Democrats sharpen case on second day of arguments

Democrats on Thursday sharpened their case for removing President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Jersey incumbents steamroll progressive challengers in primaries Tucker Carlson ratchets up criticism of Duckworth, calls her a 'coward' Trump on Confederate flag: 'It's freedom of speech' MORE from office, kicking off the second day of opening arguments in the Senate impeachment trial by zeroing in on the first of the House's two charges: abuse of power. 

The proceedings come on the heels of Wednesday’s arguments, in which Democrats laid out a broad, if detailed, chronology of Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukrainian leaders last year. 

Led by Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffDemocrats hit Trump for handling of Russian bounty allegations after White House briefing Voters must strongly reject the president's abuses by voting him out this November Democrats face tough questions with Bolton MORE (D-Calif.), the lead impeachment manager, the Democrats say they’ll use Thursday’s stage to build on that broader base — to “apply the facts to the law as it pertains to the president’s abuse of power," in Schiff’s words — as they press for Trump’s conviction and removal.

Wednesday’s arguments mark the second of what are expected to be three eight-hour days of opening statements by the Democrats. Trump's legal team will then have the same window to present his defense.

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If Wednesday is any indication of the day ahead, Schiff and his impeachment team are likely to take turns making their case starting after 1 p.m. and running well into the night, taking limited breaks where reporters rush to receive reactions from all parties involved.

The PR battle has been a central part of the process, as parties race to the cameras that effectively serve as post-debate spin rooms, with both sides touting their performances throughout the proceeding. 

House Democrats, who impeached Trump largely along party lines last month, allege that he wielded the the power of his office to pressure Ukrainian leaders into opening a corruption investigation into former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTucker Carlson ratchets up criticism of Duckworth, calls her a 'coward' Joe Biden wins New Jersey primary Biden wins Delaware primary MORE, a 2020 political foe, in an attempt to boost Trump's reelection prospects.

As part of the “scheme,” they allege he dangled the possibility of a White House meeting and nearly $400 million in U.S. aid — key funding for Ukraine in its fight against pro-Russian separatists — as leverage for two politically motivated investigations.

In particular, Democrats warn Trump is a lawless president who will cross the line again if he is not removed from office. This, they warn, poses a general threat not only to the nation’s best interests, but also the integrity of the upcoming 2020 presidential election.

“President Trump withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to a strategic partner at war with Russia to secure foreign help with his reelection, in other words, to cheat,” Schiff charged on Wednesday.

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On the other hand, Trump's legal team has argued a dual-track defense: First, his lawyers contend, Trump could not have abused his power since the military aid in question was ultimately delivered to Ukraine without the country's leaders announcing the investigations Trump had sought. 

And second, his defense maintains that even if Trump did abuse the power of the presidency for personal gain, such conduct is not impeachable because it violates no specific criminal law. 

Writing their formal response to the articles, the leaders of Trump’s legal team, Jay SekulowJay Alan SekulowAppeals court rejects Trump effort to throw out emoluments case Supreme Court divided over fight for Trump's financial records   Meadows joins White House in crisis mode MORE and Pat Cipollone, warned that Democrats, by building their case on a charge outside the criminal code, “would do lasting damage to the separation of powers under the Constitution."

"The first Article fails on its face to state an impeachable offense. It alleges no crimes at all, let alone 'high Crimes and Misdemeanors,' as required by the Constitution,” they wrote last weekend. “In fact, it alleges no violation of law whatsoever.”

That argument is widely disputed by legal experts and historians, who note the near absence of a federal criminal code at the time of the Constitution’s drafting. Rather, they argue, impeachment was created for precisely a situation in which a self-serving public official defied the public trust — legal violation or none.

George ConwayGeorge Thomas ConwayKellyanne Conway on Trump niece's book: 'I believe family matters should be family matters' Trump tweets 'we all miss' Ailes after swiping at Fox Lincoln Project hits Trump over Russian bounties MORE, a conservative lawyer who helped drive President Clinton’s impeachment, characterized the White House defense as “bogus.” 

“Legal scholars and historians agree no statutory crime is required by the Constitution for impeachment and that abuse of power is in fact the essence of impeachability,” Conway, the husband of Trump adviser Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayKellyanne Conway on Trump niece's book: 'I believe family matters should be family matters' Mary Trump issues blistering critique of president as narcissist in new book Lincoln Project hits Trump over Russian bounties MORE, wrote recently in The Washington Post

“The English parliamentary history upon which the Framers adopted impeachment makes clear that a public official’s breach of duty to put the public interest first constitutes an impeachable, removable offense.”

The president’s critics have found ammunition from Alexander Hamilton, who wrote in his Federalist essays that impeachment is the appropriate response for “those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust.”

Schiff, in his opening statement Wednesday, mentioned Hamilton no fewer than six times. 

Even some members of Trump’s legal team have argued that the nation’s Framers never intended impeachment to be limited to criminal violations. 

Alan DershowitzAlan Morton DershowitzCellphones haven't stopped cops from lying — only courts can do that Moussaoui says he now renounces terrorism, bin Laden The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Frist says Manhattan Project-like initiative necessary to fight virus; WH to release plan for easing lockdowns MORE had argued during the 1999 trial of President Clinton that “you don’t need a technical crime” to remove a president “if you have somebody who completely corrupts the office of president and who abuses trust.” Dershowitz has recently said he’s changed his position. 

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"To the extent there are inconsistencies between my current position and what I said 22 years ago, I am correct today," he tweeted.

Attorney General William BarrBill BarrThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: DC's Bowser says protesters and nation were 'assaulted' in front of Lafayette Square last month; Brazil's Bolsonaro, noted virus skeptic, tests positive for COVID-19 FBI Director Wray warns of Chinese hacking, espionage threats against American companies Executing four white men won't erase death penalty racism MORE has also argued as recently as 2018 that abuse of power is a legitimate impeachable offense. 

After Thursday’s trial proceedings, Democrats will have one more day to make their case. Friday’s arguments are expected to focus on their second impeachment article, which alleges that Trump obstructed Congress by blocking witness testimony and subpoenaed documents as part of the House impeachment inquiry.

It remains unclear whether the Democrats' arguments are having any effect on Republican senators in the GOP-controlled upper chamber, which is widely expected to acquit the president on both charges. If day one was any indication, they have a long way to go.

"I think we're going to hear another 2 1/2 days of arguments from the House Democrats, but the longer they talk at this point, the weaker their case is getting." Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzHow conservative conspiracy theories are deepening America's political divide Gianforte halts in-person campaigning after wife, running mate attend event with Guilfoyle Trump administration grants funding extension for Texas testing sites MORE (R-Texas) said Wednesday.