Donald Trump launched a bitter attack on the Democratic lawmaker leading the impeachment case against him on Sunday, saying he had “not paid the price, yet” as the president’s lawyers prepared to present their defence this week.
Democratic leaders rounded on the president after he tweeted that Adam Schiff, the chair of the House intelligence committee, was “a corrupt politician and possibly a very sick man”. And he added: “He has not paid the price, yet, for what he has done to our Country!”
Mr Schiff said he believed the tweet was intended as a threat against him, telling NBC’s Meet the Press Mr Trump was a “wrathful and vindictive president”.
Zoe Lofgren, another of the House Democrats presenting the case against the president to the Senate, told CNN’s State of the Union: “He ought to get a grip and be more presidential.”
The row is the latest sign of the increasingly acrimonious atmosphere in which the impeachment proceedings are being heard. Republican senators said over the weekend they had been offended by Mr Schiff himself when he repeated a news report suggesting they would find their “head on a pike” if they voted for impeachment.
Those partisan fights are likely to intensify this week, as Mr Trump’s legal team presents its case for his defence in full, while Democrats continue to urge Republican senators to vote for additional witnesses to be heard. Democrats need four Republicans to vote with them to admit any witnesses or additional documents as evidence.
Mr Schiff said on Sunday: “The American people understand what a fair trial is. A fair trial requires witnesses.”
But he also gave a sense of how his party will try to frame the outcome if it is unsuccessful either in calling additional witnesses or removing Mr Trump from office. He told Meet the Press: “If [Republicans] are successful in depriving the country of a fair trial, there is no exoneration.”
Mr Trump’s lawyers had their first chance to give their defence on Saturday during a two-hour session in which they argued that removing Mr Trump from office would be undemocratic.
Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, told senators: “[Democrats] are asking you not only to overturn the results of the last election but also they are asking you to remove President Trump from the ballot for the election that is coming in the next nine months.”
They argued that Mr Trump had not threatened to withhold military aid from Ukraine in order to trigger an investigation into his political rival Joe Biden — the central accusation of the Democrats’ case.
They claimed that when Mr Trump asked Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, to “do us a favour” during a phone call last July, he was asking him to launch an investigation into interference in the 2016 US election, and not into Mr Biden and his son’s business activities in Ukraine.
That argument referred to the president’s apparent belief that Ukrainian hackers might have accessed the Democratic party’s servers in the run-up to the 2016 election and not Russian ones, as has been concluded by US intelligence services.
Mr Schiff on Sunday said he thought that argument was “astonishing”, adding: “On the first day of the president’s defence to say: ‘The president should disbelieve his own intelligence agencies. He has every right to believe Vladimir Putin,’ I wouldn’t want to be making that argument.”