Trump impeachment trial: Democrats lay out the case
Democrats presented their case in the Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump on Wednesday with blow-by-blow detail aimed at showing that his pressure campaign in Ukraine had undermined US democracy and emboldened dictators around the world.
During the first day of opening arguments, House Democrats serving as impeachment managers outlined how the US president had pushed his Ukrainian counterpart to announce an investigation into former vice-president Joe Biden and his son.
Building on his party’s case that Mr Trump’s Republican defenders were taking part in a cover-up, Adam Schiff, the California congressman leading the prosecution, stressed that the US is a democracy, which does not give “unyielding loyalty to a president who would be king”.
In contrast with Tuesday, when Democrats and Republicans fought over the trial rules, Wednesday was given over to the president’s opponents, who laid out evidence unearthed in the House investigation that led to Mr Trump’s impeachment.
Here are the highlights so far:
Democrats said Mr Trump put pressure on Kyiv to announce an investigation into the Bidens through a variety of means. They included withholding $391m in military aid to Ukraine; making clear that a White House meeting with Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, would only happen if Kyiv complied; and cancelling a visit by Mike Pence, the vice-president, to attend the inauguration of Mr Zelensky.
The Democrats also described how Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor serving as a personal lawyer for Mr Trump, orchestrated the campaign, which included a successful effort to recall the US ambassador to Ukraine.
Mr Schiff outlined what he described as the broader ramifications of the campaign — that Mr Trump had endangered the US by emboldening dictators and autocrats, such as Russian president Vladimir Putin. He said it also sent a dangerous message to US allies that they could no longer rely on the US.
“If we allow the president of the United States to pursue his political and personal interests rather than the national interest, we send a message to our European allies that our commitment to a Europe that is free . . . is for sale to the highest bidder,” Mr Schiff said.
Ahead of his remarks, Mr Schiff said that even though the information to be presented had emerged in private and public House hearings last year, he believed some of the senators would hear things for the first time and would be surprised.
To help make his case, Mr Schiff and his colleagues routinely showed video recordings of key testimony from current and former government officials, in addition to comments from Mr Trump, that were designed to show that the allegations against Mr Trump were not the product of a “witch hunt”, as the president has said.
In one example, the Democrats showed footage of Fiona Hill, the former top National Security Council official for Russia and Europe, who recalled Mr Bolton saying that Mr Giuliani was a “hand grenade” who would blow up the administration.
She also testified that Mr Bolton had described some of the efforts to pressure Ukraine as a “drug deal” being “cooked up” by Mick Mulvaney, White House chief of staff, and Gordon Sondland, US ambassador to the EU.
Bolton for Biden swap?
Democrats have repeatedly stated that they want to hear from former national security adviser John Bolton — but they also appear to be drawing a line at what they are willing to do to secure that testimony.
Both Mr Schiff and Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, rejected the idea of Mr Biden’s son Hunter testifying at the trial, in exchange for Republicans agreeing to call Mr Bolton as a witness. As Mr Schiff put it to reporters: “This isn’t like some fantasy football trade.” Mr Trump’s legal team, he asserted, wanted “to use the trial to smear the Bidens. That’s not the purpose of the trial.”
Responding from Iowa where he was campaigning ahead of the February 3 caucuses, Mr Biden said he had no intention of taking part in some kind of a trade.
Jerrold Nadler under fire
Republican lawmakers have found a new favourite target: Jerrold Nadler, a New York congressman who is serving as one of the seven House impeachment managers.
Mr Nadler faced down criticism for a comment he made on the Senate floor late on Tuesday night, in which he accused Republican senators of being part of a “cover-up”. The comment spurred a warning from John Roberts, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, who is presiding over the trial. He told Mr Nadler and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone to raise the level of discourse.
Republican operatives and lawmakers said Mr Nadler risked alienating the few Republican moderates whose votes Democrats need. “If the goal was to persuade, they took a huge step backward last night,” Republican senator Josh Hawley was quoted as saying by Politico.
Schiff summons the founding fathers
If Tuesday’s arguments centred largely around whether the rules mirrored Bill Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial, day two took a longer view of history, with nods to Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin and John F Kennedy.
Mr Schiff quoted all three men, as he sought to weave the charges against Mr Trump into a broader narrative about how the founding fathers thought about the weighty subject of impeachment.
“They did not intend for the power of impeachment to be used frequently or as a matter of policy,” he said. “But they put it in the constitution for a reason.”
As he ended his presentation, he reminded senators of what Franklin, a signatory to the US constitution, said 233 years before the impeachment trial of Donald Trump.
“As Benjamin Franklin departed the constitutional convention he was asked, ‘What have we got, a republic or a monarchy?’. He responded simply, ‘A republic if you can keep it’,” Mr Schiff said, adding: “A fair trial, an impartial consideration of all of the evidence against the president is how we keep our republic.”
Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @dimi