Republicans seem unmoved by Democrats' push for witnesses at Trump impeachment trial
'Give America a fair trial,' Schiff says during final arguments
Republicans in the U.S. Senate appeared unmoved by the Democratic push for witnesses in U.S. President Donald Trump's impeachment trial despite persistent appeals from Rep. Adam Schiff and the other House prosecutors.
Over three days of arguments, Democrats warned that the senators will live to regret not delving deeper into Trump's dealings with Ukraine. One of the managers, House judiciary committee chairman Jerrold Nadler, even told them it was "treacherous" to vote against gathering more evidence.
Yet there's no indication the Democrats are moving closer to persuading four Republicans to break with their party in a critical vote expected next week — the minimum needed to reach a majority for subpoenas and extend a trial that seems on track for Trump's acquittal.
"As someone who has enjoyed really fairly strong working relationships with a lot of my colleagues, I've been struck by how little outreach and conversation there has been" about calling witnesses, said Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat who has often been at the centre of bipartisan negotiations.
"I understand that we are in a very partisan and divided environment, but I'm hoping that some conversations will begin. But so far there have been strikingly few."
House prosecutors argued Friday that Trump will persist in abusing the power of his office ahead of the 2020 election unless Congress intervenes to remove him.
"He is who he is," Schiff, the chairman of the House intelligence committee, told senators, accusing Trump of jeopardizing the U.S-Ukraine relationship in a way that benefited Russia just so he could take a political "cheap shot" at Democratic foe Joe Biden.
"You cannot leave a man like that in office," Schiff said. "You know it's not going to stop. It's not going to stop unless the Congress does something about it."
Schiff also accused Trump — along with his attorney Rudy Giuliani and Giuliani's associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman — of working to "overturn a decades-long commitment to standing up to Russian aggression."
"We're undermining the rule of law, we're undermining the principle 'you don't invade your neighbour,' we're undermining the key to our own success and for what? For help with a political campaign," Schiff said.
Trump is being tried in the Senate after the House impeached him last month. He is accused of abusing his office by asking Ukraine for politically motivated probes of Biden and his son while withholding military aid from the country, a U.S. ally that was at war with bordering Russia, as leverage. The second article of impeachment accuses him of obstructing Congress by refusing to turn over documents or allow officials to testify in the House probe.
WATCH | Schiff says if the U.S. can't be trusted, it could soon find itself without allies:
Most Republicans have solidified around the argument that the House should have sued for the witnesses who refused to testify in the House on Trump's orders, rather than looked to the Senate to compel their testimony. Others have suggested that the case hasn't been convincing enough.
The central witness that Democrats are seeking is former national security adviser John Bolton, who was present for many of the episodes examined in the House's impeachment inquiry. Bolton, who often clashed with Trump, refused to talk to House investigators but has said he would testify in a Senate trial.
Republicans have little interest.
"We have heard plenty," said Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the Senate's No. 3 Republican. "They shouldn't need any more information to make the final decision."
Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican who is in a tough re-election this year, also appeared to dismiss the idea Friday as he stood behind the closing doors of an elevator.
"We've heard from a lot of impeachment witnesses," Gardner said, referring to those who testified in the House.
Republicans say privately that beyond the potential for damaging information to come out about Trump, they don't believe it would benefit themselves politically to hear witnesses. One top Republican aide, who requested anonymity to discuss internal party deliberations, said there's no political gain in working with Democrats — and no reward inside the Senate for tackling the idea.
Holding out for a McCain moment
Those dynamics could certainly change in a fast-moving trial where evidence has continued to come out. Democrats are hoping for a dramatic moment similar to when the late Sen. John McCain unexpectedly voted in 2017 against legislation that would have led to repeal of President Barack Obama's health care law, killing the bill.
Democratic prosecutors ended their presentation just before 9 p.m. ET, with Schiff in the well of the Senate making one final plea to senators to ensure witnesses are called to testify.
"Give America a fair trial," Schiff said. "She's worth it."
As Democrats see it, they are only one or two votes away from a trial that could bring heaps of new evidence against Trump. There are 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats in the Senate, and a tie vote would mean the failure of a motion to call witnesses.
The Republican resistance to hearing more evidence has been infuriating to Democrats who say the Republican party is trying to cover up Trump's wrongdoing. As Democrats pressed their case before skeptical Republican senators for a third day, the president's legal team was preparing its defence, expected to start Saturday.
Trump, with his eyes on the audience beyond the Senate chamber, bemoaned the schedule in a tweet.
After having been treated unbelievably unfairly in the House, and then having to endure hour after hour of lies, fraud & deception by Shifty Schiff, Cryin’ Chuck Schumer & their crew, looks like my lawyers will be forced to start on Saturday, which is called Death Valley in T.V.—@realDonaldTrump
Republicans have defended Trump's actions as appropriate and are casting the process as a politically motivated effort to weaken him in his re-election campaign. Eventual acquittal by the Republican-majority Senate is considered likely.
'Caught' on Ukraine
With Chief Justice John Roberts presiding, Friday's arguments opened with Democrats wrapping up their presentation on the first article of impeachment, abuse of power, before turning to the second, obstruction of Congress.
Democratic Rep. Jason Crow of Colorado, a former army ranger, said the only reason Trump eventually released his hold on the nearly $400 million US in military aid Ukraine desperately relied on to counter Russian aggression was because he had "gotten caught."
"The scheme was unravelling," said Crow. The money for Ukraine was put on hold prior to Trump's July 25 call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that helped launch the impeachment probe, and released Sept. 11 once Congress intervened.
WATCH | Rep. Jason Crow compares Trump's dealings with Ukraine to extortion:
Drawing on historical figures, from the founding fathers to McCain to the fictional Atticus Finch, Schiff made his arguments emphatically personal.
"The next time, it just may be you," he said, pointing at one senator after another. "Do you think for a moment that if he felt it was in his interest, he wouldn't ask you to be investigated?"
It wasn't just a policy dispute, Schiff argued, but "one hell of a Russian intelligence coup" as Trump chased "kooky" theories about Ukraine pushed by Giuliani that benefited Vladimir Putin at U.S. expense.
"This is Trump first. Not America first," Schiff declared.
The impeachment trial is set against the backdrop of the 2020 election. Four senators who are Democratic presidential candidates are off the campaign trail, seated as jurors.