Schiff says Trump compromised 2020 election, and removal from office is only solution

Jon WardSenior Political Correspondent
Yahoo News

WASHINGTON — House impeachment managers began three days of opening arguments Wednesday afternoon in the Senate trial, aiming to prove that President Trump abused the power of the presidency, obstructed Congress and has so compromised the integrity of the 2020 election that removing him from office is the only valid solution.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the lead impeachment manager, told the Senate that “if [Trump’s] conduct is not impeachable, then nothing is.”

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All 100 senators sat at their desks for the second day in a row, a highly unusual situation that occurred only because impeachment rules require it. They quietly listened to Schiff begin the Democrats’ case, convening less than 12 hours after they had left the chamber around 2 a.m. earlier that day following a 13-hour first day in the trial.

Schiff, who oversaw the House impeachment inquiry as chair of the Intelligence Committee, began his nearly two and a half hours of opening remarks by thanking Chief Justice John Roberts — who is presiding over the trial — and the senators for enduring the long day on Tuesday.

“You heard every word and argument in this impeachment trial, and I know we are all grateful for that. It was an exhausting day, but we have adrenaline going through our veins, and for those who are required to sit and listen, it is a much more difficult task,” Schiff said.

House impeachment manager Adam Schiff gives opening remarks on the Senate floor during the impeachment trial of President Trump on Wednesday. (Screengrab: Senate TV via Yahoo News)
House impeachment manager Adam Schiff gives opening remarks on the Senate floor during the impeachment trial of President Trump on Wednesday. (Screengrab: Senate TV via Yahoo News)

He then switched gears, reading a quote from Alexander Hamilton, expressing the fears of America’s founders that a demagogue might try to rise to power in their burgeoning democracy if not properly constrained by a system of checks and balances.

“When a man unprincipled in private life … is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity … it may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion, that he might ride the storm and direct the whirlwind,” Schiff said, quoting from what Hamilton wrote in 1792.

It was one of eight times Schiff would mention Hamilton in his first hour of remarks. He laid out a historical case for why the founders inserted impeachment into the Constitution.

“They feared that a president would subvert our democracy by abusing the awesome power of the office for his own personal or political gain. And so they devised a remedy for the evil it was meant to combat, impeachment,” Schiff said.

“I don’t think that impeachment power is a relic. If it is a relic, I wonder how much longer our republic can succeed,” he said.

The House impeached Trump on Dec. 18 for pressuring the government of Ukraine to investigate the son of Joe Biden, the former vice president who is a leading candidate to replace Trump as president in the 2020 election.

“President Trump withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to a strategic partner, at war with Russia, to secure foreign help with his reelection — in other words, to cheat,” Schiff said.

President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a meeting in New York on Sept. 25, on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. (Photo: Saul Loeb /AFP via Getty Images)
President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a meeting in New York on Sept. 25, on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. (Photo: Saul Loeb /AFP via Getty Images)

And Schiff made the remarkable assertion that impeachment is necessary because Trump’s attempts to solicit Ukrainian interference in the 2020 election have called the integrity of the presidential contest into question.

“The president's misconduct cannot be decided at the ballot box, for we cannot be assured that the vote will be fairly won,” Schiff said.

“Americans decide American elections. At least they should,” he said.

Schiff took to the well of the chamber and began speaking from a lectern a few minutes after the Senate chaplain, Barry Black, opened the session with a prayer asking God to “help [senators] remember that patriots reside on both sides of the aisle” and that “words have consequences.”

In the moments before the Senate came to order, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell huddled with the president’s lawyer Pat Cipollone. McConnell, gesturing animatedly, spoke for several minutes while Cipollone listened with his arms crossed and his head slightly bowed. McConnell pointed, patted Cipollone on the arm and pumped his fist, an unusual show for the normally restrained Republican leader.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer playfully leaned over and cupped his hand to his ear for a moment.

Cipollone had a less than stellar showing Tuesday in the first day of trial proceedings, apparently caught off guard by Schiff’s aggressive prosecution of the case against Trump from the beginning of what many thought would be a sleepy debate over the rules of the trial.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone during impeachment proceedings in the Senate. (Screengrab: Senate TV handout via Yahoo News)
White House counsel Pat Cipollone during impeachment proceedings in the Senate. (Screengrab: Senate TV handout via Yahoo News)

On Wednesday, Cipollone and the rest of his legal team had no role other than to sit and listen to Schiff and the other House managers make their arguments. The House managers have 24 hours over three days to make their opening arguments, and then on Saturday, Cipollone and Trump’s team will get their turn and have the same amount of time available to them.

It’s not known yet whether the president’s lawyers will use all three days available to them. After they conclude their opening arguments, senators will have two days to ask questions — submitted in writing to the chief justice — and after that the Senate will debate whether to allow witnesses and subpoena documents from the White House. 

Schiff took a more deliberate, measured and at times low-key approach in his second day of arguments.

Yet Republicans were already demonstrating impatience with Schiff’s lengthy speeches. When he hit the two-hour mark, several Republican senators were standing in the back of the chamber, stretching their legs. A few were out of the chamber altogether and in the cloakroom, despite Senate impeachment rules that require them to be at their desks.

The Republicans thought Schiff was wrapping up. Instead, he said he was turning to a new topic, and an audible groan went up among the Republicans.

Jay Sekulow, one of the lawyers on Trump’s legal team, told reporters that Schiff’s lengthy speech made his arguments less persuasive.

“The more they do this, two-and-a-half-hour events at a time, it undercuts their entire argument,” Sekulow said. “The good news is we only have 22 more hours to go, and then we’ll go.”

President Trump's personal attorney Jay Sekulow during opening arguments in the Senate impeachment trial on Tuesday. (Screengrab: U.S. Senate TV/handout via Reuters)
President Trump's personal attorney Jay Sekulow during opening arguments in the Senate impeachment trial on Tuesday. (Screengrab: U.S. Senate TV/handout via Reuters)

Schiff, near the end of his presentation, put Trump’s actions in a larger geopolitical and historical context.

“If we do not say clearly that this behavior is unacceptable and … impeachable, we also undermine our global standing as a country long viewed as a model for democratic ideals worth emulating,” he said.

Schiff added that Ukraine is a crucial ally in the struggle against the autocracy represented by Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Ukraine, he said, is “the de facto proving ground for just the types of hybrid warfare that the 21st century will become defined by — cyberattacks, disinformation campaigns, efforts to undermine the legitimacy of state institutions.”

“If we allow the president of the United States to pursue his political and personal interests rather than the national interests, we send a message to our European allies that our commitment to a Europe free and whole is for sale to the highest bidder,” Schiff said.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said she hoped that at least a few of her Republican colleagues were absorbing Schiff’s arguments. 

“I kept looking at my colleagues, thinking, ‘Are you listening? This is wrong,’” Klobuchar told CNN. 

But some Republican senators signaled that they had no intention of taking the impeachment proceedings seriously. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., placed a crossword puzzle on his desk at the beginning of the proceedings. 

Before Schiff had said a word, Paul tweeted, “The more we hear from Adam Schiff, the more the GOP is getting unified against this partisan charade!”

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