WASHINGTON — Democratic House prosecutors argued in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial Thursday that he was swept up by a “completely bogus” Ukraine theory pushed by attorney Rudy Giuliani that led to his abuse of presidential power and then impeachment.
As the Democrats pressed their case for a second day before skeptical Republican Senate jurors, they displayed video images of the nation’s top FBI and Homeland S ecurity officials warning the public off the theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 election.
It was just one of 10 separate ways, the prosecutors argued, that Trump abused power for his own personal political benefit ahead of the 2020 election — the first article of impeachment against him.
“That’s what Donald Trump wanted investigated or announced — this completely bogus Kremlin-pushed conspiracy theory,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who is leading the prosecution.
Trump is accused of seeking the investigation — and probes of political foe Joe Biden and Biden’s son — while holding back congressionally approved military aid as leverage. Schiff said, “You can imagine what a danger that presents to this country.”
Trump is facing trial in the Senate after the House impeached him last month, accusing him of abusing his office by asking Ukraine for the investigations while withholding the aid from a U.S. ally at war with bordering Russia. The second article of impeachment accuses him of obstructing Congress by refusing to turn over documents or allow officials to testify in the House probe.
Republicans, growing tired of the long hours of proceedings, have defended Trump’s actions as appropriate and cast the process as a politically motivated effort to weaken him in the midst of his reelection campaign. Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, and acquittal is considered likely.
The Democrats’ challenge is clear as they try to convince not just fidgety senators but an American public divided over the Republican president in an election year.
With Chief Justice John Roberts presiding, Democrats argued on Thursday that Trump’s motives were apparent.
“No president has ever used his office to compel a foreign nation to help him cheat in our elections,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, told the senators. He said the nation’s founders would be shocked. “The president’s conduct is wrong. It is illegal. It is dangerous.”
They scoffed at Trump’s claim he had good reasons for pressuring Ukraine to investigate his political foes.
It was Trump who engaged in a shocking abuse of power, not former Vice-President Biden or other Trump foes, said Rep. Sylvia Garcia of Texas. There is “no evidence, nothing, nada”’ to suggest that Biden did anything improper in dealings with Ukraine, said the former judge.
Trump, with Giuliani, pursued investigations of Biden and his son, Hunter, who served on a Ukrainian gas company’s board, and sought the probe of debunked theories of what nation was guilty of interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
On dual tracks, Democrats prosecuted their case while answering in advance the arguments expected from the president’s attorneys in the days ahead.
At one point, they showed video of a younger Lindsey Graham, then a South Carolina congressman and now a GOP senator allied with Trump, arguing during Bill Clinton’s 1999 impeachment that no crime was needed for impeaching a president. Trump’s defence team is now arguing that the impeachment articles against the president are invalid because they do not allege he committed a specific crime.
The president’s defenders waited their turn, which may come on Saturday.
“We will be putting on a vigorous defence of both facts, r ebutting what they said,” and the Constitution, said attorney Jay Sekulow.
Ahead of the day’s proceedings, Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri said the Democrats were putting forward “admirable presentations.” But he said, “They’ve basically got about one hour of presentation, and they gave it six times on Tuesday and eight times yesterday. There’s just not much new here.”
The top Senate Democrat, Chuck Schumer, acknowledged that many senators “really don’t want to be here.”
But Schumer said Schiff has been outlining a compelling case that many Republicans are hearing it for only the first time. He contended they can’t help but be “glued” to his testimony.
Once reluctant to take on impeachment during an election year, Democrats are now marching toward a decision by the Senate that the American public also will judge.
Trump blasted the proceedings in a Thursday morning tweet, declaring them the “Most unfair & corrupt hearing in Congressional history!”
Each side has up to three days to present its case. After the House prosecutors finish, likely Friday, the president’s lawyers will have as long as 24 hours. It’s unclear how much time they will actually take, but Trump’s team is not expected to finish Saturday, according to a person unauthorized to discuss the planning and granted anonymity. The Senate is expected to take only Sunday off and push into next week.
After that senators will face the question of whether they do, or do not, want to call witnesses to testify.
Senators were permitted Thursday to review supplemental testimony submitted by an aide to Vice-President Mike Pence, Jennifer Williams, who testified in the House impeachment inquiry, an was among those who had concerns about Trump’s actions. Democrats said the supplemental testimony, which is classified, bolsters their impeachment case. A lawyer for Williams declined to comment.
Holding the room’s attention has been difficult for the Democrats, but senators seemed to pay closer mind to Schiff’s testimony that grew dramatic.
Most senators, even Republicans, sat at their desks throughout the afternoon session, as the rules stipulate, and not as many of them were yawning or standing up to stretch as during the previous long nigh ts.
To help senators pass the time, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr of North Carolina, passed out lunch favours of fidget spinners, stress balls and other toys.
Democrats took a gracious tack, thanking the senators for their time and patience, acknowledging the repetition of some of their presentations.
The impeachment trial is set against the backdrop of the 2020 election. Four senators who are Democratic presidential candidates are off the campaign trail, seated as jurors.
A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed the public slightly more likely to say the Senate should convict and remove Trump from office than to say it should not, 45% to 40%. But a sizable percentage, 14%, said they didn’t know enough to have an opinion.
One issue with wide agreement: Trump should allow top aides to appear as witnesses at the trial. About 7 in 10 said so, including majorities of Republicans and Democrats, according to the poll.
The strategy of more witnesses, though, seemed all but settled. Republicans rejected Democratic efforts to get Trump aides including former national security adviser John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, to testify in back-to-back votes earlier this week.
Senators were likely to repeat that rejection next week, shutting out any chance of new testimony before they take a final vote.
Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick, Alan Fram, Andrew Taylor, Laurie Kellman, Matthew Daly and Padmananda Rama in Washington and Bill Barrow in Osage, Iowa, contributed to this report.
Lisa Mascaro, Eric Tucker And Zeke Miller, The Associated Press