Democrats Close Case Saying Trump Must Be Held Accountable
(Bloomberg) -- The House impeachment managers wrapped up their case against President Donald Trump by warning senators that they will cause sustained damage to the Constitution and the nation’s system of government if they don’t hold him accountable.
“That will be an unending injury to this country,” Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said in his summation. “The balance of power that our founders set out will never be the same.”
The California Democrat, who led the House managers, also made an attempt to neutralize what he anticipated would be the arguments of Trump’s defense team when they present their case beginning Saturday. Schiff said they would attack the process, attack him and the other impeachment managers as well as a variety of Democrats.
The argument that the process was unfair and driven by hatred of the president, Schiff said, is “another of the myriad forms of ‘please do not consider what the president did.’”
As Schiff built up to a dramatic rhetorical finish, Republicans started paying closer attention. They erupted when he referred to a CBS News report, which, citing an unnamed source, said “a group of senators were warned ‘Vote against the president and your head will be on a pike.’ I don’t know if that is true.”
Susan Collins of Maine, who has been attentive throughout the trial, burst out “not true!” clearly audible from the gallery and shook her head no.
Lisa Murkowski of Alaska later said on CNN that “that’s where he lost me” -- an ominous sign for Democrats given her vote -- and Collins’ -- could be crucial on whether to extend the trial as Schiff was demanding for witnesses and documents withheld by Trump.
In their final day of arguments, House prosecutors focused on the July 25 call with Ukraine’s president that Trump has repeatedly characterized as “perfect.”
They played video clips of two White House aides’ testimony that they told lawyers Trump had asked Ukraine’s leader for an inappropriate “favor” during the call. After that point there was no question that Trump, not his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, was in charge, the Democrats said.
“After July 25, there can be no mistake the president of the United States was undoubtedly calling the shots,” said Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, one of the seven managers. He said White House lawyers’ decision to save a memo on the call in a highly secure server showed “they tried to bury the call summary.”
Trump’s lawyers will begin their defense in a Saturday session that will start at 10 a.m. Washington time and run for several hours, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. The president lamented on Twitter Friday morning that Saturdays are the “Death Valley” of television.
Schiff led the other House managers in pulling together what had been a disjointed collection of testimony into a timeline they said shows Trump took a sudden interest in Ukrainian corruption only after former Vice President Joe Biden entered the presidential race. Trump then withheld almost $400 million in military aid and a White House meeting sought by the recently-elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, while seeking an investigation of Biden and his son Hunter, Democrats say.
“The question for you is whether it’s OK for the president to withhold taxpayer money, aid for our ally and friend at war, for a personal benefit,” House manager Jason Crow of Colorado told the senators Friday. “Whether it’s OK for the president to sacrifice our national security for his own election. It’s not OK to me, it’s certainly not OK with the American people, and should not be OK with you.”
The managers argued that the only explanation for Trump’s decision to hold up almost $400 million in aid to Ukraine was to pressure the new government to announce an investigation of Joe and his son, who had served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, to bolster the president’s re-election campaign. The aid had been appropriated by Congress.
In his arguments, Jeffries pointed to testimony during the House investigation from two National Security Council aides -- Timothy Morrison and Alexander Vindman -- who were on the call between Trump and Zelenskiy.
Morrison and Vindman said they were dismayed when they heard Trump stray from prepared talking points and request a probe of the Bidens as a “favor,” and reported that to the NSC’s legal counsel. That lawyer in turn responded by moving the record of the call to the secure server where the public would never see it, Jeffries said.
Schiff pointed to testimony by William Taylor, the former acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, about the importance of clear American support for Ukraine to help quell Russian hostilities. Trump’s decision to withhold the aid was devastating and risky, Schiff said, and could cause other allies to lose faith in the U.S.
“This is how alliances wither and die, and how Russia wins,” he said.
Trump’s defense lawyers will have as many as 24 hours over three days to present their case, although they haven’t said whether they will use all their time. Trump attorney Jay Sekulow said Friday his team plans to showcase allegations against Joe Biden.
Sekulow said that the House Democrats in their argument opened a “wide” door to discussions of Hunter Biden’s work for Ukrainian gas company Burisma Holdings, at a time when Biden served as vice president and worked on corruption issues in Ukraine, in their presentation.
“I guess they felt that was their way of getting ahead of it,” Sekulow said. “We will address it.”
The Bidens may come into play if at least four Republicans join with Democrats to provide 51 votes to subpoena witnesses blocked by Trump from testifying in the House impeachment inquiry. Among those Democrats want to call are acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and former Trump National Security Adviser John Bolton.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Friday rejected the notion that calling new witnesses would lead to an extended court battle over executive privilege. If the Senate issued subpoenas they would be considered bipartisan and would bear the signature of Chief Justice John Roberts, he said, making an expedited court review likely.
“We know they’ll pressure Republican senators, but four Republican senators can step forward and say that we need witnesses and documents,” Schumer said at a news conference. “And there are 12 or 13 who have never said a bad word about witnesses and documents.”
Once Trump’s defense team is finished, senators have as many as 16 hours to ask questions of both sides before the showdown vote on witnesses. If the door is opened to new witnesses sought by Democrats, 51 Republicans could join to call their own slate. Several GOP senators have said one or both Bidens should be on that list.
But Senate Republican leaders are expressing growing confidence that the Senate will reject a vote on whether to seek more evidence. A staunch Trump ally, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, told reporters Friday, “I don’t want to call Hunter Biden, I don’t want to call Joe Biden. I want someone to look at this when this is done.”
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