WASHINGTONHouse Democrats argued that President Trumps efforts to press Ukraine to launch investigations that could help him politically warranted his removal from office, saying during the first day of opening arguments in the impeachment trial that his actions undercut U.S. elections and national security.Rep.
Adam Schiff,
the lead impeachment manager and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, laid out the allegations underpinning the two articles of impeachment passed by the House last month. The first stems from Mr. Trump pressing Ukraine to investigate former Vice President
Joe Biden,
a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. The second accuses Mr. Trump of impeding Congresss investigation by blocking some witnesses and documents.Over the coming days, you will hear remarkably consistent evidence of President Trumps corrupt scheme and coverup, Mr. Schiff (D., Calif.) said, standing at a lectern on the Senate floor. There is no serious dispute about the facts underlying the presidents conduct.
Mr. Trump, a Republican, maintains he did nothing wrong and has called the impeachment a hoax driven by politics.
The Democrats, in laying out their case, continued to try to persuade Republicans to support calling new witnesses and documents, which Democrats argue will provide more details about Mr. Trumps interactions with top aides, including former national security adviser
John Bolton
and acting chief of staff
Mick Mulvaney.
Mr. Trumps legal team argues that Democrats dont have a strong case, saying that weakness is why the prosecutors seek more witnesses. They will be able to counter after the Democratic team finishes its three days of arguments.
Trump lawyer
Jay Sekulow
said that the team plans to challenge aggressively Democrats case. Theres a lot of things Id like to rebut and we will rebut, he said.
Speaking at a news conference at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Mr. Trump said he was sympathetic toward the idea of a longer Senate trial with witness testimony, but didnt budge on his position regarding several witnesses sought by Democrats.
I would rather go the long way. I would rather interview Bolton. I would rather interview a lot of people, he said. But he added that testimony from Mr. Bolton, as well as that of Mr. Mulvaney, Secretary of State
Mike Pompeo
and former Energy Secretary
Rick Perry,
would pose national security concerns.
The White House had instructed many witnesses, including Mr. Bolton, not to testify in the House probe. Any new witnesses would have to be deposed privately before they could testify before the Senate.
A Democratic aide working on the impeachment inquiry said the House managers planned to fill the 24 hours allotted to them under the rules, though didnt elaborate on how.
*Includes two independents that caucus with the Democrats
As part of his presentation, Mr. Schiff played a clip of Mr. Mulvaney from October 2019 in which Mr. Mulvaney said, Get over it. There is going to be political influence in foreign policy. Mr. Mulvaney made the comment while answering reporters questions related to the administrations freeze on aid to Ukraine. Democrats have said the freeze was part of a quid pro quo for Ukraine launching investigations into Mr. Biden.
Should we just get over it? Mr. Schiff asked the senators. Is that what weve come to? I hope and pray that the answer is no.
Mr. Schiff argued that the senators needed to take action now, or they risk setting a precedent that could undermine future elections and the U.S.s global standing while bolstering autocrats such as President
Vladimir Putin
of Russia.
What message will we send if we choose not to hold this president accountable for his abuse of power, to solicit re-election interference in our upcoming election? He added: We have for generations been the shining city upon a hill that President Reagan describedbut what worth is that idea if when tried we do not affirm the values that underpin it?
House managers laid out the chronology of the Democrats case, playing video clips of administration officials who testified in the House investigation about the presidents push for investigations and the hold on nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine. The aid later was released after bipartisan pressure in Congress.
Just before 2 a.m. Wednesday, the Senate passed a resolution in a 53-47 vote along party lines setting the structure for the trial, which doesnt include guarantees for new witnesses or documents to be subpoenaed.
Democrats still hope to win over at least four votes to seek subpoenas later in the trial. Some GOP lawmakers have said they are open to new witnesses, but they want to wait until after the Democrats and Mr. Trumps legal team have made their cases.
Headed into their opening arguments, Republicans said they were taken aback by comments from House Judiciary Chairman
Jerrold Nadler
(D., N.Y.), who, while arguing for a Democratic amendment to the trial rules, said in the early hours Wednesday that senators who voted against allowing witnesses were complicit in the presidents coverup.
I was offended; I took it as very offensive as one who is listening attentively and working hard to get to a fair process, said
Sen. Lisa Murkowski
(R., Alaska,), whose support Democrats likely will need to call new evidence.
Mr. Schiff tried to tamp down the controversy. As he opened his presentation, he thanked Chief Justice
John Roberts,
who is presiding over the trial, and the senators for their patience in listening to the case the previous evening and tried to anew to appeal to Republicans.
If the senators are serious about wanting to learn all the facts, if the presidents team wants to contest any of the facts, these documents and witnesses will need to be produced, he said.
Democratic senators next chance to push for witnesses will likely be at the end of next week. After opening arguments by each side, senators will get 16 hours for questions. After that, there will be a pivotal vote on whether the Senate wants fresh testimony or new evidence.
After a marathon session, the Senate approved procedural rules for President Trumps impeachment trial early Wednesday morning. The resolution passed 53-47, along party lines. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Some Republicans have pushed the idea that for every possible witness that Democrats want to call the GOP would call in a witness of their own. That could include Mr. Biden or his son Hunter, who Republicans have criticized for serving on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company while his father was the Obama administrations point man for combating Ukrainian corruption. The Bidens have denied any wrongdoing.
The former vice president said he opposed the idea of testifying in order to call Republicans bluff and potentially get a witness that Democrats want. I dont think theyve got much gas in the tank to begin with, Mr. Biden said, adding that he doesnt want the process to turn into a farce.
It takes 67 votes for the Senate to remove a president from office, a threshold that wasnt reached in the two previous impeachment trials that went to a vote, involving
Bill Clinton
Andrew Johnson.
It is highly unlikely to happen this time with Republicans holding 53 seats.
What do you hope to see happen during the impeachment trial? Join the conversation below.
In his presentation, Mr. Schiff also took on another aspect of the impeachment fight, arguing that a president can be impeached for an action that doesnt amount to a criminal offense. Many of Mr. Trumps allies disagree, saying an abuse-of-office charge amounts to overreach by Congress.
This idea that you can use abuse of power as a grab bag in which to stuff all your political policy or personal grievances, I think is very dangerous, said
Sen. John Cornyn
(R., Texas).
Starting at 1 p.m. Thursday, the Senate will meet again to hear House managers present their arguments for why Mr. Trump should be removed from office. The managers are set to present their case for eight hours.
—Tarini Parti contributed to this article.
Write to Natalie Andrews at Natalie.Andrews@wsj.com
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