WASHINGTON — House Democrats made to lay out their case for removing President Donald Trump from office as the Senate impeachment trial began opening statements Wednesday.
Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California opened the proceedings by citing Founding Father Alexander Hamilton on why impeachment was included in the U.S. Constitution.
“We are here today in this hallowed chamber, undertaking this solemn action for only the third time in history because Donald J. Trump, the 45th president of the United States, has acted precisely as Hamilton and his contemporaries feared,” Schiff said.
He followed with an explanation of the charges against Trump.
Schiff, the chairman of House Intelligence Committee, said Trump withheld military aid from Ukraine to pressure the country’s president to announce an investigation into Trump’s political rivals.
“The president used official state powers available only to him and unavailable to any political opponent to advantage himself in a democratic election,” Schiff said to the Senate floor. “His scheme was undertaken for a simple but a corrupt reason: to help him win re-election in 2020.”
House impeachment managers have 24 hours spread out over three days to make their opening arguments, then the president’s defense team gets the same amount of time.
“We also took this step with the knowledge that this wasn’t the first time the president solicited foreign interference into our elections,” Schiff continued. “In 2016, then-candidate Trump implored Russia to hack his opponents’ email accounts — something the Russian military agency did only hours later. … When the president said, ‘Hey Russia, are you listening?’ They were listening.”
Other Democratic congressmembers selected to be impeachment managers presented their opening arguments, explaining why they think Trump abused the power of his office and obstructed Congress’s investigation into his conduct.
“This is a story of a corrupt, government-wide effort that drew in ambassadors, cabinet officials, executive branch agencies, and the office of the president,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler said. “This effort threatened the security of Ukraine in its military struggle with Russia and compromised our own national security interests because the president only cared about his personal political interests.”
The members recapped what witnesses testified about Trump’s call with the president of Ukraine and other communications between the administration and Ukrainian officials about a potential investigation into the Bidens.
Democrats argue that by doing this, the president sought foreign interference in U.S. elections. The president’s defense team won’t officially present its case until later in the week, but his congressional supporters offered a rebuttal outside the Senate chamber.
“It’s one of those things when you’ve heard the argument, the story over and over again, and you know the punchline to this joke, you can’t even pay attention,” Republican Rep. Mark Meadows said. “I would suggest that the American people turn the channel and watch something else.”
Members of the media have been restricted on where and how they can talk to senators.
Trump’s attorneys have argued that the impeachment proceedings are political motivated.
“If the point was trying to convince people, I think they’re off to a terrible start,” Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri said. “It was clear yesterday that they were not ready for trial, that they did not want to try and proceed to try this case, and that they had no plan to actually try and persuade senators. So I look forward to seeing what today brings.”
During their opening statements, Democrats continued to press senators to call more witnesses and to seek more documents. Leaders in the Republican-controlled Senate said they’d consider those issues after this phase of the trial wrapped up.
Trump, meanwhile, was expected back in Washington on Wednesday evening after speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is giving both sides an extra day to lay out opening arguments but the same amount of time: 24 hours, spread over three days instead of two. This means the earliest the White House can begin its arguments is Saturday.
Senate leaders have said they hope to have the entire trial wrapped up within two weeks.
Session to lay out ground rules goes into overnight hours
A marathon session on ground rules for the actual trial ran well into the evening Tuesday, and the final vote to approve Senate resolution 438 took place at 2 a.m. Wednesday, passing along a party-line vote of 53-47.
Ultimately, the Republican-led Senate threw out all 11 amendments from Democrats, who wanted to subpoena documents from the Trump administration, like text messages and emails.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts gaveled open the session, with House prosecutors on one side, Trump’s team on the other, in the well of the Senate, as senators sat silently at their desks, under oath to do “impartial justice.”
No cellphones or other electronics were allowed.
As the day stretched deep into the night, lawyerly arguments gave way to more pointedly political ones. Tempers flared and senators paced the chamber.
After one particularly bitter post-midnight exchange, Roberts intervened, taking the rare step of admonishing both the Democratic House managers prosecuting the case and the White House counsel to “remember where they are.”
“I think it is appropriate at this point for me to admonish both the House managers and the president’s counsel in equal terms to remember that they are addressing the world’s greatest deliberative body,” the usually reserved Roberts said.
Only on one amendment, to allow more time to file motions, did a single Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, join Democrats. But it, too, was rejected, 52-48.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.