Democrats resumed their arguments yesterday at US President Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial for removing him from office, but his fellow Republicans gave scant indication of relenting in their resistance to the Democratic case.
House of Representatives Democratic “managers” serving as prosecutors in the trial began presenting the second of three days of opening arguments in their case against Trump.
“The articles of impeachment against President Trump rank among the most serious charges ever brought against a president,” Democratic Representative Jerrold Nadler told the assembled senators.
“And as our recital of the facts indicated, the articles are overwhelmingly supported by the evidence amassed by the House, notwithstanding the president’s complete stonewalling, his attempt to block all witnesses and all documents from the United States Congress,” Nadler added.
The Democrats 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 a congressional inquiry into the matter.
“His conduct is not America first. It is Donald Trump first,” Nadler said.
Democrats said they will focus on the US Constitution, the impeachment articles and the facts relating to them.
Trump is almost certain to be acquitted by the Senate, where a two-thirds majority is needed to remove him from office.
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 top Senate Democrat, Chuck Schumer, made a fresh appeal yesterday for Republican senators to join with Democrats in voting to allow witnesses and new evidence to be presented in the trial.
Republicans control the 100-seat Senate.
Four of the Senate’s 53 Republicans would have to join the Democrats in order to win a simple majority vote.
“The issue of relevant evidence, documents and witnesses is going to come back up. And Senate Republicans will have the power to bring that evidence into the trial,” Schumer told reporters.
“Republican senators – four of them, it’s in their hands – can make this trial more fair, if they want to,” Schumer added.
This is only the third impeachment trial in US history.
It began in earnest on Tuesday and Democrats started their opening arguments on Wednesday.
The case focuses on Trump’s request that Ukraine investigate Biden, a top contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in the November 3 presidential election, and Biden’s son on unsubstantiated corruption allegations.
Trump also asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate a discredited theory beneficial to Russia that Ukraine worked with Democrats to hurt Trump in the 2016 US election.
Last year, Trump temporarily withheld $391mn in US military aid to Ukraine, which Democrats say was leverage for his demands.
Even if finding Trump guilty seems to be a long shot for Democrats, the trial presents them an opportunity to inflict political damage on Trump ahead of the November election, with millions of Americans watching the televised proceedings.
Trump condemned the proceedings as “unfair & corrupt” in a Twitter post yesterday.
Some Republican senators said they have heard nothing new in the presentation made by the Democratic managers and already have decided to vote for acquittal.
“I’ll say we shouldn’t be in an impeachment trial,” Republican Senator Ron Johnson said.
Republican Senator Thom Tillis said he has already made up his mind to vote for acquittal.
Referring to the Democrats’ presentation, Tillis told reporters: “It reminds of the shopping channel, the hits of the ’80s, you hear it again and again and again and again. I can almost recite the testimony.”
Republican Senator James Lankford added: “It’s a more organised presentation of the same facts.”
Republican Senator Mike Braun said he will vote for acquittal if nothing new emerges by today.
Other Republicans were more circumspect.
Republican Senator Mitt Romney said: “Sorry, but I’m not going to be commenting on the evidence or process until the entire trial is over.”
Schumer called the arguments presented by the Democratic managers “powerful”, “precise”, and “devastating”.
Referring to Senate Republicans, Schumer said: “It may have planted the first seed in their minds that, yes, perhaps the president did something very wrong here.”
Trump denies wrongdoing and his fellow Republicans have said his conduct did not fit the description of “high crimes and misdemeanours” outlined in the US Constitution as rationale to oust a president.
The Senate’s schedule means that Trump’s defence team, a group of White House lawyers and outside counsel who will be given three days for rebuttal to the Democratic opening arguments, would likely start to present their case tomorrow.
Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow said it is unclear whether the Trump defence would need all three days, suggesting it could last as little as six hours.
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.
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