Democrats sharpen case on second day of arguments

Democrats on Thursday sharpened their case for removing President TrumpDonald TrumpJulian Castro knocks Biden administration over refugee policy Overnight Energy & Environment — League of Conservation Voters — Climate summit chief says US needs to 'show progress' on environment Five takeaways from Arizona's audit results 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 SchiffJan. 6 panel subpoenas four ex-Trump aides Bannon, Meadows Schiff: Criminal contempt charges possible for noncooperation in Jan. 6 probe The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Biden jumps into frenzied Dem spending talks 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 BidenFighter jet escorts aircraft that entered restricted airspace during UN gathering Julian Castro knocks Biden administration over refugee policy FBI investigating alleged assault on Fort Bliss soldier at Afghan refugee camp 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 SekulowGOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 57 House Republicans back Georgia against DOJ voting rights lawsuit The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by TikTok - New video of riot unnerves many senators 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 ConwayGeorge Conway: GOP blocking Jan. 6 commission 'more appalling' than both Trump acquittals Press: Get orange jumpsuit ready: extra large Influential Republicans detail call to reform party, threaten to form new one 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 ConwayCook Political Report shifts Virginia governor's race to 'toss-up' Overnight Defense & National Security — Iron Dome funding clears House Sean Spicer, Russ Vought sue Biden over Naval Board removal 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 DershowitzHow to mess with Texas' anti-abortion bounty? Apply it to gun sales Those calls to impeach Biden: As wrong as they were with Trump Larry David, Alan Dershowitz get into verbal altercation at grocery store 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 BarrTrump pushes back on book claims, says he spent 'virtually no time' discussing election with Lee, Graham Woodward: Milley was 'setting in motion sensible precautions' with calls to China Barr-Durham investigation again fails to produce a main event 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 CruzFBI investigating alleged assault on Fort Bliss soldier at Afghan refugee camp The Memo: Biden's immigration problems reach crescendo in Del Rio Matthew McConaughey on potential political run: 'I'm measuring it' MORE (R-Texas) said Wednesday.