WASHINGTON — The House impeachment managers laid the groundwork for the case against President Donald Trump Wednesday, emphasizing that the president’s decision to withhold military aid from Ukraine threatened U.S. security.
On the second day of the Senate impeachment trial, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said the president had offered no explanation for the administration’s conduct with Ukraine “except the president can abuse his power all he likes and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Schiff, who opened the managers’ case, told the Senate that the House impeachment managers would make their case for convicting the president on abuse of power and obstruction of Congress charges in three parts over the next three days, providing evidence demonstrating Trump and his associates’ efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government into announcing an investigation into Trump’s political rivals, an explanation of the constitutional framework for impeachment and reasons why the president’s conduct met the benchmark to merit impeachment.
Throughout the afternoon and into the evening, Schiff and his fellow managers outlined in detail the president’s interactions with Ukraine and President Volodymyr Zelensky, frequently supplemented with video testimony of witnesses and subpoenaed documents. The managers framed Trump and associates including Rudy Giuliani as engaging in a pressure campaign against Ukraine and Zelensky, holding up military aid while asking for public statements from Ukraine implicating Hunter Biden in a corruption scandal and moving suspicion of Russian interference in the U.S. election upon Ukraine itself.
Schiff said the president’s conduct with Ukraine would serve to embolden Russia and weaken the United States on the global stage by destabilizing Europe and undermining the nation’s image as a champion of democracy.
“This isn’t just about Ukraine and its national security. This is about our national security. [Military aid] isn’t charity,” Schiff said.
House manager Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., added that withholding support from Ukraine could ultimately endanger the U.S. and reiterated that protecting Europe from Russian interference was “not a political game.”
“We help our partner fight Russia over there, so we don’t have to fight them over here,” said Crow.
But Trump’s refusal to comply with requests for documents and for appearances by White House staff in the House impeachment inquiry was even more serious than his conduct with Ukraine, Schiff said, and more significant than a simple dispute between two branches of government.
The managers emphasized the value of subpoenaing further documents and witnesses to support the House’s case. “The full and complete story is within your power to request,” Schiff said.
Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., called on senators to subpoena John Bolton, former national security advisor to Trump. Bolton is a witness to the president’s actions and conversations with Ukraine and did not wish to withhold aid from Ukraine, according to several testimonies.
However, Republican senators appeared generally unmoved by the impeachment managers’ argument.
“I hope the managers come up with something new rather than repeat the same arguments over and over again,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said, adding he thought the impeachment managers were “undermining” their case.
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said he was waiting for the Senate to return to normal business and called the managers’ case “flimsy.”
All Democratic votes and an additional three Republican votes are needed to get a majority vote to subpoena Bolton. So far, Sen. Mitt Romney, R- Utah, said he would vote to hear Bolton’s testimony. But Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., said the House managers have so far failed to prove their case.
“I don’t know why they need anything else if they already have this ‘overwhelming case,’” Scott said. “I haven’t seen an [overwhelming case] because all they do is talk about other people that said certain things, and they don’t have anything that President Trump did.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas slammed House Democrats for having a double standard about the importance of aid to Ukraine, saying the House had not intervened when President Barack Obama had declined to supply “lethal” military aid to Ukraine while the Trump administration provided anti-tank missiles to the foreign entity.
While the Obama administration did not provide lethal equipment, it had committed to more than $120 million in security assistance and $75 million in equipment to Ukraine by March 2015, according to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency.
Across the aisle, Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., reiterated the managers’ call to subpoena further evidence and appealed to their Republican colleagues to stand up to the president.
“At some point, they have to allow witnesses, at some point they have to acknowledge that they do not serve at the pleasure of the president,” Klobuchar said. “My Republican colleagues, they’re here to respect the power of the people that sent them to Washington.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said Democrats are “simply seeking the full story.”
“In fairness to the president, I’m still listening and I hope he’ll come forward,” Blumenthal said. “I see a pretty good case here for guilt.”
On Saturday, Trump’s legal team will respond to the charges.