Rep. Adam Schiff risks having to answer tough questions about his involvement with a White House whistleblower by serving as a prosecutor at President Trump’s trial in the Senate, where senators may be able to hit him with questions about the House case.
As the trial got underway Thursday with the swearing-in of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., senators and other figures in the trial, Senate Republicans considered whether Mr. Schiff’s role as a House impeachment manager could put him in the hot seat without calling him as a witness.
Mr. Trump and his Republican allies have clamored for answers about California Democrat’s role in starting the impeachment effort. It was revealed in October that Mr. Schiff’s staff met with the whistleblower before the complaint that is the basis of the impeachment charges was filed.
Mr. Schiff, chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, then spearheaded the impeachment inquiry, repeatedly denied knowledge of the whistleblower, and worked to keep secret the whistleblower’s identity during the inquiry.
As the lead impeachment manager, Mr. Schiff stood at the front of the chamber Thursday and read aloud the articles of impeachment against Mr. Trump. He told the senators that the president abused his power by coercing Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election by investigating former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, a top contender for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Mr. Schiff said Mr. Trump had “demonstrated he will remain a threat to national security and the Constitution if he is allowed to remain in office.”
The two articles of impeachment charge Mr. Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress’ impeachment inquiry.
Later, Justice Roberts administered the oath to the senators: “I solemnly swear that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of Donald John Trump, now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws, so help me God.”
After reciting the oath as a group, each member, in turn, signed the oath at the clerk’s desk in the well of the Senate.
At the White House, Mr. Trump said the impeachment trial, which is the third such proceedings in U.S. history, is “a complete hoax.”
As senators were sworn in for his trial, Mr. Trump told reporters that the case against him “is not going anywhere.”
Mr. Trump is all but guaranteed acquittal in the Republican-majority Senate, where it would take a supermajority of 67 votes in the 100-member chamber to convict and remove him from office.
The House impeachment inquiry and party-line vote to impeach Mr. Trump failed to move public opinion against the president. Instead, opposition for impeachment ticked up, though the country remains more or less split about Mr. Trump’s impeachment.
The swearing-in opened the trial but the action does not get underway until Tuesday when the chamber will set the rules for the proceedings before House Democrats present their case.
The rules, which are expected to mirror the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in 1999, will be established by a majority vote.
Democrats have been demanding more witness testimony for the trial. That effort included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi withholding of the articles of impeachment from the Senate for four weeks in a failed attempt to force the issue.
“We have a responsibility to call the witnesses and subpoena documents that will shed light on the truth here. God forbid we rush through this trial, and only afterward, the truth comes out,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.
The burning question of whether to call more witnesses is not anticipated to come up until after the first phase of the trial, which will include arguments from the House impeachment managers prosecuting the president and then arguments form Mr. Trump’s legal team responding to the charges.
Under the Clinton rules, senators will then be able to submit written questions to the House impeachment managers and the president’s legal team through Justice Roberts.
“Anything could come up. There is no limitation on subject matter from my understanding,” said Sen. Mike Braun, Indiana Republican.
Mr. Schiff’s office did not respond to a request for comment about taking questions as an impeachment manager.
Sen. Mark Warner, Virginia Democrat, called the proceedings a “pretty somber time,” adding he wasn’t sure if it would be appropriate for Mr. Schiff to be questioned about his actions.
“We’ll have to see what happens,” he said.
The impeachment of Mr. Trump stems from a July 25 phone call in which he pressed Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky for a “favor” in investigating Mr. Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who landed a $50,000-a-month job on the board of Ukraine energy company Burisma Holdings while his father led Obama administration policy in that graft-riddled country.
A whistleblower, who is said to be a CIA official assigned to the White House, accused the president of abusing his power for personal gain on the call, including withholding $391 million of U.S. military aid from Ukraine as leverage.
The man identified as the whistleblower, whose name The Washington Times is not publishing, also is believed to have ties to the Democratic Party and the elder Mr. Biden.
A rough transcript of the call the White House released in late September did not show the president present a quid pro quo deal for the investigations, but Democrats said the threat was understood and part of an ongoing pressure campaign of “shadow” foreign policy conducted by Mr. Trump’s private lawyer, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.
New evidence House Democrats obtained since passing the two articles of impeachment in a party-line vote Dec. 18 detail Mr. Giuliani’s activities in Ukraine but did not significantly change what was already known.
Mr. Trump has acknowledged that he wanted an investigation into alleged corruption involving the Bidens and Ukraine interference in the 2016 election.
Interest increased in Mr. Biden’s actions in Ukraine after he boasted of forcing Ukraine to fire the country’s chief prosecutor in spring 2016. He said he threatened to block a $1 billion U.S. loan guarantee. The prosecutor was widely viewed as not doing enough to combat corruption. But the prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, also had looked into corruption allegations against Burisma and Mykola Zlochevsky, the Ukrainian oligarch running the company.
Mr. Trump also wanted Ukraine to look into a missing Democratic National Committee server that was hacked by Russia during the 2016 presidential campaigns. An American cybersecurity company called CrowdStrike examined the server to probe the hack but the server disappeared before it got to the FBI.
The president subscribes to an unsubstantiated theory that the server ended up in Ukraine.
• Dave Boyer contributed to this report.
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