Democrats were poised on Thursday to press forward at US President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial with their arguments for removing him from office, but his fellow Republicans showed no signs of softening their resistance to the Democratic case.
US Representative Adam Schiff and six other Democratic case “managers” are presenting arguments that Trump should be convicted of two articles of impeachment passed by the House last month – abuse of power and obstruction of Congress – for pressuring Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden last year, and impeding the inquiry into the matter.
Blocked so far in their drive to persuade the Republican-led Senate to let them call new witnesses, Democrats are using their time instead to outline an extensive narrative, complete with video clips, based on the testimony presented during hearings in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.
The case focuses on efforts by Trump and his aides to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Biden, a leading 2020 Democratic presidential contender, and Biden’s son on unsubstantiated corruption charges as well as a discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 presidential election. Nearly $400 million in US military aid to Ukraine was frozen during that period.
“We have the evidence to prove President Trump ordered the aid withheld, he did so to force Ukraine to help his re-election campaign,” Schiff said during arguments on Wednesday that stretched for eight hours. “We can and will prove President Trump guilty of this conduct and of obstructing the investigation into his conduct.”
Trump denies wrongdoing and his fellow Republicans, who control the US Senate, have said his conduct did not fit the description of “high crimes and misdemeanours” outlined in the US Constitution as a rationale to oust a president.
Trump is almost certain to be acquitted by the 100-member Senate, where there are 53 Republicans and where a two-thirds majority of those present is needed to remove him from office. Even if it seems to be a long shot that a sufficient number of Republicans would vote to remove the president, the trial presents Democrats an opportunity to inflict political damage on Trump, who is seeking a second four-year term in the Nov. 3 election, with millions of Americans watching the televised proceedings.
The seven House Democratic “managers” serving as prosecutors in the trial were due at 1 p.m. (1800 GMT) to begin presenting the second of three days of opening arguments. That would mean that Trump’s defence team, a group of White House lawyers and outside counsel who will be given three days for rebuttal, would likely start to present their case on Saturday.
Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow said it was unclear whether the Trump defence would need all three days.#
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“We will make a determination on our presentation based on what we are responding to and based on our affirmative case,” Sekulow said. “I don’t know if it will take 10 hours, 14 hours, 24 hours or six hours.”
Democrats said they will focus on the US Constitution, the impeachment articles and the facts relating to them on Thursday.
“Now we’re going to start talking about the law, the impeachment articles and bringing together the facts and the chronology here,” Democratic Representative Jason Crow, one of the impeachment managers presenting the case, said on CNN.
So far, the House impeachment managers’ presentation appears to have had little impact on the Senate’s deep partisan split.
“I didn’t hear anything new, at all,” said Republican Senator John Barrasso. He accused Democrats of pursuing a politically driven effort to oust Trump.
Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen said: “Anyone following this testimony will see that the truth is right there in plain sight. It’s very clear that President Trump used all the agencies of the federal government to pursue his scheme.
Senator John Kennedy, a Republican close to Trump, was listening to what he called Schiff’s eloquent presentation.
“Most if not all senators are hearing the prosecution and the case of the defence for the first time,” Kennedy said, adding that most senators had not read a transcript of the proceedings from the House impeachment investigation.
“Senators, because they’ve been busy being senators, have not heard the case,” he said.
Trump, who arrived back in Washington on Wednesday night from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, condemned the proceedings as “unfair & corrupt” in a Twitter post on Thursday.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday found 72% of Americans – including 84% of Democrats and 69% of Republicans – want to see new witnesses testify in the impeachment trial.
Trump directed current and former administration officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former national security adviser John Bolton, not to testify or provide documents in the House investigation.