Dems Face Risks, Limits in Trump Trial 01/23 06:15
The challenge is becoming increasingly clear for House Democrats prosecuting
President Donald Trump's impeachment case as the Senate convenes for a second
day of arguments in the landmark trial.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The challenge is becoming increasingly clear for House
Democrats prosecuting President Donald Trump's impeachment case as the Senate
convenes for a second day of arguments in the landmark trial.
No matter how overwhelming the evidence confronting Trump, it becomes less
compelling when presented again and again, day after day, as Democrats try to
convince not just fidgety senators but an American public deeply divided over
the Republican president in an election year.
The team led by Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of House Intelligence
Committee, constructed a gripping account of Trump's political pressure on
Ukraine and attempt to cover up the "corrupt scheme" central to the charges.
But the limits are apparent. Prosecutors must rely on the same loops of
videotaped testimony --- ambassadors, national security officials and even the
president himself --- after Trump's GOP Senate allies blocked new witnesses.
Democrats were once reluctant to take on impeachment during an election year
but are marching toward a decision by the Senate that the American public also
"We're trying this case to two juries --- the Senate and the American
people," Schiff acknowledged Wednesday ahead of opening arguments. "The
American people are watching. The American people are listening. And they do
have an open mind."
Trump's lawyers sat by, waiting their turn, while the president blasted the
proceedings from afar, joking that he would face off with the Democrats by
coming to "sit right in the front row and stare at their corrupt faces."
House Democrats impeached Trump last month, arguing he abused his office by
asking Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden while withholding
crucial military aid. They also charged him with obstructing Congress by
refusing to turn over documents or allow officials to testify in the House
probe. Republicans have defended Trump's actions as appropriate and cast the
process as a politically motivated effort to weaken the president in the midst
of his reelection campaign.
Campaigning in Iowa, Biden stood by the effort to remove Trump from office.
"People ask the question, 'Isn't the president going to be stronger and
harder to beat if he survives this?' Yes, probably. But Congress has no
choice," he said. Senators must cast their votes and "live with that in
Each side has 24 hours over three days to present their case. After the
House prosecutors finish Friday, the president's lawyers will follow. They are
expected to take only Sunday off and push into next week.
Then there will be 16 hours for senators, who must sit quietly at their
desks, no speeches or cellphones, to ask written question, and another four
hours for deliberations.
"There's a lot of things I'd like to rebut," said Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow
at the Capitol, "and we will rebut."
On the first day of opening arguments, Schiff appealed to senators not to be
"cynical" about politics, but to draw on the intent of the nation's Founding
Fathers in providing the remedy of impeachment and removal. He spoke directly
to Republicans to join them in voting to oust Trump from office to "protect our
Holding the room proved difficult. Most senators sat at their desks
throughout, as the rules stipulate, though some stretched their legs, standing
behind the desks or against the back wall of the chamber, passing the time.
Sometimes they outwardly yawned. Republicans quietly smirked at the
presentation from Schiff and the lesser-known House Democrats prosecuting the
Nearing nine long hours of arguments, the empty seats became glaringly
apparent. Sen. Dianne Feinstein D-Calif., was under the weather and left early.
Some lawmakers dashed down the hall to appear on television. Visitors thinned
from the galleries, one briefly interrupting in protest and being removed by
The impeachment trial is set against the backdrop of the 2020 election. All
four senators who are Democratic presidential candidates are off the campaign
trail, seated as jurors.
Several GOP senators said Wednesday they'd seen no evidence to support the
allegations against Trump even though, just 24 hours earlier, they had rejected
subpoenas for additional witnesses as well as documents. Democrats, meanwhile,
described the evidence against the president as overwhelming but said senators
had a duty to gather more.
A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research
showed the public slightly more likely to say the Senate should convict and
remove Trump from office than to say it should not, 45% to 40%. But a sizable
percentage, 14%, said they didn't know enough to have an opinion.
One issue with wide agreement: Trump should allow top aides to appear as
witnesses at the trial. About 7 in 10 said so, including majorities of
Republicans and Democrats, according to the poll.
The strategy of more witnesses, though, seemed all but settled. Republicans
rejected Democratic efforts to get Trump aides including former national
security adviser John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting chief
of staff Mick Mulvaney, to testify in back-to-back votes earlier this week.
Senators were likely to repeat that rejection next week, shutting out any
chance of new testimony.
A long-shot idea to pair one of Trump's preferred witnesses --- Biden's son
Hunter Biden --- with Bolton or another that Democrats want was swiftly
rejected. "That's off the table," Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer told
Biden also rejected having his son testify or even appearing himself. "I
want no part of that," he told voters in Iowa.
Some Republicans expressed disdain for it all. Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa spoke
sarcastically about how excited she was to hear the "overwhelming evidence" the
House Democrats promised against Trump.
"And once we've heard that overwhelming evidence," she said, raising her
voice mockingly, "I don't know that we'll need to see additional witnesses, but
let's hear about that overwhelming evidence."
Schumer bemoaned the limits on witnesses, saying Wednesday the impeachment
trial "begins with a cloud hanging over it, a cloud of unfairness."
Republicans remained eager for a swift trial. Yet Trump's legal team passed
on an opportunity to file a motion to dismiss the case on Wednesday, an
acknowledgment that there were not enough Republican votes to support it.
The White House legal team, in its court filings and presentations, has not
disputed Trump's actions. But the lawyers insist the president did nothing