WASHINGTON — Democratic House prosecutors argued Thursday in Donald Trump’s impeachment trial that the president was swept up by a “completely bogus” Ukraine theory pushed by attorney Rudy Giuliani and 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 Security officials warning the public off the theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 election.
“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 — for his own political benefit while holding back congressionally approved military aid as leverage. Schiff said, “You an 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. Trump faces a second article of impeachment accusing 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 clear.
“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 claims that 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, sought the probe of debunked theories of what nation was guilty of interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
The president’s defense waited its turn, which may come on Saturday.
“We will be putting on a vigorous defense of both fact and rebutting what they said,” said attorney Jay Sekulow at the Capitol.
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 abou t Trump’s pressure on Ukraine and the scheme to cover up the charges and 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!”
Campaigning in Iowa, Biden said, “People ask the question, ‘Isn’t the president going to be stronger and harder to beat if he survives this?’ Yes, probably. But Congress has no choice,” He said senators must cast their votes and “live with that in 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 much as 24 hours. It’s unclear how much time they will actually take, but Trump’s team promises not only to defend the president but to take apart the Democrats’ case. 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 testif y.
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. Democrats said the supplemental testimony, which is classified, bolsters their impeachment case. A lawyer for Williams declined to comment.
Holding the room’s attentiion proved difficult for the Democrats Most senators sat at their desks throughout, as the rules stipulate, though some stretched their legs, standing behind the desks or against the back wall of the chamber. Sometimes they yawned. Republicans sometimes quietly smirked.
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.