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Schiff accused Trump of using his power ‘to cheat’ in the election.
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times
Representative Adam B. Schiff, the lead prosecutor, opened oral arguments in the case to convict and remove President Trump from office, accusing him of subverting the power of his position to leverage foreign aid to win an election.
“President Trump solicited foreign interference in our democratic elections, abusing the power of his office to seek help from abroad to improve his re-election prospects at home,” Mr. Schiff, a California Democrat, said from the well of the Senate. “President Trump,” he added, “withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to a strategic partner at war with Russia to secure foreign help with his re-election. In other words, to cheat.”
While the Senate has so far refused to allow witnesses, Mr. Schiff in effect brought a few to the floor anyway by playing video clips from current and former officials like Fiona Hill, Gordon D. Sondland, William B. Taylor Jr. and David Holmes, who testified before Mr. Schiff’s House Intelligence Committee last year. And he played a few from Mr. 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 even China to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Mr. Schiff previewed the presentation his team of seven House impeachment managers will make over the next three days. They started by laying out the case in narrative form, how the president and his associates sought to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations of Mr. Biden and Democrats while withholding $391 million in American aid. Then he said the managers will explore the constitutional ramifications of the case.
“If not remedied by his conviction in the Senate and removal from office,” Mr. Schiff said, “President Trump’s abuse of his office and obstruction of Congress will permanently alter the balance of power among the branches of government, inviting future presidents to operate as if they are also beyond the reach of accountability, congressional oversight and the law.”
Mr. Schiff went on to reject the notion that impeachment is outdated and therefore no longer a viable instrument to hold a president accountable. “If it is a relic,” he said, “I wonder how much longer our republic can succeed.”
Bound to silence on the floor, Trump’s lawyers and Republicans simmered with no chance to respond until later in the week.
For Mr. Trump and Republicans, the next three days may prove uncomfortable as the House Democrats have exclusive access to the microphone.
Unlike the procedural arguments on Tuesday in which both sides went back and forth offering their points, the trial rules now provide the House managers with 24 hours over three days to make their case uninterrupted by the other side or any of the senators.
For hour after hour, the president’s lawyers and their Republican allies are being forced to sit silent in their seats, listening to the most nefarious interpretations of Mr. Trump’s actions without any ability to rebut the points except during breaks in front of television cameras in the hallways.
But it may also be the first time that some senators have heard the totality of the evidence presented in a sustained way. Always on the move, constantly running from one meeting to another, senators almost never have hours on end, much less three days straight, to focus on a single subject. Few if any of them are likely to have watched all of the House hearings that led to the impeachment.
The White House team will get its turn, though, and the House managers will be the ones having to sit quiet as the president’s lawyers present their case uninterrupted and unrebutted.
Republicans bristled at House managers for their aggressive tone during the procedural debate.
On Tuesday, House managers repeatedly criticized the Republican senators who will decide Mr. Trump’s fate, with one manager accusing them of “treacherous” behavior. By Wednesday morning, it was clear that the tone did not go over very well.
Republicans laced into Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York and the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, whose aggressive tone toward senators — and accusation of treachery — during his remarks after midnight were too much for some in the chamber.
“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.”
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, lashed out at the managers for suggesting that Republican senators were part of a cover-up by not voting in support of subpoenaing additional documents and witnesses. “You can say what you want about me but I’m covering up nothing,” Mr. Graham told reporters.
Even some Democrats offered some mild criticism. Senator Jon Tester of Montana told reporters that Mr. Nadler “could have chosen better words” and Senator Chris Coons of Delaware told CNN that “frankly, several of those folks who were making arguments in the chamber took an aggressive tone. The tone in the Senate has always been and tries to remain measured and civil.”
All of which may explain why Mr. Schiff opened Wednesday’s presentation with an olive branch to the senators, heaping praise on them for their forbearance. “I want to begin today by thanking you for the conduct of the proceedings yesterday,” he told the senators. “And for inviting your patience as we go forward.”
— Michael D. Shear
The White House ceded a chance to try to swiftly dismiss the case.
The White House passed up a chance to force a vote to dismiss the impeachment charges against Mr. Trump before arguments get underway.
Both the president’s defense lawyers and the House Democratic impeachment managers had until 9 a.m. to offer motions related to the trial, except for ones that would call for witnesses and new evidence, issues that will be dealt with next week. Neither side did so, aides in both parties said.
The White House’s silence was more significant. Though Republican leaders have been discouraging the president’s team from seeking a swift dismissal, Mr. Trump had endorsed the idea and his conservative allies said the Senate ought to vote promptly to do so. A dismissal vote this week would almost certainly have failed to attract a majority of senators, dividing Republicans and dealing Mr. Trump an early symbolic defeat.
A motion to dismiss could still be offered later in the trial. For now, Republican congressional leaders have counseled the White House that it is better politically for the trial to run its course and deliver a full acquittal of the president, rather than cutting it short and enabling Democrats to argue the result is illegitimate.
— Nicholas Fandos
Trump lashed out from a snowy resort 4,000 miles away.
Mr. Trump was halfway around the world as he faced trial but he weighed in from afar, hurling insults at two of the House managers, calling Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the Judiciary Committee chairman, a “sleaze bag” and branding Mr. Schiff a “con job” and a “corrupt politician.”
Mr. Trump said he would love to attend the trial — something no other president has done and his lawyers have advised against — so he could “sit right in the front row and stare into their corrupt faces.” But he praised his lawyers for their performance on Tuesday.
“We’re doing very well,” he said. “I got to watch enough. I thought our team did a very good job. But honestly, we have all the material. They don’t have the material.”
The last comment about the material immediately provoked criticism from Democrats, who called it a boast about his success at withholding documents and evidence from Congress. But it was unclear from the context whether he was instead saying, however inartfully, that his side had the stronger argument.
Mr. Trump defended his refusal to authorize current or former aides to testify, especially John R. Bolton, his former national security adviser who opposed the pressure campaign on Ukraine and has said he would testify if the Senate subpoenas him. Mr. Trump said allowing Mr. Bolton to testify would interfere with his ability to conduct foreign policy.
“He knows some of my thoughts, he knows what I think about leaders,” Mr. Trump said. “What happens if he reveals what I think about a certain leader, and it’s not very positive? And then I have to deal on behalf of the country?” He added that he would be reluctant to agree to Mr. Bolton testifying because he left the administration on bad terms, “due to me — not due to him.”
In addition to the news conference, Mr. Trump was active on Twitter, posting or reposting roughly 100 messages overnight and into the morning. He left Davos after the news conference and was scheduled to land at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington at 4:50 p.m.
‘Where’s Hunter?’ was the Republican refrain as a negotiation over witnesses looms.
Tuesday night’s Senate floor brawl was not the end of the haggling over potential witnesses at the impeachment trial. Democrats are still demanding to hear from current and former White House officials including Mr. Bolton.
And Republicans are increasingly answering with a provocative demand of their own: “Where’s Hunter?” as the Republican National Committee put it in an email to reporters on Wednesday.
The reference is to Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. The younger Mr. Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company while his father was in office, and in a July phone call, Mr. Trump asked the president of Ukraine to do him “a favor” and investigate both men, a request that is now at the heart of the impeachment charges.
Democratic leaders regard the idea of calling the younger Mr. Biden as a nonstarter, arguing that he is not relevant to the case, and senior aides say there are no serious conversations about calling him. On Wednesday, Mr. Schiff said senators should not agree to it.
“This isn’t like some fantasy football trade,” he told reporters before beginning arguments against Mr. Trump. “Trials aren’t trades for witnesses.”
The former vice president’s many allies in the Senate have been particularly insistent on the point.
“The president is on trial here, not anyone with the last name Biden,” Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware and a close ally of the elder Mr. Biden, said in a tweet Tuesday night. “VP Biden and Hunter Biden are not relevant witnesses.”
Yet some Republicans, including Senator Ted Cruz of Texas are pressing the idea of “witness reciprocity,” that their side might be open to calling someone like Mr. Bolton if Democrats would agree to summon a figure like Hunter Biden.
At least one Democrat, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, indicated in recent days he would be open to such a trade. But most Democrats dismiss the idea.
Republican leaders told Mr. Trump weeks ago they did not have the votes on their side to call the younger Mr. Biden, and senior Democratic aides say discussing a swap now makes little sense given that. But things could change in what promises to be a lively Senate negotiation that will culminate next week over whether to hear from witnesses — and if so, which ones.
— Nicholas Fandos
Chief Justice Roberts spent the morning at his day job before reporting to the Senate chamber.
Chief Justice Admonishes Impeachment Managers and President’s Counsel
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. had a warning for the House impeachment managers and the president’s lawyers as both sides debated the proposed trial rules.
I think it is appropriate, at this point, 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. In the 1905 Swain trial, a senator objected when one of the managers used the word pettifogging — and the presiding officer said the word ought not to have been used. I don’t think we need to aspire to that high a standard, but I do think those addressing the Senate should remember where they are.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. had a warning for the House impeachment managers and the president’s lawyers as both sides debated the proposed trial rules.CreditCredit…Senate Television, via Associated Press
The only liquids allowed on the Senate floor during the trial are water and milk, but Chief Justice Roberts could be forgiven for wishing for a good jolt of coffee.
After presiding over the Senate trial until nearly 2 a.m., the chief justice reported to his day job for oral arguments at the Supreme Court at 10 a.m. before then returning to the Senate chamber for the session that started at 1 p.m.
The arguments at the Supreme Court focused on a different issue than the one at stake on the Senate floor but one that has been hotly disputed nonetheless. The case, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, focuses on a since-disbanded voucher program in Montana that provided tax breaks for donors to scholarships for private schools, including religious schools.
After running the oral arguments at the court in the morning, the chief justice resumed his temporary assignment as presiding officer at the Senate proceeding, a role that so far has been essentially ministerial with the exception of his late-night chiding of both sides to keep civil.