Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 February 2020

Trump impeachment trial: Democratic prosecutors close arguments with dire warning

US president's lawyers begin defence on Saturday before crucial Senate vote on hearing more witnesses

Congressman Adam Schiff leaves the podium after wrapping the Democrats' case in the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump in the Senate on January 24, 2020. Senate Television via AP
Congressman Adam Schiff leaves the podium after wrapping the Democrats' case in the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump in the Senate on January 24, 2020. Senate Television via AP

President Donald Trump criticized House and Senate Democrats and “the entire Radical Left” on Twitter as his lawyers prepared to open the case for his defence against impeachment.

“Our case against lyin’, cheatin’, liddle’ Adam “Shifty” Schiff, Cryin’ Chuck Schumer, Nervous Nancy Pelosi, their leader, dumb as a rock AOC, & the entire Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrat Party, starts today at 10:00 A.M.!” he wrote early on Saturday morning.

Mr Trump’s team opened his defence on Saturday with three hours of “coming attractions” ahead of a full presentation planned for Monday.

The president’s lawyers plan to save most of their case for next week, a person on the president’s legal team said, including arguments by celebrity lawyer and Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz. Former independent counsel Kenneth Starr also plans to argue on behalf of the president.

The defence came after Democratic prosecutors said Mr Trump would continue to abuse his powers and endanger America's democracy if he was not removed from office before elections later this year, as they wrapped up three days of arguments in the president's impeachment trial.

For a final eight-hour stretch, the 100 members of the US Senate listened as Democrats argued that Mr Trump abused the power of the presidency in pressuring Ukraine to launch investigations that would help him politically, and then sought to block efforts by Congress to investigate.

Democrats said they had met the burden of proof as they warned Republicans that Mr Trump would remain a grave danger to the nation if left in office.

"This is Trump first, not America first, not American ideals first," Democratic congressman Adam Schiff, the lead House impeachment manager, told the chamber.

"I ask you, I implore you," he said to Republican senators, who hold the majority in the chamber, pleading for them to go against Mr Trump's wishes and allow witnesses to testify in the hearing.

"Give America a fair trial," Mr Schiff said. "She's worth it."

Mr Trump's team of lawyers will begin his defence on Saturday morning, a time slot which Mr Trump, a former reality TV star, referred to in a tweet as "Death Valley in TV."

His side's arguments will continue Monday and Tuesday, before the chamber turns to questioning and then votes on whether to hear from witnesses, something Democrats have sought from the start.

"It's going to be much more concise, it's going to be easier to understand, and not swamped with the same information over and over again," Republican Senator Mike Braun told Fox News of Mr Trump's defence.

Democrats argued on the floor that Mr Trump's refusal to allow top officials to testify and to supply subpoenaed documents to the Ukraine investigation supported the second charge against him, obstruction of Congress.

Mr Trump blocked the executive branch from responding to 71 specific requests for documents, including five subpoenas, related to his pressure on Kiev to help his 2020 re-election effort, Democratic impeachment manager Val Deming told senators.

Mr Trump also prevented 12 current and former administration officials, most of them subpoenaed, from testifying to the investigation, she said.

"President Trump's obstruction of the impeachment inquiry was categorical, indiscriminate and historically unprecedented," Ms Demings said.

She said Congress could not afford to allow Mr Trump to reject its powers in such a wholesale manner.

"Executive power without any sort of restraint, without oversight, and without any checks and balances, is absolute power," she told the Senate hearing.

"And we know what has been said about absolute power. Absolute power corrupts, absolutely."

Mr Schiff had argued a day earlier that Mr Trump's Ukraine scheme demonstrated the president was a threat to national security, and that "if you find him guilty, you must find that he should be removed".

"Because right matters," he said. "And truth matters. Otherwise we are lost."

On Twitter, Trump dismissed the entire process.

"The Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats have gone crazy," he tweeted, ramping up his rhetoric.

"They know it's a con, but just can't sell it! Public strongly against Impeachment."

Closure of the Democrats' opening arguments paves the way for Mr Trump's team to urge acquittal in only the third ever impeachment trial of a US president.

His clearance is virtually assured: Senate Republicans hold a 53-47 majority, and a vote by 67 senators, a two-thirds supermajority, is required for conviction and removal.

Democrats were hoping however to woo some Republicans to embrace their arguments that the Senate should subpoena four of the witnesses Ms Demings referred to, current and former White House officials with direct knowledge of Mr Trump's Ukraine machinations.

There were hints that at least two or three Republicans were considering supporting the subpoenas, though none had committed.

But without four crossovers, analysts were predicting that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a key Trump defender, would be able to bring the trial to a vote on the charges by late next week, and see Mr Trump exculpated on a party-line vote.

If Democrats do gain support for subpoenas, Republican leaders threatened to demand their own witnesses and call Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden and his son Hunter to testify, because their connections to Ukraine had been at the heart of Mr Trump's scheme to tarnish his election rivals.

Mr Trump and Mr McConnell also suggested the president would claim executive privilege to reject the subpoenas, which would lead to multiple court challenges and ensure that the trial could go on for weeks more.

Neither party relishes that thought as the battle ahead of November elections intensifies.

The prosecution showed senators scores of videos, internal documents and extensive witness testimony to lay out their case that Mr Trump abused his powers.

Before a national television audience, the prosecution detailed how Trump flagrantly undertook last year to force Kiev to help him tarnish Mr Biden.

Trump defence lawyer Jay Sekulow said they would open their reply by putting on an "affirmative case" that would "rebut and refute" the Democrats' arguments.

Republican Senator Jim Inhofe dismissed all the testimony so far as "hearsay".

"These are not impeachable offenses," he said. "They just want to get rid of this guy. They hate Trump."

Updated: January 25, 2020 07:13 PM

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