Democrats Say Impeachment Trial Makes Case for Calling Witnesses

Billy House, Laura Litvan and Steven T. Dennis

(Bloomberg) -- Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said that as House Democrats move into their second day of building an impeachment case against President Donald Trump it will be harder for Republicans to ignore their calls for additional witnesses and evidence.

Schumer expressed confidence in the House impeachment managers, saying Thursday that the “atmosphere of the Senate took on an entirely different dimension” during the first day of the House’s argument, which featured quotes and video clips of witness testimony from last year’s inquiry.

The arguments by the House impeachment managers on Thursday turn to a focus on the impeachment article charging him with abuse of power at the same time they continue working to persuade moderate Republicans that they should subpoena witnesses such as former National Security Adviser John Bolton.

“Make no mistake about the issue of relevant evidence -- documents and witnesses -- is going to come back up,” Schumer said.

Trump’s defense team likely will get their turn starting Saturday, with the president’s lawyers promising a vigorous defense against an investigation they have labeled as rushed and biased.

Jay Sekulow, one of the lawyers representing Trump, said the response to the Democrats’ case would combine both a rebuttal of their arguments as well as a positive defense of the president’s actions.“There’s two parts to what we’re going to do: we’re going to respond of course to what the House managers put forward and we are going to make an affirmative case defending the president,” he told reporters at the Capitol on Wednesday. He said he couldn’t say whether the defense would take all three days alloted.

Schumer said the House prosecution is “setting the bar very high for the president’s counsel to meet.” He derided Trump’s team as “unprepared, confused and tending to conspiracy theories.”

Over more than nine hours Wednesday, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff and the other managers walked the Senate through a step-by-step chronology aimed at portraying a president who sought to pressure Ukraine into investigating his main political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.

“If impeachment and removal cannot hold him accountable, then he truly is above the law,” Schiff said. “Impeachment and a fair trial, impartial consideration of all the evidence against the president, is how we keep our republic.”

The House managers’ case is being made explicitly with two juries in mind: the senators in the chamber sitting silently at their desks who will vote on the articles of impeachment, and the American public, who will decide in less than 10 months on whether to return Trump to office.

Schiff said most of the Senate and the public were unlikely to have watched or paid attention to all of the hearings that were held in the House from October through November.

“We cannot assume that the senators were able to do that -- let alone the American people were able to do that,” he said during a break in the trial.

Still, there were no signs that the Democrats had swayed many Republicans, and Trump’s acquittal in the GOP-controlled chamber is all but assured.

During their presentations, the House managers played video excerpts of witnesses at the House hearings. Former acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor; Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union; and former National Security Council official Fiona Hill, in particular, had what amounted to reprised starring roles on the Senate floor.

Withheld Documents

Schiff used Taylor to make a vivid point about the evidence that had been withheld by the Trump administration. In Taylor’s House testimony last year, he recounted the highly unusual step of writing a direct, first-person cable to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo raising concerns about the delay in military aid to Ukraine. Taylor said it was the only such cable he had ever sent.

Schiff then rhetorically asked senators if they wanted to read what it said, adding after a pause: “I would like to read it to you right now. Except I don’t have it because the State Department won’t permit it.”

The House prosecutors also showed several clips of the president publicly calling for Ukraine and even China to investigate the Bidens, seeking to use Trump’s own words to make the case that he sought foreign help to damage a political opponent.

Public Exposure

Even without new witnesses, Democrats were able to highlight what they wanted for the millions watching on television without having any cross-examination from the president’s lawyers.

Entertainment industry publication Variety reported that about 11 million people watched Tuesday’s opening of the trial across six cable and broadcast networks during the day.

While a number of Republicans complained that Democrats presented no new arguments or evidence – and there were clear signs of restlessness in the chamber as the presentations dragged on -- some senators said they were, indeed, hearing new information.”I’ve learned a lot and I think everybody has,” said John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican. “Senators didn’t know the case. We didn’t stay glued to the television, we hadn’t read the transcript.”

Democrats are continuing to press for the introduction of witnesses later in the trial after Republicans rejected attempts to settle the question before the proceedings got underway. That battle will be fought anew after Trump’s team delivers their defense and senators submit questions on the presentations from both sides.During a break, several GOP senators said they would demand their own roster of witnesses if Democrats force the issue.“The idea of witnesses will not get anywhere if it’s not reciprocal,” Indiana Senator Mike Braun said. He said at the top of his witness is Joe Biden.

Witness Debate

Texas Republican Ted Cruz said House Democrats have now made testimony from Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden “crucial.”

Cruz said the Democrats’ argument is that Trump wasn’t justified in asking Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. That means the Senate should have more information about whether the former vice president acted corruptly to protect his son, who was serving on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian natural gas company, Cruz said.

“The need for the Senate to hear the testimony of Hunter Biden has become all the more relevant,” Cruz said. “Burisma was the only Ukrainian company that had prima facie evidence of American corruption.”

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer shot down the idea of any trades on witness lists. However it would only take 51 votes in the Senate to call any witness once the decision is made to hear new testimony.

Both sides appeared keenly aware that the judgment of voters-- 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 might have on the senators.

Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, a member of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s leadership team, said he had little doubt that after senators have a chance to ask questions of both sides, Republicans would unite behind moving swiftly toward an acquittal and reject calls for more witnesses and documents.“This is not just about the impeachment of the president, this is a focus by the Democrats to attempt to take the Senate,” Barrasso said, echoing comments by GOP colleagues.

--With assistance from Mike Dorning, Daniel Flatley, Laura Davison and Erik Wasson.

To contact the reporters on this story: Billy House in Washington at bhouse5@bloomberg.net;Laura Litvan in Washington at llitvan@bloomberg.net;Steven T. Dennis in Washington at sdennis17@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net

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