Schiff Opens Impeachment Case Accusing Trump of ‘Corrupt Scheme’

The House impeachment managers began prosecuting their case to remove Donald Trump from office, accusing the president of a “corrupt scheme” that undermines the integrity of U.S. elections and puts the nation’s national security at risk.

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff opened the arguments by invoking the words of Alexander Hamilton and the concerns of the nation’s founders about foreign influence over the U.S. government, corrupt bargains and uncontrolled populist demagoguery.

He tied that to the timeline at the heart of the accusations in the impeachment case — that Trump withheld military aid to pressure the new government in Ukraine to announce an investigation related to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who had served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, to help his re-election campaign.

“In other words, to cheat,” the California Democrat said of the president’s demands to Ukraine. “The effect of his scheme was to undermine our free and fair elections.”

The arguments began after Democrats lost a day of marathon battles Tuesday over subpoenas for witnesses and documents. House managers will have 24 hours to present their arguments spread over three days. That means the president’s team, led by White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, will likely begin their defense on Saturday.

For the time being, the seven-member House team led by Schiff will have the floor of the Senate to themselves. Senators are required to sit silently, and no objections or questions are allowed under the rules governing the trial. Once both sides present their cases, senators will have 16 hours to submit written questions to each side. After that, they may consider calling witnesses or subpoenaing documents.

It’s not yet clear whether Trump’s defense will take the full amount of time alloted to them. Trump joked to reporters in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday that he’d like to attend the trial himself but that his lawyers would probably object.

“I’d love to go,” he said. “I’d sit in the front row and stare in their corrupt faces. I’d love to do it. Don’t keep talking, because you may convince me to do it.”

Schiff made clear that the House managers are framing the case on two articles of impeachment — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress –for both senators and voters.

The judgment of Americans — particularly affluent and educated suburban voters who may back Republican policies but have reservations about the president’s conduct — is likely to be more important than any influence the arguments may have on the senators.

A verdict of acquittal is almost universally expected in Washington, with the GOP in control of the chamber 53-47 and a two-thirds majority needed to convict. But the historic proceedings — only the third presidential impeachment trial in history — may shape the views of voters in November’s election, particularly those not closely aligned with either party.

Schiff argued that Trump views his powers as president as “political tools to be wielded against his opponents, including asking a foreign government to investigate a United States citizen.”

“There is no question” that Trump intended to press Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to look into Biden, Trump’s political rival, Schiff said. “These facts are not in dispute.”

Schiff noted that Trump’s July 25 call to Zelenskiy came one day after Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony to Congress about his investigation that found that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help elect Trump, and his campaign willingly made use of that aid.

Trump “did not feel shamed by what the special counsel found, he did not feel deterred by what the special counsel found, he felt emboldened by escaping accountability,” Schiff said. “For the very, very next day he is on the phone soliciting foreign interference” from Ukraine.

The House team supplemented Schiff’s remarks with video recordings of statements by Trump as well as witnesses who testified at House hearings.

The two sides spent Tuesday in a tense debate on rules for the trial, ultimately voting along party lines to delay a decision on whether the House managers can call witnesses or subpoena documents.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said Wednesday that Republicans’ rejection of his party’s initial requests to call witnesses reveal the trial as a “charade” and that Democrats will continue to press for testimony and documents.

“The pressure will continue to build on Senate Republicans,” Schumer said.

Senator Roy Blunt, one of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s top lieutenants, said that Tuesday’s effort by Democrats to force a vote on all their amendments seeking witnesses was a “cynical” ploy to push the president’s defense out of the prime-time slot.

“Yesterday was all about trying to deny the president’s side a chance to start their presentation before the end of the week and the break of Sunday,” Blunt told reporters.

Cipollone on Tuesday echoed president’s public claims that the charges against him are “ridiculous” and the House impeachment process was unlawful. Cipollone asserted that most Americans are turned off by long hours of repetitive arguments.

— With assistance by Josh Wingrove, and Jordan Fabian

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