WASHINGTON – California Rep. Adam Schiff, the lead manager in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, tried to get senators to put themselves in the shoes of Joe Biden and Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
How would they feel if the most powerful person in the world were asking a foreign nation to conduct a sham investigation into them? How would they react if, like Yovanovitch, they had devoted their life to public service, served in dangerous places around the world, only to be hounded out of their post? Schiff asked while speaking on the Senate floor Friday.
“Because I will tell you something,” Schiff said. “The next time, it just may be you.”
No matter how close a senator may be to Trump now, he prodded them, do they have any doubt that Trump would investigate them if he felt it was in his interest?
"If somewhere, deep down below, you realize that he would, you cannot leave a man like that in office,” he said. “It shouldn’t matter it was Joe Biden. It could be any of us. It may be any of us.”
Schiff: Trump's policy is 'Trump first, not America first'
The lead House impeachment manager, Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., summarized the accusation that President Donald Trump abused the power of his office by arguing that withholding military aid from Ukraine hurt an ally, emboldened an adversary in Russia and undermined efforts to fight corruption abroad.
“This is Trump first, not America first,” Schiff said.
“The Constitution does not permit it because that conduct is the quintessential abuse of power,” Schiff added. “The use of official power for personal gain, putting personal interest over the national interest and putting personal benefits over our nation’s security.”
Schiff said Americans might not understand why Ukraine, a small country, is important to the U.S. But he argued that Ukraine is hungry for reform after emerging from the former Soviet Union, which collapsed in what Russian President Vladimir Putin called the greatest catastrophe of the 20th Century.
Trump’s willingness to pursue a political investigation of his rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, rather than the U.S. interest in helping an ally maintain its independence from Russia justifies removing the president from office, Schiff argued.
“If someone sacrifices the national interest in favor of his own, and is not removed from office, our democracy is in jeopardy. It’s just that simple,” Schiff said. “The grave consequences of President Trump’s misconduct demand our attention.”
Schiff plays John McCain interview on Ukraine
Explaining the importance of Ukraine to national security interests, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., brought in an interesting voice.
Schiff played a clip of a television interview with the late Sen. John McCain, whom he called a war hero and statesman “who is no stranger to this body.”
McCain, Schiff said, recognized the threat posed when Russia took over parts of Ukrainian Crimea.
“We are all Ukrainians,” McCain said at the time.
In the TV clip Schiff showed, McCain said that it would make Russia very nervous if Ukraine is able to thrive.
Showcasing McCain may have been an attempt to appeal to Republicans who were close to him.
One of those Republicans, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, has been one of Trump’s most vocal defenders.
During the video of McCain, Graham seemed to show some emotion. He looked down at his desk and up at the video, before looking up towards the ceiling and blinking several times.
Republican senators were mostly stone-faced during the video. Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., told reporters the video strengthened a Democratic point that Republicans didn't need.
“I don’t think they need to convince us that Ukraine is really important,” Cramer said. “I think it’s all to play for TV."
Sen. Any Klobuchar, D-Minn., also a Democratic presidential candidate, said the video had a “strong” message for her colleagues.
“I kept thinking if John McCain was in the chamber today, or if he had heard the aid had been withdrawn, it might have been a different story,” she told reporters.
Jeffries asks: 'Who ordered the cover-up?'
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., raised the specter that someone directed the National Security Council’s top lawyer to put a transcript of President Donald Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on a secure server.
Did anyone senior to attorney John Eisenberg direct him to hide it? Why did it remain on the server even after this so-called error was discovered? Jeffries asked rhetorically.
“Who ordered the cover-up of the call record?” he asked senators. “The American people deserve to know.”
Jeffries, who is helping make the House manager’s argument that Trump obstructed Congress, said there are many outstanding questions because Eisenberg refused to testify. Other officials testified that Eisenberg ordered that access to the transcript be restricted after he was told what it contained, Jeffries said.
That strongly suggests, Jeffries continued, that senior officials attempted to conceal, rather than address, Trump’s misconduct. The cover-up continued, he said, after a whistleblower filed a complaint about the call. That prompted a two-part strategy to block Congress and the public from learning about the call while trying to convince Trump to lift his hold on military assistance to Ukraine before anyone could find out what was happening, Jeffries argued.
After Eisenberg and White House counsel Pat Cipollone reportedly briefed Trump on the whistleblower’s complaint, Jeffries said, the White House’s Office of Legal Council issued a secret opinion concluding that the complaint did not have to be shared with Congress.
Democrats stress importance of delaying aid to Ukraine
Democratic House impeachment manager Jason Crow, D-Colo. said President Donald Trump’s defenders might argue that the suspension in $391 million in military aid wasn’t important because it was short-lived and the money was eventually released.
“This defense would be laughable if this issue wasn’t so serious,” said Crow, a former Army Ranger. “No, the delay wasn’t meaningless. Just ask the Ukrainians sitting in trenches now.”
Ukraine needed the funding because it had been invaded by Russia and was fighting for its territorial integrity. Crow played a video of Jennifer Williams, a State Department aide assigned to Vice President Mike Pence’s office, who attended a Sept. 1 meeting between Pence and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“President Zelensky explained that equally with the financial and fiscal value, that it was the symbolic nature of that assistance that really was the show of U.S. support for Ukraine and for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Williams said, in her testimony during the House inquiry. “He was stressing that to the vice president, to really underscore the need for the security assistance to be released.”
Crow argued that Trump only released the money to use it as leverage to pressure Ukraine into investigating his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.
“The scheme was unraveling,” Crow said. “He only released it after he got caught.”
Final day of Democrat's opening arguments begins
House Democrats prosecuting the Senate impeachment trial against President Donald Trump resumed their arguments Friday.
On the final day of impeachment managers' opening arguments, they'll focus on the charge of obstruction of Congress, and how rejecting witnesses in the trial would further obstruct Congress.
The lead manager, Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said if Trump or his legal team claimed executive privilege to block testimony from witnesses such as former national security adviser John Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, that would add to the obstruction.
The Senate rejected proposals to subpoena witnesses before the opening arguments on party-line votes of 53 to 47. The rules from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., call for more votes on witnesses after the opening arguments from the House and White House lawyers are over, and after up to 16 hours of questions from senators.
Schiff urged senators not to reject witnesses at that point.
Trump and some congressional Republicans have said he could block testimony from top aides such as Bolton and Mulvaney under executive privilege, to protect confidential advice for future presidents. But Schiff said executive privilege can’t be used to hide misconduct.
The House managers are expected to finish their argument about abuse of power by early afternoon and then conclude their opening argument on its third day with a discussion of obstruction of Congress, Schiff said.
Trump team to begin defense Saturday at 10 a.m. EST
Right before the House managers began their final day of arguments, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced that the president’s team would begin its defense at 10 a.m. EST on Saturday and the session will run “for several hours.”
Like the House managers, the defense team has up to 24 hours spread over three days to make their case.
Jay Sekulow, one of Trump’s private lawyers, later told reporters his team will stop around 1 p.m. EST Saturday, at the request of senators, and resume Monday.
“The Senate asked for an accommodation,” he said. “We were prepared to go as long as they wanted us to go tomorrow.”
Sekulow said he hasn’t determined how much overall time they’ll need.
“Trust me,” he added. “There’ll be plenty to cover.”
Rep. Jim Jordan, one of eight House lawmakers who are part of Trump's defense team, told reporters Friday that the team is “very confident” because all of the facts are on the president’s side.
“I think this case is open and shut for the president,” Jordan said.
Graham: ‘I admire Joe Biden’ but …
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., had some kind words for former Vice President Joe Biden. Sort of.
The staunch Trump ally questioned his former Senate colleague’s judgment for allowing his son, Hunter, to join the board of Burisma Holdings in 2014 as the Ukraine gas company was under investigation because of its oligarch owner.
“As much as I like Joe Biden — and I do respect him and I do admire him. I’ve traveled the world with him," Graham began.
"I think it’s bad foreign policy, if you’re going to be in charge of dealing with corruption in Ukraine, that your son hook up with the most corrupt company in the Ukraine and turn Ukraine into an ATM machine,” Graham said during a Friday morning news conference on Capitol Hill.
Biden has often cited his role in rooting out corruption in Ukraine during the Obama administration.
When you put your family member in that situation, it’s not good folks,” Graham continued. “The vice president said he didn’t know anything about it. That questions how hard he was looking.”
One of the impeachment managers, Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, spent her presentation Thursday trying to poke holes in that Republican argument.
She argued that Trump urged Ukraine to investigate a debunked theory that Biden was protecting his son from an anti-corruption effort because Biden was leading polls as the Democratic challenger to Trump.
“The entire premise of the investigation that the president wanted Ukraine to pursue was false,” Garcia said. “There is simply no evidence – nothing, nada – in the record to support this baseless allegation.”
Alexander says he'll wait to decide on witnesses, documents
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a potential Republican swing vote on subpoenaing witnesses and documents, said Friday that he'll wait to decide on whether additional evidence should be compelled until after the first stage of the trial.
Speaking after a briefing with health officials on the coronavirus outbreak, Alexander said that once the initial presentations from both sides are over, his question would be “do we need more evidence? Do we need to hear witnesses? Do we need more documents? And I think that question can only be answered then.”
“As the house managers have said many times, they presented us with a mountain of overwhelming evidence so we have a lot to consider,” he said.
Republicans control the Senate by a 53-47 majority, meaning at least four Republicans would have to join all Democrats to vote to call more witnesses and documents in the trial.
Alexander is one of a handful of GOP senators that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer presumably was appealing to Friday when he made a pitch to allow more witnesses and documents.
“We’re seeking the truth at a momentous time in the American republic,” Schumer said. “It is on the shoulders of four Republican senators to join us in demanding it. We’ve made the argument forcefully. The American people have made the argument forcefully that they want to truth. Will four Republican senators, just four, rise to the occasion, do their duty to the constitution, to their country to seek the truth?”
Schumer did not name names, but the Republican senators seen as potentially open to more witnesses and documents include Alexander, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah.
Trump not happy with Saturday TV slot for his team's opening arguments
President Donald Trump's beef with the impeachment schedule? His lawyers must start presenting his case on a Saturday – a bad day for television ratings.
In one of a series of Friday morning tweets slamming the Senate impeachment trial, Trump took aim not only at Rep. Adam Schiff, D-CA, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, but the timing of his side's arguments.
"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 said in an early morning round of tweets Friday.
The former star of "The Apprentice" is no novice when it comes to understanding television ratings.