Democrats Make Pitch for More Trump Witnesses as Case Wraps Up

Laura Litvan, Billy House and Steven T. Dennis
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Democrats Make Pitch for More Trump Witnesses as Case Wraps Up

(Bloomberg) -- The struggle over calling witnesses in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial is escalating as House Democrats prepare to wrap up their case Friday by focusing on White House “stonewalling.”

House impeachment managers will have another day to convince a handful of Republicans to vote with Democrats to subpoena witnesses and documents before Trump’s lawyers take the Senate floor to present their defense.

Over the past two days, Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff led the six other House managers in pulling together what had been a disjointed collection of testimony into a linear timeline they said shows Trump took a sudden interest in corruption in Ukraine only after former Vice President Joe Biden entered the presidential race.

They argued the only explanation for Trump’s decision to hold up almost $400 million in aid to Ukraine was to pressure the new government to announce an investigation of Biden and his son, who had served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, to bolster the president’s re-election campaign.

”You know you can’t trust this president to do what’s right for this country. You can trust he will do what’s right for Donald Trump,” Schiff said as he closed out the day’s arguments. “This is why, if you find him guilty, you must find that he should be removed.”

Trump, speaking Thursday night at the Republican National Committee meeting at his Miami resort, derided the case being argued by Democrats as “impeachment light” according to three people who heard his remarks. He told the crowd that Democrats had been planning an impeachment trial since he won election.

His defense team takes over on Saturday and will have up to 24 hours over three days to present their case. But they’ve been in the Senate each day, and Trump attorney Jay Sekulow has been offering counterpoints to the impeachment managers. On Thursday he suggested that Democrats had opened the door to going on the attack against Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination.

“What I don’t understand is that for the last five hours there’s been a lot about Joe Biden and Burisma,” Sekulow said. “They kind of opened the door to that kind of response, so we’ll determine the appropriate way to do it.”

Question of Motive

Biden and his son Hunter were frequent topics of the House managers on Thursday, even as the Democrats dismissed Republican suggestions that if witnesses are to be called, the Bidens should be among them.

Impeachment manager Sylvia Garcia’s presentation on Thursday dealt with motive: Why Trump would want Ukraine to announce an investigation that would entangle the Bidens, which she called “the corrupt object of his scheme.”

The answer, she said, was that the former vice president had entered the Democratic presidential race and polls showed he would be Trump’s strongest challenger in the 2020 election.”It wasn’t until Biden began beating him in polls that he called for the investigation,” said Garcia, a Texas Democrat. “He had the motive, he had the opportunity and the means to commit this abuse of power.”

The mere announcement of an investigation would have tarnished the vice president’s reputation, she said, benefiting Trump’s re-election campaign.

“President Trump solicited foreign interference in the U.S. election for one particular objective -- to benefit his own re-election,” Schiff said when he spoke. “To seek help in cheating in a U.S. election, he requested, effectively demanded, a personal political favor.”

Trump’s Narrative

Garcia also sought to puncture a discredited narrative pushed by Trump and his allies that Biden had intervened with Ukrainian officials to halt an investigation of Burisma Holdings, the company on which Hunter Biden was a board member. In fact, she said, there was no investigation of Burisma under way when the U.S. joined calls by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund for Ukrainian Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin to be removed.

“There is simply no evidence, nothing, nada in their record to support this baseless allegation,” Garcia said.The Bidens may come into play if at least four Republicans join with Democrats to provide 51 votes to subpoena witnesses blocked by Trump from testifying in the House impeachment inquiry. Among those Democrats want to call are acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and former Trump National Security Adviser John Bolton.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Friday pushed back on the notion that calling such witnesses would lead to an extended court fight over whether their testimony should be blocked due to executive privilege. If the Senate issued subpoenas, they would be considered bipartisan and would bear the signature of Chief Justice John Roberts, he said, making an expedited court review likely.

“We know they’ll pressure Republican senators, but four Republican senators can step forward and say that we need witnesses and documents,” Schumer said at a news conference. “And there are 12 or 13 who have never said a bad word about witnesses and documents.”

Hesitation on Witnesses

But just three Republicans so far have said they are likely to approve added witnesses or the admission of new documents, and one -- Lisa Murkowski of Alaska -- on Thursday said she’s wary of a likely long court battle. She said the House didn’t engage on that, opting to move ahead on two impeachment charges without the evidence.

“The House made a decision that they didn’t want to slow things down by having to go through the courts and yet now they’re basically saying you guys need to go through the courts,” Murkowski said. “‘We didn’t but we need you to.’ That’s kind of where we are.”

Once the defense team is finished, senators have as many as 16 hours to ask questions of both sides before the showdown vote on witnesses. If the door is opened to new witnesses sought by Democrats, 51 Republicans could join together to call their own slate, and several GOP senators have said one or both Bidens should be on that list.

“Today, House Democrats perhaps unintentionally threw Joe Biden under the bus,” said Texas Republican Ted Cruz.

But Senate Republican leaders are expressing growing confidence that the Senate will reject a vote on whether to seek more evidence. A staunch Trump ally, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, told reporters he wouldn’t want a trade-off that lets Democrats call their witnesses in exchange for Republicans calling witnesses such as Biden or his son.

“I will not use my vote to extend this trial,” Graham said.

Instead, the Senate Judiciary chairman he said he would investigate the Bidens in his committee. “I don’t think Joe Biden is corrupt, but I don’t think he’s beyond being looked at,” Graham said.

Schiff’s team of impeachment managers on Thursday made the case that Trump’s decision to withhold military aid to Ukraine and block a congressional probe violated the U.S. Constitution.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, one of the impeachment managers, said Trump’s unprecedented “stonewalling” of Congress on witnesses and documents “puts even President Nixon to shame.”

Schiff, Nadler and the other managers urged senators to see the trial as a crucial test of Congress’s willingness to restrain a president dramatically tilting the balance of power toward the executive. They stressed the Constitution leaves it entirely at the senators’ discretion to decide whether Trump’s actions are “high crimes and misdemeanors,” rejecting claims by Trump’s side that a statutory criminal act is needed.

(Adds comment from Schumer starting in 18th paragraph)

--With assistance from Erik Wasson, Daniel Flatley, Laura Davison, Josh Wingrove, Mike Dorning and Jennifer Jacobs.

To contact the reporters on this story: Laura Litvan in Washington at llitvan@bloomberg.net;Billy House in Washington at bhouse5@bloomberg.net;Steven T. Dennis in Washington at sdennis17@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net, Laurie Asséo

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