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Democrats wrap up impeachment arguments Friday

Updated January 24, 2020 - 9:47 pm

WASHINGTON — Democrats made their final arguments Friday in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, alleging a cover-up to obstruct a congressional investigation into attempts to enlist a foreign government to boost his re-election bid.

“President Trump tried to cheat. He got caught, then he worked hard to cover it up,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., during the third day of Democratic arguments in the impeachment trial.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the lead House impeachment manager, told the Senate that a pattern of abuse by the president required his removal from office.

“You cannot leave a man like that in office,” Schiff said. “You know it’s not going to stop. It’s not going to stop unless the Congress does something about it.”

Schiff, a former federal prosecutor, also made his closing arguments personal.

“The next time, it just may be you,” he said, pointing at one senator after another. “Do you think for a moment that if (President Trump) felt it was in his interest, he wouldn’t ask you to be investigated?”

House managers stepped up their pleas to the Senate to subpoena witnesses and documents.

“I implore you to give America a fair trial,” Schiff said. “She’s worth it.”

Republican senators, however, said Democrats failed to convince them that the president should be removed from office.

Some GOP lawmakers said they would reject the subpoena request because the burden of proof is on the House.

“It’s not our job to make the case,” said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., the Senate Republican Policy Committee chairman.

Other Republican senators grumbled that a decision to subpoena former national security adviser John Bolton would draw a legal challenge from the White House. Trump has threatened to invoke executive privilege if Bolton is called to testify.

Trump’s legal team will begin its response to the Democratic argument Saturday.

Lawyers on the president’s team will have an equal number of hours to argue that there was no crime and that the president’s conduct doesn’t reach the threshold for impeachment and removal from office.

Trump attorney Jay Sekulow told reporters “We’re going to rebut and refute, and we’re going to put on an affirmative case tomorrow.”

The president’s team, in briefs filed with the Senate, accused Democrats of using impeachment as a political weapon and conducting a partisan plan to overturn the results of the last election, which they said was a perversion of the House’s constitutional authority.

But the weekend start for the president’s legal defense drew the ire of Trump, who railed on Twitter that he was being treated unfairly after hours “of lies, fraud & deception” by Democrats.

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

‘Crime in progress’

The House voted in December to approve two articles of impeachment charging Trump with abuse of office and obstruction of Congress.

Those charges stem from a request by Trump in a July 25 telephone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to announce investigations into political rival Joe Biden and a theory debunked by U.S. intelligence agencies that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 presidential election.

Trump made the request as he withheld nearly $400 million in military aid approved by Congress for Ukraine to fight Russia-backed separatists.

The political request during the telephone call was reported by a whistleblower. The inspector general for intelligence agencies found the complaint a matter of of “urgent concern” and notified key congressional committees.

Jeffries, D-N.Y., said the cover-up was launched to hide the president’s solicitation of a foreign nation to provide a political favor. Trump told Zelenskiy to contact his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr.

When the call became public, the Justice Department immediately issued a statement denying any involvement.

The cover-up became “a constitutional crime in progress,” Jeffries said.

As the House began an investigation, the president blocked officials familiar with the phone call from testifying, Jeffries explained.

Divided on witnesses

As the congressional investigation and media scrutiny increased, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney admitted to reporters at the White House that there was a quid pro quo in the request to Ukraine. He later walked back that statement.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said she would like to have Mulvaney appear before the Senate to explain the context of those comments.

Gillibrand said she was talking to Republican colleagues about the need for testimony from key witnesses and the need for more information that could be provided through subpoenas.

But Republicans were sounding increasingly confident that no witnesses would be called.

“I am not hearing from many Republican senators who think we need more information,” said Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind.

“This needs to end,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a Trump confidant.

Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate. It would take four GOP senators to join Democrats to reach the majority vote necessary to call additional witnesses. GOP lawmakers also have suggested calling as witnesses Biden and his son, Hunter, who served on the board of directors of the Ukrainian gas company Burisma while his father was vice president.

Trump’s legal team is expected to focus on the Bidens in their defense of the president.

House impeachment managers addressed the Biden connections in their arguments earlier this week, a move that the source on the president’s legal team said made it “relevant to the case.”

“We thought it was a risky thing to do for the prosecution to bring up the Bidens,” Barrasso told reporters during a break from trial proceedings Thursday.

Sekulow said Democrats raised the issue for the president’s legal team.

“They have certainly opened the door,” Sekulow told reporters.

Democrats, though, said Joe Biden became the focus of the president’s attention after public opinion polls at the time showed the Democratic presidential hopeful beating Trump with likely voters.

A peek of the president’s legal defense strategy will be unveiled Saturday, with the bulk of the president’s defense case beginning Monday, with time allotted through Tuesday if needed. The trial will take a break on Sunday.

Following the arguments, senators from each party will have equal time to question House managers and the president’s legal team.

The Senate will then take up motions, according to rules outlined by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

The impeachment trial is the third in U.S. history. President Andrew Johnson was acquitted in 1868, and President Bill Clinton acquitted in 1999.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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