Rep. Adam B. Schiff’s opening argument at the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump boiled down the case to a simple concept: The president attempted to “cheat” in the 2020 election.
Mr. Schiff, who is leading the prosecution for House Democrats, described it as a pattern of cheating that Mr. Trump began by seeking Russia’s help in 2016 and was determined to repeat by forcing Ukraine to help him this time.
“We are here today to consider a much more grave matter, and that is an attempt to use the powers of the presidency to cheat in an election,” he said. “For precisely this reason, the president’s misconduct cannot be decided at the ballot box — for we cannot be assured that the vote will be fairly won.”
The California Democrat urged the senators to convict the president and remove him from office because Mr. Trump has put his political benefits above national security and undermined America’s “fair and free elections.”
Mr. Trump conducts himself, Mr. Schiff said, as if he is “above the law and scornful of restrictions.”
He said the president called for Russia to release thousands of his political rival’s hacked emails during the last presidential election against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in 2016, playing a clip of the infamous exchange during his floor arguments. Mr. Schiff said Mr. Trump now subscribes to conspiracy theories about Ukraine in this election cycle.
Mr. Schiff also was a leader in the Democrats’ push of the Trump-Russian collusion allegations that were discredited by a nearly two-year investigated by former special counsel Robert S. Mueller.
The opening statement launched up to 24 hours of floor time over three days for House impeachment managers to present the case against Mr. Trump. It’s unclear if all of the time will be used, as it was not for President Bill Clinton in 1999.
Mr. Trump is on trial for two articles of impeachment, abuse of power for asking Ukraine to investigate political rival Joseph R. Biden and obstruction of Congress for not cooperating with the House impeachment inquiry.
Following the prosecution’s case, the president’s legal team will have 24 hours over three days to present a defense.
Mr. Trump has denied wrongdoing and denounced the impeachment as “a hoax” cooked up by the Democrats to hurt his reelection bid.
“This is the greatest witch hunt,” he said as he prepared to return home form an economic summit in Davos, Switzerland.
In the opening argument, Mr. Schiff promised to present “extensive evidence” and “overwhelming evidence” of wrongdoing by the president.
He also prodded the senators to vote to compel more White House documents and more testimony by administration officials to seal the case against Mr. Trump.
Democrats have been clamoring for more evidence at the trial since the House passed the two articles of impeachment in a party-line vote on Dec. 18.
Senate Democrats put up 11 amendments that would have compelled more documents and testimony during a marathon debate of the trial rules Tuesday. But the GOP-run chamber shot down each amendment and ultimately adopted rules that put off the question of additional witnesses until after the two sides present their cases.
Mr. Schiff said the senators could still hear from witnesses such as former National Security Adviser John R. Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.
“You will hear their testimony at the same time as the American people — if you allow it,” Mr. Schiff said.
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