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House managers stick to script on first day of Trump trial arguments

Democrats lean heavily on witness testimony over eight hours on the Senate floor

California Rep. Adam B. Schiff speaks during a news conference Wednesday with the other House impeachment managers before the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump resumes at the Capitol. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
California Rep. Adam B. Schiff speaks during a news conference Wednesday with the other House impeachment managers before the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump resumes at the Capitol. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

House impeachment managers on Wednesday dutifully stayed on message throughout the second full day of the Senate impeachment trial, arguing that the findings of the House’s impeachment inquiry provide ample evidence to warrant the removal of President Donald Trump from office.

The team of seven managers took turns presenting their case, starting with House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff, who led the impeachment inquiry.

The California Democrat invoked the Founding Fathers’ “genius” and “prescience” for crafting a Constitution that includes a mechanism to remove a president who has abused the powers of the office.

Schiff, the lead House impeachment manager, argued that Trump abused his office by withholding $391 million in military aid intended for Ukraine in exchange for that country announcing an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, a top political rival and contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

Schiff further argued the Ukrainian government never announced the investigation because Trump got caught.

The president’s legal team sat silent just feet away from the podium where Schiff and his colleagues argued for the president’s removal. They will likely have their turn for arguments Saturday, after House Democrats exhaust their allotted 24 hours.

For keen impeachment observers, Wednesday provided no new information. But Schiff set out to ensure that each senator received a full debrief of his investigation.

“We will go into extensive detail about what happened and when and how we know that it happened,” he said. “We do not assume that everyone in the Senate was able to watch all of the House testimony … let alone that the American people were able to do so.”

During an afternoon break from the House managers’ opening arguments, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer called Schiff a “tour de force.”

While the New York Democrat may have been enraptured with the presentation, some of his Senate colleagues briefly nodded off during Schiff’s very factual and to-the-point opening statement.

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Ukraine aid

Another impeachment manager, Colorado freshman Jason Crow, a member of the House Armed Services Committee and a former Army Ranger, spoke of the importance of the military aid intended for Ukraine that was temporarily halted by the Trump administration.

“Where were you on July 25, 2019?” Crow asked, referencing the day Trump called Ukrainian President Voldomyr Zelenskiy, asking him for a “favor.” Crow then briefly recounted the last few weeks of Oleksandr Markiv’s life.

Markiv, a Ukrainian soldier fighting Russian-backed separatists in his country, “was in a trench” on July 25, Crow said, adding that Markiv was later killed in a mortar attack.

Crow described the hold on the aid as “illegal,” an assertion backed up by the Government Accountability Office. Markiv’s death, however, cannot be directly attributed to the aid’s delay.

A veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Crow has been the House managers’ point person on the security matters at the center of the impeachment trial, often speaking of the importance of U.S. military aid to Ukraine, which is at war with Russia. 

“We help our partner fight Russia over there,” he told the Senate, “so we don’t have to fight Russia here.”

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Senate connection

Impeachment manager Sylvia R. Garcia, a Texas freshman, called out Sen. Ron Johnson’s ties to the Ukraine controversy, pointing to the Wisconsin Republican’s attendance at Zelenskiy’s inauguration in May.

Johnson attended alongside U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, then-special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and then-Energy Secretary Rick Perry. All but Perry and Johnson testified before the House probe.

Johnson also met in 2019 with a former Ukrainian diplomat who is known to have circulated claims that Ukrainian officials assisted Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, despite no evidence of that.

During his testimony before Schiff’s panel, Sondland testified that Trump urged the group, including Johnson, to talk to Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, about concerns over corruption in Ukraine. That led to an informal diplomatic channel used to facilitate the alleged quid pro quo over military aid and a White House meeting.

New York Democrat Hakeem Jeffries, the only impeachment manager to serve in House Democratic leadership, pushed back against the president’s repeated claims that the July 25 call at the heart of the impeachment was “perfect.”

“Nothing can be further from the truth,” Jeffries said.

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