January 23, 2020 / 12:41 PM / 2 months ago

Democrats to argue Trump obstructed probe in third day of impeachment trial

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats serving as prosecutors in U.S. President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial will make their case that he improperly interfered in Congress’ probe of his dealings with Ukraine in their final day of arguments on Friday.

Democratic managers from the House of Representatives will try to convince both the Republican-controlled Senate, which will determine if Trump finishes his term, and the American public, which will decide in November if he gets a second one, that he improperly withheld key witnesses and documents.

In the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history, Trump, a Republican, is accused of attempting to coerce Ukraine’s government into digging up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden, a top contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

The U.S. Constitution sets out the impeachment process for removing a president who commits “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Trump has denied wrongdoing, while Republican allies of the president have argued that his conduct does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense.

Once Democrats conclude their opening arguments, the president’s legal team will have up to 24 hours over three days to mount a defense. Senate Republicans are expected to acquit Trump. A two-thirds vote of the chamber is required to eject him from office.

Trump on Friday retweeted dozens of supporters who repeated his criticism of the proceedings as unfair and politically motivated. The Republican president, once a reality television personality, also complained his lawyers would have to begin arguments on Saturday, when, he said, nobody watches TV.

“Looks like my lawyers will be forced to start on Saturday, which is called Death Valley in T.V.,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

As the trial neared the end of its first week, there was little sign that Senate Republicans were being persuaded by the Democratic case.

Democrats spent Thursday meticulously detailing their allegations that Trump only grew interested in corruption in Ukraine when it appeared that Biden could become a serious political threat.

“If we allow this gross abuse of power to continue, this president would have free rein – free rein – to abuse his control of U.S. foreign policy for personal interest, and so would any other future president,” House manager Sylvia Garcia said late in Thursday’s arguments. “And then this president, and all presidents, become above the law.”

In a July 25 phone call, Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma. Trump temporarily withheld $391 million in U.S. military aid to Ukraine, which Democrats say was leverage for his demands.

In doing so, Trump abused the power of his office, Democrats say.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) speaks to the media as the impeachment trial of U.S. President Donald Trump continues in Washington, U.S., January 23, 2020. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

DEMOCRATS PUSH FOR WITNESSES

On Friday, they will argue that Trump also unlawfully refused to cooperate with the House probe of the matter by directing officials to ignore Democratic requests to testify and for relevant documents.

Key administration officials who refused to comply with subpoenas in the probe included Vice President Mike Pence, White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Former national security adviser John Bolton refused a request by the House to testify.

Democrats sought to have Bolton testify in the Senate proceeding, but senators voted along party lines on Tuesday against all Democrats’ proposed witnesses.

In his opening remarks this week, Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, the lead House manager, accused Trump of using “unrivaled authority at his disposal as the commander in chief to cover up his wrongdoing.”

White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, a member of Trump’s legal team, called the obstruction charge “ridiculous” and contended the president had a constitutional right to keep aides from testifying.

Cipollone has called the process a “partisan impeachment” and accused Democrats of trying to “steal” the 2020 presidential election.

Slideshow (11 Images)

During the proceedings, Democrats have argued that the Senate should allow new witnesses such as Bolton to testify. Republicans have resisted their push but have threatened to call a witness such as Joe or Hunter Biden in retaliation.

The Senate could return next week to the question of whether to call witnesses.

Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer held out hope on Friday that Democrats could win over enough Republicans to call witnesses Trump blocked.

“When our Republican friends go to sleep and think of the weight of the Constitution on their shoulders and think history will record them, yeah, I think we got a shot. I do,” he said in an interview with MSNBC.

Reporting by Richard Cowan, Susan Cornwell and David Morgan; Writing by James Oliphant; Editing by Scott Malone, Peter Cooney and Chizu Nomiyama

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