days each side has to use their 24 hours of arguments to three from four in the 1999 Clinton impeachment trial. McConnell’s condensed schedule is part of an effort to end the trial next week — ahead of the President’s February 4 State of the Union.

Whenever the President’s lawyers conclude their presentation, the Senate will shift into 16 hours of senator questions of the two legal teams. Then the Senate will address the question of witnesses — with a vote looming under the Republican-passed trial rules on whether there should be subpoenas for additional witnesses and documents.

Republicans have picked up on an argument from McConnell that pursuing witnesses such as Mulvaney and Bolton would result in prickly, problematic legal issues if the President invokes executive privilege — and that it could tie up the trial for weeks or months in the courts.

But Schiff pushed back that argument Friday, saying that Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial, would be able to make decisions about evidence and privilege.

“We have a very capable justice, sitting in that Senate chamber, empowered by the Senate rules to decide issues of evidence and privilege. And so if any of these witnesses have a colorable claim that they wish to make or the President on their behalf, we have a justice who is able to make those determinations, and we trust that the chief justice can do so,” Schiff told reporters. “Unlike in the House, where the President could play rope a dope in the courts for years, that is not an option for the President’s team here, and it gives no refuge to people who want to hide behind executive privilege to avoid the truth coming out.”

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