(Bloomberg) -- House prosecutors expanded their case against President Donald Trump on his impeachment trial’s second day, arguing his actions to withhold military aid to Ukraine and block a congressional inquiry were clear violations under the U.S. Constitution.
“No president has ever used his office to compel a foreign nation to help him cheat in our elections,” Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, one of the seven House impeachment managers, told the Senate.
When Congress began examining his conduct, Nadler said, Trump engaged in an unprecedented “stonewalling” of the inquiry that “puts even President Nixon to shame.”
Nadler and the other impeachment 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 discretion senators to decide whether Trump’s actions are “high crimes and misdemeanors,” rejecting claims by Trump’s side that a statutory criminal act is needed.
Members of the president’s defense team say they’re gearing up for a vigorous defense of Trump’s assertion of power and his actions regarding Ukraine when they get their turn beginning Saturday.
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said Thursday that Trump is “very pleased” with how the trial is going and is eager to prove “he’s done nothing wrong.”
“We’re looking forward to the chance when we get to lay out our case, the attorneys are excited by that, and they’re going to attack it on that front, and release that evidence, prove once and for all that this whole thing is illegitimate, it’s a sham,” Gidley told reporters.
Trump, speaking Thursday night at the Republican National Committee winter 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.
Trump’s acquittal is all but assured in a Senate that Republicans control, 53-47, and some members of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s leadership team say they are confident that enough Republicans will stay united against calls by Senate Democrats for more witnesses and documents to assure a speedy end to the trial.
The heart of the Democrats’ impeachment case is the accusation that Trump withheld military aid to pressure the new government in Ukraine to announce an investigation related to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who had served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, to help his re-election campaign.
“Prior president’s would be shocked to the core by such conduct, and rightly so,” Nadler said during Thursday’s presentation. “Now, because President Trump has largely failed to convince the country that his conduct was remotely acceptable, he has adopted a fall-back position. He argues that even if we disapprove of his misconduct we cannot remove him for it. Frankly, that argument is itself terrifying.”
One building block used by prosecutors in any trial is a discussion of motive. A central part of Representative Sylvia Garcia presentation on Thursday was the question of why Trump would want Ukraine to announce an investigation that would entangle Joe Biden and his son, 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,” Garcia said. “He had the motive, he had the opportunity and the means to commit this abuse of power.”With some Republicans calling for Biden to testify, Garcia also sought to puncture the allegation he had improperly intervened with Ukrainian officials to halt an investigation of an Burisma Holdings where Hunter Biden served on the board. In fact, she said, there was no probe of Burisma under way when U.S. joined calls by the European Union, 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.
But, Garcia said, “The mere announcement of such an investigation would immediately tarnish the former vice president’s reputation by embroiling him and his son in a foreign criminal investigation, even if the charges were never pursued.”
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer praised the House managers who are “setting the bar very high,” and he said pressure is Republicans to join Democrats to subpoena witnesses and more documents. Democrats need just four Republicans to join them in that demand, and three -- Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah -- already said they are likely to do so.
“The same Republicans who said they heard nothing new, voted nine times on Tuesday to hear nothing new,” Schumer said in reference to Tuesday’s procedural votes.
Democrats are continuing to press for the introduction of witnesses later in the trial after Republicans rejected attempts to settle the question before the proceedings got underway. That battle will be fought anew after Trump’s team delivers their defense and senators submit questions.
“Make no mistake about the issue of relevant evidence -- documents and witnesses -- is going to come back up,” Schumer said.
While some Republicans are broaching the idea of a trade on witnesses for both sides -- calling Hunter Biden in exchange for testimony from former White House National Security Adviser John Bolton -- Republican leaders insisted they will ultimately get the votes to prevent any more evidence.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer shot down the idea of any trades on witness lists. However it would only take 51 votes in the Senate to call any witness once the decision is made to hear new testimony.
“It does seem to me that at the end of that most senators will be pretty well well informed on which way they are going to vote and aren’t going to need any additional information,” said Senator John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican and the No. 3 GOP leader. He said some senators want the information not to inform their votes “but for political purposes.”
(Updates with Trump remarks to RNC in eighth paragraph)
--With assistance from Laura Davison, Mike Dorning, Josh Wingrove, Erik Wasson and Jennifer Jacobs.
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