WASHINGTON — The impeachment trial of President Donald Trump entered its second day, with House Democrats beginning three straight days of laying out their case for removing the president from office.
Under the trial rules, House Democrats have 24 hours split over three days to lay out their evidence that Trump abused his power by withholding foreign aid from Ukraine in exchange for the country announcing an investigation into former vice president Joe Biden and his family — and that Trump obstructed Congress in its investigation. After that, White House lawyers will have the same amount of time to make their rebuttal.
Wednesday was focused largely on the timeline of the Trump-Ukraine saga, with House Democrats presenting evidence from their own investigations that the president and his allies pressured Ukraine to benefit Trump politically.
The question of whether the Senate will call any witnesses in the trial will remain unanswered for the next week.
Rep. Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, began the arguments Wednesday afternoon, running through the two charges against Trump and playing clips from officials who testified in the House's investigation. Over more than two hours of argument, Schiff emphasized a point he's made before: If the Senate acquits Trump, it will set a bad precedent for future presidents.
"What are we going to say to the next president?" Schiff asked. "What are we going to say to the president who's from a different party who refuses the same kind of subpoenas and the president says to you or his chief of staff says to you or her chief of staff says to you, 'Just get over it? I'm not doing anything different than Donald Trump did. Just get over it. He asked for help in the next election, I'm asking for help in the next election. Just get over it. We do this kind of thing all the time."
Next, Judiciary Committee chair Jerry Nadler focused on a campaign by Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer working for Trump, to discredit and (successfully) oust Marie Yovanovitch as the US ambassador to Ukraine. "It is worth remembering that smearing ambassador Yovanovitch was a means to an end: removing her would allow the president's allies the freedom to pressure Ukraine to announce their sham investigations," Nadler said.
House Democrats introduced new evidence last week that fills in key details of the campaign against Yovanovitch.
House Democrats wrapped for the day just before 10 p.m., with Schiff going through an expedited timeline of the Ukraine saga. He said that Democrats will focus their arguments Thursday on the law and why they believe Trump committed impeachable acts.
As senators left for the evening, Sen. Lindsey Graham, a staunch ally of Trump's, walked by Schiff, patted him on the shoulder, and said "good job today. Very well spoken."
At the end of arguments, Democrats introduced a one-page document as evidence in the trial, but it is classified, so while senators will be allowed to view it, it will not be made public. The document is reportedly a letter to the House Intelligence Committee from Jennifer Williams, an assistant to Vice President Mike Pence, which Pence's office has kept classified. Williams previously testified in the House impeachment inquiry and was one of the aides on Trump's July 25 call in which he asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for a "favor." Williams described the call in her testimony at the time as "unusual" because of its focus on US domestic politics.
The first day of arguments came after the Senate spent 13 hours Tuesday (and into Wednesday morning) arguing about the rules for the trial. Ultimately, Senate Republicans passed a rules package laying out the schedule for the trial. They also voted down 11 Democratic amendments that would have subpoenaed witnesses and documents from the Trump administration, though that question will come up again later in the trial.
“Anyone who watched the proceedings today, or reads about them, will see that Democrats are for a fair trial — documents and witnesses — and Republicans are not," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said as the Senate recessed just after 2 a.m. Wednesday.
He added, "If there are no documents and witnesses, I don't think anybody thinks an acquittal is going to have that much value."
Though Tuesday was supposed to be a day to debate the process, Democrats, led by Schiff came out swinging with hours of arguments laying out their case that Trump committed high crimes and misdemeanors. White House lawyers responded by attacking the Democratic case as baseless.
Democrats tried to exert pressure on vulnerable Republicans up for reelection in 2020 by forcing them to take repeated votes against subpoenaing the Trump administration. Trump has directed his administration not to hand over documents or testify before Congress. “The innocent do not act this way,” said Schiff.
But Republicans didn’t budge. All but one of the amendments was voted down along a strict 53–47 party line vote. Sen. Susan Collins was the only Republican to vote with Democrats on any of the amendments: a measure to give the legal teams more time to respond to the other's motions.
After both sides have concluded opening arguments, which could happen as late as Tuesday, senators will have 16 hours to question the House and White House teams. Because senators must be silent during the trial, they’ll have to submit their questions in writing.
Then the Senate will debate and vote on whether to call witnesses. It will take four Republicans to side with Democrats for that vote to succeed.
Kadia Goba contributed reporting to this story.