WASHINGTON (CNN) — House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff and the other impeachment managers detailed the House’s case for removing President Donald Trump from office as the Senate’s trial on Wednesday shifted to opening arguments following a contentious debate over subpoenas and witnesses.
The seven impeachment managers took turns laying out in detail the House’s case that led to passage of two articles of impeachment last month for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The managers argued to senators that the House had overwhelming evidence that Trump abused his office and obstructed Congress but that the case would be even clearer to both the Senate jurors and the public if senators voted to obtain additional witnesses and documents.
Schiff, the lead impeachment manager, kicked off the House’s case by invoking invoked Founding Father Alexander Hamilton in his opening statement, before the managers walked through the House’s case throughout the day, which argued the President’s abuse of his office was a months-long scheme across the federal government — not just Trump’s July 2019 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“We are here today — in this hallowed chamber, undertaking this solemn action for only the third time in history –because Donald J. Trump, the 45th President of the United States, has acted precisely as Hamilton and his contemporaries had feared,” the California Democrat said. “President Trump solicited foreign interference in our democratic elections, abusing the power of his office by seeking help from abroad to improve his reelection prospects at home. And when he was caught, he used the powers of that office to obstruct the investigation into his own misconduct.”
Schiff’s presentation marked a new phase of the trial, after a marathon debate on Tuesday where Republicans repeatedly rejected motions to subpoena witnesses and documents related to the Ukraine scandal. The House’s 24 hours of arguments, which will be spread over three days, are intended to hammer home its case but also to try to convince moderate GOP senators that the trial should include additional testimony and documents.
It’s not clear whether the votes will be there for Democrats, as four Republican senators would need to join with them in voting for subpoenaing documents and witnesses. Many GOP senators said they remained unconvinced after the Democratic presentation, which they criticized as repetitive.
“Certainly senators are struggling to try to see why we have to sit there, sit hearing the same arguments over and over and over and over again,” said Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican.
Several Republican senators echoed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s arguments, laid out on Tuesday, against having witnesses for the trial after each side makes its presentations and the senators have a chance to ask questions.
“Our side has not changed our view on this,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican. “I think where House Democrats failed (Tuesday), and maybe Senate Democrats failed, was trying to use the time in a way that would wear us out … and deny the President’s team any response this week.”
Senate Democrats, however, praised the managers’ presentation, arguing that it would help lead to public pressure on Republicans to allow witnesses.
“We have seen that the public pressure for a fair trial is having some effect,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat. “I am hopeful with speeches like Schiff, and with the attention of the nation more focused on this issue now than it ever has been, that there will be continued pressure on many Republican members to ask for witnesses and documents.”
Tensions simmering after marathon session
Republican senators in particular took aim at House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler of New York, who had accused Republican senators of a “cover-up” in his late-night argument to vote to subpoena former national security adviser John Bolton.
“Chairman Nadler … when he started talking, I mean, people kind of jerked to attention because what he was saying and the way he was conducting himself, I think it was so insulting and outrageous it was a shock to all of us,” said Cornyn.
After Nadler’s presentation and a heated rebuttal from the President’s lawyers Pat Cipollone and Jay Sekulow, who attacked Nadler, Chief Justice John Roberts admonished both sides, reminding them to keep their discourse civil.
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, said Nadler was “especially partisan” Tuesday night and that is “not helpful to their cause, frankly, because, you know, a lot of our members believe it was a partisan process coming out of the House and I think the tone (Tuesday) in many respects reinforces that. So if they’re trying to win the argument, that’s probably not the best way to go about it.”
Thune told CNN that the record “is pretty complete” when asked if there should be witnesses.
On the Senate floor, Schiff explained how senators would hear about “the extensive evidence collected during the House’s impeachment inquiry,” but also from those witnesses who did not testify — Bolton, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, White House budget official Michael Duffey and White House aide Robert Blair.
“You will hear their testimony at the same time as the American people. That is, if you will allow it. If we have a fair trial,” Schiff said. “And you will see dozens of new documents, providing new and critical evidence of the President’s guilt, that remain in his hands, and in the hands of the department of Defense and State, the Office of Management and Budget, even the White House. You will see them, and so will the public, if you will allow it. If, in the name of a fair trial, you will demand it.”
In their presentation, the managers on Wednesday focused on the first article of impeachment — abuse of power — walking through the story uncovered by the House’s six-week investigation, where 17 witnesses testified. The presentations moved through the story chronologically, with video clips of many of the key moments from the public hearings.
The Democrats began with the President’s April 21 phone call with Zelensky, a noncontroversial call that Democrats noted included Trump’s invitation for a White House meeting that would become a key part of the impeachment investigation later. They walked through the campaign by the President’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani to oust then-US Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, then moved on to the freezing of $400 million in Ukraine aid, the President’s July phone calls with Zelensky and US Ambassador Gordon Sondland and the subsequent effort by Giuliani and Trump administration officials to persuade Ukraine to announce an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma, the energy company that hired former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter.
“He has a right to withhold funding to that leader should the law be followed and the purpose be just, but he does not under our laws and under our Constitution have a right to use the powers of his office to corruptly solicit foreign aid — prohibited foreign aid — in his reelection,” Schiff said. “He does not. He does not have the right to withhold official presidential acts to secure that assistance, and he certainly does not have the right to undermine our elections and place our security at risk for his own personal benefit.”
Vote on witnesses looms over arguments
Democrats say they forced the votes on witnesses and documents Tuesday night because the rules may not give them a chance to do so later in the trial. McConnell’s rules have only teed up a general vote on whether additional witnesses and documents should be subpoenaed, which will end the conversation on witnesses if it fails.
“It was non-negotiable for us that the Senate at least consider the question of evidence witnesses and documents and the rules of a fair trial,” Schumer said. “We would not be doing our job if we didn’t try to make this trial fair. We’re going to continue to do it.”
House impeachment managers will have two more days to make their case to senators, after McConnell backed away from a proposal for just two days amid complaints from key Republicans in his conference. After the House’s time is done, the President’s legal team will also get three days to give the President’s defense. When opening arguments are complete, senators will get 16 hours to ask questions by submitting them through the chief justice.
At that point, senators will address the question of whether to have witnesses and documents — a vote that could signal the beginning of the end of the trial. Democrats need to peel off four Republican senators to back additional witnesses and documents.
GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is one potential vote. While McConnell held the Republican conference together to oppose the amendments on subpoenas for witnesses like Mulvaney and Bolton, Collins did join the Democrats to support one amendment, which would have given the two sides 24 hours to respond to trial motions on Wednesday. It was moot anyway — neither side submitted any motions.
Collins and other possible Republican crossovers say they want to wait until after the opening arguments before making a decision on witnesses.
The President’s personal attorney, Jay Sekulow, said that the President’s presentation would be made up of “two parts” responding to the House managers and then making the case on behalf of the President. He added that he doesn’t know yet how long they will take, and they would have to make decisions based on seeing the House managers outline their entire case.
He declined to say what witnesses they might seek or whether they would try to apply executive privilege to witnesses the House might call.
“I’m not going to comment on what testimony may or may not be relevant,” Sekulow said.