Democrats say Trump continues to abuse power and must be removed from office

By Chris Megerian and Molly O’Toole

Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Democrats wrapped up their case Friday that President Donald Trump abused his power by pressing a foreign government to investigate his political rival, delivering an impassioned argument that Trump must be removed from office to stop him from doing further damage to America’s democracy.

In a searing summary, Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., the lead House manager, warned that Trump is “still trying to cheat in the next election” and that an acquittal in his Senate impeachment trial would allow him to do so.

Portraying Trump’s agenda as “Trump First … not America First,” Schiff argued that no American was safe if Trump was willing to override U.S. national security policy and congressional mandates in his effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate, the heart of the impeachment charge.

“The next time it might be you,” he said emotionally, peering around the silent Senate chamber. “Or you. Or you. … Do you think for a moment, that if he felt it was in his interest, he wouldn’t ask for you to be investigated?”

Since starting their prosecution case Wednesday, House managers have relied on brief video clips to help make their case, usually snippets from witnesses to the House impeachment inquiry or from Trump himself.

On Friday, Schiff appealed directly to Senate Republicans by showing wrenching clips of the late Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who died in 2018. McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, frequently battled with Trump but is revered by many in the Senate, where he championed Ukraine’s fight against Russia.

Schiff spoke on the last of three days that House Democrats were given to convince the Republican-controlled Senate that Trump was guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors in his dealings with Ukraine.

Before the trial resumed Friday, Trump addressed the annual anti-abortion March for Life rally on the National Mall, an effort to reinforce his support among evangelicals for his reelection campaign. He is the first president ever to attend the event.

“They are coming after me because I am fighting for you,” Trump told the cheering crowd. “And we are fighting for those who have no voice, and we will win because we know how to win.”

Democrats planned to focus the rest of Friday’s presentation on their second charge, that Trump obstructed Congress by instructing his top aides and other administration officials to defy subpoenas during the impeachment inquiry.

The issue goes to the heart of the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches, and the outcome of the Senate trial —only the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history —could have a lasting impact on that balance.

“What president would feel compelled to answer any Senate subpoena in the future if this president can simply say, ‘We will fight all subpoenas’ and if this Congress were to ratify that conduct?” Schiff asked.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., defended Trump’s effort to withhold documents and testimony from Congress.

“I think the president should jealously protect separation of powers, executive privilege and the deliberative process,” he told reporters.

Trump’s legal team and his Republican allies have rejected the Democrats’ charge of obstructing Congress, calling it “absurd” and saying the president has well-established authority to keep some material confidential.

The president’s lawyers have said Trump “acted with extraordinary and unprecedented transparency” by releasing a White House summary of his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a conversation at the center of the impeachment saga.

During the call, Trump asked Zelenskiy to open two investigations, the first into a debunked Russian-promoted conspiracy theory that Ukraine and not Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and the second into former Vice President Joe Biden, who is running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

Biden’s son served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company and Trump has argued without evidence that as vice president, Biden pushed for the firing of a Ukrainian prosecutor who was investigating the company to protect his son.

Democrats argue that Trump abused his power by withholding nearly $400 million in congressionally authorized security aid to Ukraine, which is in a conflict with neighboring Russia, while he was pushing Zelenskiy to announce the two investigations.

Much of Democrats’ presentation on Thursday argued that the allegations against Biden were baseless and irrelevant to Trump’s misconduct. However, they’re still expected to be a major part of the defense that Trump’s legal team is scheduled to start laying out on Saturday.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said Friday that House managers had set an impossibly high bar for Trump’s lawyers to match.

“It was precise, it was dramatic, it was emotional,” he said of the House managers’ presentation. Schumer also reiterated his plea for the Senate to subpoena witnesses and documents that the White House had refused to release to the House inquiry.

Republicans have resisted calling additional witnesses even as they complain that Democrats have presenting nothing new at the trial.

“This is not a trial over a speeding ticket or shoplifting,” Schiff told reporters earlier in the day. “These witnesses have important, firsthand testimony to offer. The House wishes to call them in the name of the American people and the American people overwhelmingly want to hear what they have to say.”

Always obsessed with ratings, Trump made clear his dismay that his lawyers won’t get to present his defense until Saturday morning, which he called “Death Valley in T.V.” The timeline was set by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and members of his caucus.

Trump’s Twitter feed was a fire hose Friday morning, gushing with self-pity and criticism of Democrats.

“The Impeachment Hoax is interfering with the 2020 Election,” he wrote. “But that was the idea behind the Radical Left, Do Nothing Dems Scam attack. They always knew I did nothing wrong!”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he spoke to Trump on Wednesday night about the trial.

“He’s bored, doesn’t like what they say about him, I said, ‘I don’t blame you,’” Graham said. “He said he thought Schiff did a bad job, and I said, ‘Nah, I actually thought he did a pretty good job.’”

Graham said the president responded, “I guess so.”