Schiff closes Dems' impeachment arguments with emotional appeal to remove Trump

House Democrats leading the impeachment trial of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump passes Pence a dangerous buck Overnight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — Trump taps Pence to lead coronavirus response | Trump accuses Pelosi of trying to create panic | CDC confirms case of 'unknown' origin | Schumer wants .5 billion in emergency funds Trump nods at reputation as germaphobe during coronavirus briefing: 'I try to bail out as much as possible' after sneezes MORE wrapped up their opening arguments Friday night with an emotional warning to the Senate and the country beyond: A failure to remove Trump from office would pose a long-term threat to America's very democracy.

Equating Trump to a corrupt monarch, Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffHillicon Valley: Dems cancel surveillance vote after pushback to amendments | Facebook to ban certain coronavirus ads | Lawmakers grill online ticketing execs | Hacker accessed facial recognition company's database Hillicon Valley: Democrats cancel surveillance vote over pushback to amendments | Lawmakers grill Ticketmaster, StubHub execs over online ticketing | Democrats cancel surveillance vote over pushback to amendments MORE (D-Calif.), the leading Democratic impeachment prosecutor, accused the president of violating this oath by putting his personal interests above those of the country in his dealings with Ukraine — and said he remains a danger to do it again.

Appealing to the senators who will act as judge and jury in the trial, Schiff urged them to put aside partisan politics and consider both the nature of Trump’s actions, and their responsibilities to uphold the Constitution. 

ADVERTISEMENT

“Whether you like the president, or dislike the president, is immaterial. It's all about the Constitution and his misconduct,” Schiff said Friday on the Senate floor. “What matters is whether he is a danger to the country, because he will do it again. And none of us can have confidence, based on his record, that he will not do it again because he is telling us every day that he will."

Schiff’s comments came at the end of the third and final day of the Democrats’ opening arguments, just before Trump’s legal team begins its defense of the two impeachment charges against him — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Schiff claimed, in no uncertain terms, that Democrats had proven Trump’s guilt and unfitness for office over the course of their months of investigations. All that was left, he said, was for senators to take the next step and remove him from office.

“Does anybody really question whether the president is capable of what he is charged with? No one is really making the argument, ‘Donald Trump would never do such a thing,’” Schiff argued. “Because of course, we know that he would. And of course, we know that he did.”

Another impeachment manager took his criticism of the president’s conduct even further.

“He is a dictator,” said Rep. Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerThis week: House to vote on legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime Congress set for clash over surveillance reforms Trump adviser presses House investigators to make Bezos testify MORE (D-N.Y.). “And that is another reason he must be removed from office."

ADVERTISEMENT

Schiff and the Democrats are facing a steep climb as they seek Trump’s removal. To convict the president they’ll need 67 votes in the GOP-controlled Senate, where even some Democratic senators remain undecided. 

Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinThe Hill's Morning Report - Sanders takes incoming during intense SC debate Republicans root for Sanders nomination in battle for House Overnight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — Lawmakers raise alarms over Trump coronavirus response | Top official warns virus appears inevitable in US | Democrats block two Senate abortion bills MORE (D-W.Va.) said after the three days of opening arguments that he remains on the fence about whether or not to remove Trump from office. 

“I think he did a good job, but to have a trial, you have to have both sides,” Manchin said when asked if he had any doubts after Schiff wrapped up for House Democrats. 

Trump’s Republican allies, meanwhile, have shown no indication that the Democrats’ arguments have changed their minds, and Democrats, if they can remain united, would still need 20 Republican votes to convict. 

"Very few souls are saved after the first 20 minutes of a sermon," Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) said Friday.

Other Republicans went further, accusing the Democrats of orchestrating a political ruse merely to damage Trump’s reelection prospects in November. 

“They ran out of things to say three days ago," said Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoWhere do we go from here? Conservation can show the way Senators to meet with Zelensky after impeachment trial GOP senators defend Sondland, Vindman ousters: They weren't 'loyal' MORE (Wyo.), the No. 3 Senate Republican. "That’s because the case they are presenting is weak and flimsy, even though they are on the floor saying they have a rock solid case."

After months of investigation late last year, House Democrats voted in December to impeach Trump on the two charges, alleging that he had pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky last summer to open two investigations that might have helped Trump politically: one into former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden looks to shore up lead in S.C. Hillicon Valley: Dems cancel surveillance vote after pushback to amendments | Facebook to ban certain coronavirus ads | Lawmakers grill online ticketing execs | Hacker accessed facial recognition company's database Vulnerable Democrats brace for Sanders atop ticket MORE and his son, who was previously employed by a Ukrainian energy company, and the other into the debunked theory that Kyiv interfered in the 2016 U.S. election. 

Amid that pressure campaign, Democrats say, Trump dangled the possibility of a White House meeting and withheld $391 million in military aid that Congress had earmarked to Ukraine, largely to help repel Russian aggression in the region.

Trump has remained defiant throughout the process, maintaining that his relations with Ukraine were “perfect” and accusing Democrats of conducting a partisan “witch hunt.” On Friday, he continued the attacks. 

“The Do Nothing Democrats just keep repeating and repeating, over and over again, the same old ‘stuff’ on the Impeachment Hoax,” he tweeted. “They ought to go back to work for our great American people!” 

ADVERTISEMENT

With the end of the Democrats’ opening arguments, Trump’s defense team is now set to take the Senate stage, beginning Saturday at 10 a.m. Jay SekulowJay Alan SekulowWhat the impeachment vote looked like from inside the chamber Senate votes to acquit Trump on articles of impeachment Roberts emerges unscathed from bitter impeachment trial MORE, one of Trump’s lawyers, said Friday that the first day, scheduled for just three hours, would offer “our sneak preview” of the more substantive arguments to begin on Monday. 

He offered few details, but made clear that the defense’s arguments would not shy away from some of the explosive issues at the fringes of the Ukraine saga, including the so-called Steele dossier that included a series of memos detailing allegations about Trump’s contacts with Russia during 2016.

“We have two goals: We're going to refute the allegations that they've made, and we're going to put on an affirmative case,” Sekulow told reporters in the Capitol. 

With Trump’s team poised to take the floor, Schiff used his closing remarks to predict — and preempt — the arguments the president’s legal team might make. That list included GOP claims that the House impeachment process denied Trump a fair defense; White House arguments that there was “no harm, no foul” because Ukraine ultimately received the aid; and Republican demands for the Bidens to be subpoenaed as witnesses.

ADVERTISEMENT

“If they couldn’t get Ukraine to smear the Bidens, they want to use this trial to do it instead,” Schiff said.

Schiff also went after Republicans for attacking the credibility of the government whistleblower, who first alleged that Trump was pressuring Ukraine to open political investigations. Republicans have fought to reveal the identity — and compel the testimony — of that anonymous figure. Schiff lambasted that idea as a bow to a “thin-skinned” president who demands loyalty at all costs. 

“We protect the people who have the courage to come forward and blow the whistle. [It means] that we don’t think — though the president might — that they are traitors and spies,” Schiff said.

“There is only one way you can come to that conclusion and that is if you believe you are the state. And anything that contradicts you is treason," he continued. "That is the only way that you can conceive that someone who exposes wrongdoing is a traitor or a spy."

Unlike the first two days of the trial, when they appeared restless or missing altogether, almost all senators were in their seats on Friday, and appeared to be listening attentively or taking notes. 

There were exceptions: Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonAsian caucus urges fellow lawmakers not to 'perpetuate racist stereotypes' amid coronavirus fears Overnight Defense: More closures possible at US bases in Europe as coronavirus spreads | Pompeo says Afghan 'reduction in violence is working' | Man accused of trying to blow up vehicle at Pentagon Top general: More closures at US bases in Europe possible as coronavirus spreads MORE (R-Ark.) was spotted twirling a fidget spinner during Schiff’s closing argument, and Sen. Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranThe Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in Overnight Defense: Senate votes to rein in Trump war powers on Iran | Pentagon shifting .8B to border wall | US, Taliban negotiate seven-day 'reduction in violence' The 8 Republicans who voted to curb Trump's Iran war powers MORE (R-Kan.) sat and watched the speech from the gallery overlooking the chamber instead of in his seat on the Senate floor. 

ADVERTISEMENT

While Schiff spoke in mostly somber and serious terms, he earned laughs several times during his hourlong closing remarks, including when he referenced Alan DershowitzAlan Morton DershowitzA disgraced Senate and president have no business confirming judges Dershowitz files defamation suit against Boies, alleging extortion Sunday shows - 2020 Democrats make closing arguments in New Hampshire MORE, a member of Trump’s defense team, and when he noted Trump’s repeated insistence that the Ukraine call was “perfect.”

He also received chuckles when he remarked on the unusual opportunity this trial presents with regard to Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial and whom Schiff argued should settle the dispute over additional witness testimony.

“How often do you get the chance to overrule the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court," Schiff said. "You have to admit, it is every legislator’s dream."

He also earned some laughter from Republicans, notably Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Morning Report - Sanders takes incoming during intense SC debate Congress eyes killing controversial surveillance program Democrats duke it out in most negative debate so far MORE (R-S.C.), when he tried to pre-but the looming criticism of Trump’s legal team and referred to himself as “that Schiff guy.” 

But Schiff appeared to make a dramatic misstep when he referenced a CBS News report, which cited a Trump confidant as telling Republican senators that “your head will be on a pike” if they break with Trump on the impeachment fight. 

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Sanders takes incoming during intense SC debate Overnight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — Lawmakers raise alarms over Trump coronavirus response | Top official warns virus appears inevitable in US | Democrats block two Senate abortion bills Democrats block two Senate abortion bills MORE (R-Maine), a crucial swing vote, said several times “that isn’t true,” as she turned to her colleagues and shook her head, a reaction echoed by other GOP senators. 

Schiff appeared to realize his mistake, as Republicans continued to verbally push back, stopping mid-sentence to add: "I hope it's not true.” 

Nevertheless, Republicans were visibly angry with Schiff as they left the Senate floor, saying the president had never shared such a message with them and attacking the reported remark as a lie.

Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordThe Hill's Morning Report - Can Sanders be stopped? Senate drama surrounding Trump trial starts to fizzle The Hill's Morning Report - Trump defense rests, GOP struggles to bar witnesses MORE (R-Okla.) called it "one of the most remarkable moments” of the trial thus far, warning that the Republican side was “visibly upset” by the statements.  

"That is completely totally false, and all of us were shaking our heads like, 'Where did that story come from?' and Adam Schiff just kept saying it," he said.

Barrasso told reporters that Schiff "has basically offended every Republican senator in there tonight.” 

Even Manchin, one of the most conservative Democrats in the Senate, indicated that he thought Schiff crossed a line. 

"I don't know why people do that," Manchin said. "That could have been left out, that's for sure." 

To Democrats, however, that was feigned indignation — faux outrage that did nothing to undermine their central argument that Trump should be removed and the Senate’s verdict will have long-standing consequences for the country’s future. Schiff, in ending, framed the outcome in the most sweeping historical terms. 

“We can do a lifetime's work, draft the most wonderful legislation, help our constituents and yet we may be remembered for none of that. But for a single decision, we may be remembered affecting the course of our country. I believe this may be one of those moments,” he said.

“Give America a fair trial. She's worth it.”

Updated: 11:34 p.m.