24 Jan 2020

Trump impeachment trial day 3: Democrats say Trump abused power

6:29 pm on 24 January 2020

Democrat Adam Schiff has ended today in the Donald Trump impeachment Senate trial with an impassioned statement urging senators to ensure that truth and what is right matter.

The Lead house manager, who is also leading the prosecution team in the trial, ended the evening by commending the senators who had endured a long day of arguments.

"I just want to thank you keeping an open mind about all of the issues that we are presenting," Schiff said. "That's all that we can ask for."

He said the American people deserved a president they could count on to put their interests first.

"Let me tell you something. If right doesn't matter ... it doesn't matter how good the constitution is, it doesn't matter how brilliant the framers were; It doesn't matter how good or bad our advocacy in this trial is; it doesn't matter how well written the oath of impartiality is.

"If right doesn't matter, we're lost. If the truth doesn't matter, we're lost. The framers couldn't protect us from ourselves if right and truth don't matter.

"And you know that what he did wasn't right.

"Here, right is supposed to matter. It's what's made us the greatest nation on earth. No constitution can protect us if right doesn't matter anymore and you know you can't trust this president to do what's right for this country. You can trust he will do what's right for Donald Trump.

"He'll do it now, he's done it before, he'll do it for the next several months, he'll do it in the election if he's allowed to.

"This is why if you find him guilty you must find that he should be removed, because right matters ... and the truth matters, otherwise we are lost."

House Manager Adam Schiff speaking on the floor of the US Senate Chamber at the US Capitol during the impeachment trial of US President Donald Trump in Washington, DC.

Photo: HO / US Senate TV / AFP

Trump's lawyers were likely to begin their defense of the president on Saturday, after House Democrats finished their opening arguments.

Schiff said House managers on Friday would focus on the charge that Trump unlawfully obstructed Congress by keeping key administration officials from testifying and by refusing requests for documents.

Earlier, Democrats worked methodically at US President Donald Trump's impeachment trial on Thursday to dismantle his long-standing allegation that Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden acted improperly toward Ukraine while vice president.

On the second day of their arguments for Trump's removal from office, Democratic House of Representatives members argued that Biden did nothing wrong and was only carrying out official US policy when he pressured Ukraine to fire its top prosecutor, Victor Shokin, because of corruption concerns.

Trump and his allies maintain that Biden wanted Shokin out in order to head off an investigation into a natural gas company, Burisma, where his son Hunter served as a director. Democrats said no evidence supported that allegation.

In more than eight hours of argument, House managers spent Thursday focusing on the charge that Trump abused his office by pressing Ukraine to investigate the Bidens purely for political gain.

They contended that Trump pushed for the probe because he was worried about facing the former vice president in November's election. Biden is the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The US Senate during the impeachment trial of US President Donald Trump on 22 January.

Photo: AFP / US Senate Television

"If we allow this gross abuse of power to continue, this president would have free rein - free rein - to abuse his control of US foreign policy for personal interest, and so would any other future president," US Representative Sylvia Garcia said on the Senate floor.

"And then this president, and all presidents, become above the law."

Democrats contend senators should convict Trump on two charges brought by the Democratic-led House - abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

The Senate, which is controlled by Trump's fellow Republicans, remains unlikely to do so. A two-thirds majority is needed to remove him from office.

The US Constitution sets out the impeachment process for removing a president who commits high crimes and misdemeanors. Trump's legal team has argued that the House charges were invalid because impeachable offenses must represent a specific violation of criminal law.

Trump condemned the proceedings as "unfair & corrupt" in a Twitter post on Thursday.

The charges against Trump arise from his request in a 25 July phone call last year that Ukraine investigate Biden on unsubstantiated corruption allegations and the president's actions to impede a House inquiry into the matter.

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 U.S. election. Trump temporarily withheld $391 million in U.S. military aid to Ukraine, which Democrats say was leverage for his demands.

'Opened the door'

Trump's lawyers quickly argued that by bringing up the Bidens, Democrats had made their conduct a relevant subject for the rest of the trial.

"They opened the door. They opened the door and it's now relevant," Jay Sekulow, a personal lawyer for the president and a member of his defense team, told reporters at the Capitol. "So we will address the appropriate issues as defense lawyers would."

Republican Senator Ted Cruz said: "Hunter Biden is not only relevant, he is now critical."

Sekulow said Trump's team was not yet focused on whether new witnesses will be called, a matter the Senate would take up after senators had a chance to submit questions to both sides next week.

As the arguments again went deep into the evening, Republican senators continued to complain the House presentation had become repetitive and that they were looking forward to the president's defense.

Jay Sekulow, personal lawyer for President Donald Trump, speaks to the media in the Senate Subway at the United States Capitol in Washington D.C., U.S., on Thursday, January 23, 2020, as the Senate continues to hear arguments in the impeachment trial of United States President Donald J. Trump.

Jay Sekulow, personal lawyer for President Donald Trump, speaks to the media in the Senate Subway at the United States Capitol in Washington D.C. Photo: Stefani Reynolds / CNP

Democrats countered by saying Republicans had blocked their attempts to bring new evidence to light through additional witnesses and documents.

Signs emerged on the second day of arguments that the Democratic case was losing some of the public's attention. Throughout the session, there were empty seats in the gallery overlooking the Senate floor.

Television ratings were down. About 8.9 million viewers watched the first day of arguments on Wednesday, falling short of the roughly 11 million who watched on Tuesday, according to Nielsen ratings data.

Senators also showed increasing signs of restlessness, with many wandering to the rear of the chamber where they could make phone calls and check their smartphones.

- Reuters / RNZ

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