In fiery close, Democrats warn that Americans are not safe if Trump stays in office

Demonstrators hold signs outside the U.S. Capitol during the impeachment trial of President Trump.
(Jose Luis Magana / Associated Press)

House Democrats wrapped up three days of scathing arguments against President Trump on Friday, warning at his Senate impeachment trial that Trump will cheat in the November election if he is not removed from office and that no Americans — including senators themselves — were safe from his abuses.

Trump “has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law,” Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) said in an impassioned closing argument. “That has been proved.”

House Democrats have begun formally presenting their case in the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump after a grueling 12-hour partisan fight over the rules. Led by Rep. Adam B. Schiff, the Democratic managers now have three days to present the House’s arguments for impeachment. Watch the trial live and follow our coverage.Watch live>>

Schiff, whose speeches have dominated the trial so far, pleaded with senators to look past what he portrayed as partisan politics and to subpoena new witnesses and documents to fully understand Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, the heart of the Democrats’ impeachment case.

“The American people do not agree on much, but they will not forgive being deprived of the truth, and certainly not because it took a back seat to expediency,” Schiff said.


“Is it too much fatigue to call witnesses and have a fair trial? Are the blessings of freedom so meager that we will not endure the fatigue of a real trial with witnesses and documents?” he asked.

“I implore you, give America a fair trial,” he said at the end. “She’s worth it.”

But Democrats appeared no closer to reaching a deal with Republicans to issue subpoenas next week after the president’s lawyers present their defense, starting Saturday.

The third and final day of the prosecution arguments saw fervent appeals to patriotism, dire warnings about national security and grudging praise from even some conservatives about how the seven House managers filled nearly every minute of their allotted 24 hours with a compelling narrative, boosted by scores of video clips, documents and witness testimony — including statements and tweets from Trump himself.

By the time Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. banged the gavel shortly before 9 p.m, some senators appeared drained. Several slumped wearily over their wooden desks or rested their chins on their hands, and others paced the back of the chamber or leaned against the wall. At one point, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) put a foot up on his desk.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted,” admitted Schiff, who has spent the most hours at the lectern.

Democrats argued that Trump abused his power last summer by pressing Ukraine’s newly elected president to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, who is running for president, while he was blocking nearly $400 million in congressionally approved security aid for its war against Russian-backed insurgents.

Schiff portrayed Trump’s demand to Ukraine as part of a pattern of soliciting foreign assistance in U.S. elections, which he argued was the exact reason impeachment was added to the Constitution as the remedy for presidential misconduct.

President Trump’s impeachment lawyers appear ready to deliver a public tarring of former 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

Schiff called up a clip of Trump’s call during the 2016 campaign for “Russia, if you’re listening,” to hack Hillary Clinton’s email server — a request that military intelligence officers in Moscow quickly heeded — and another clip of his more recent request for China to investigate Biden as well.

“Do you think if we do nothing that it’s going to stop now? All evidence is to the contrary,” Schiff said. “You know it’s not going to stop.”

In an emotional appeal, Schiff warned that Trump believed only in “Trump first … not America first” and wouldn’t hesitate to call for an investigation of a Republican senator who drew his ire.

“The next time it just may be you,” Schiff said. “Do you think for a moment, that if he felt it was in his interest, he wouldn’t ask for you to be investigated?”

Schiff also appealed to Republicans’ desire to be tough on Moscow, playing a video clip of the late Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who championed Ukraine’s uphill fight against Russia before his death in 2018. McCain repeatedly clashed with Trump but is revered by many in the Senate.

Schiff warned that Trump’s aggressive efforts to get Ukraine to help him win in November would backfire against U.S. interests and operations around the globe.

“If we’re going to condition our support for our allies on their willingness to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into our politics, if we’re going to condition the strength of our alliance on whether they’ll help us cheat in an election, we’re not going to have a single ally left,” Schiff said.

Democrats also spent hours Friday arguing that Trump obstructed the House impeachment inquiry by directing administration officials to ignore subpoenas asking for testimony and documents.

“This is very simple,” said Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), another House manager. “The president abused the powers entrusted in him by the American people in a scheme to suppress evidence, escape accountability and orchestrate a massive cover-up, and he did so in plain sight. And his obstruction remains ongoing.”

Trump’s legal team and his Republican allies have rejected the Democrats’ charge of obstructing Congress, calling it “absurd” and saying the president has well-established authority to keep some material confidential.

Shortly before the trial resumed Friday, potentially damaging new evidence emerged about Trump’s decision last year to remove Marie Yovanovitch as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine after the president’s emissaries suggested she was blocking his efforts to get the Biden investigation going.

ABC News reported that a tape recording revealed Lev Parnas, a Soviet-born businessman and an associate of Trump’s private lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, trying to convince Trump at a private dinner in April 2018 that Yovanovitch wasn’t loyal to him.

“Get her out tomorrow. Take her out,” Trump can be heard responding.

President Trump can be heard in a 2018 recorded conversation saying he wants to get rid of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, whose removal a year later emerged as an issue in Trump’s impeachment.

The president has claimed that he doesn’t know Parnas, a Republican donor who was indicted last year on campaign finance charges, although multiple photos show the two posing together. Yovanovitch was recalled from Kyiv in May 2019.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the recording shows “the kind of despicable conduct that the president engages in.”

“A woman who’s dedicated her life to this country, and because she’s standing for truth and won’t let him break the law, he is vicious to her,” Schumer said. “No president should be like that.”

Jay Sekulow, one of Trump’s personal lawyers, dismissed the recording as irrelevant, saying he was “not concerned about that at all.”

Sekulow said he and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone will outline the president’s defense for about three hours Saturday but will deliver the bulk of what is expected to be a scorching counteroffensive Monday and possibly Tuesday.

Despite the Democrats’ bruising arguments, Republicans have stood by the president during the trial. For now, the major remaining question in the trial is whether four Republicans will side with the 47 Democrats to call witnesses, such as John Bolton, former national security advisor, and Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s acting chief of staff, to testify about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.

Some Republicans aggressively campaigned Friday against subpoenaing witnesses, saying the president would claim executive privilege, creating a delay.

“This will draw a completely partisan impeachment out for weeks, if not months,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said. “I don’t think that’s a good thing for the nation. I think we understand the guts of this, and the sooner this thing concludes, the better.”

Opinion polls show that the majority of voters want the Senate to call witnesses, and Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) said Republicans were ensuring the trial was “a whitewash and a sham.”

“The president is happy as a clam that he’s got all these Republicans in the Senate who aren’t doing their jobs, not listening to the evidence, saying they’re bored,” Hirono said. “Maybe you don’t want to hear what somebody’s trying to say, because if in their heart of hearts they think it’s OK for the president to have abused his power in this way — if any of them think that’s OK, my gosh.”

Democrats repeatedly pointed to gaps in the narrative where new witnesses or documents could provide answers. For example, after Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Biden in a July 25 phone call, a memo summarizing the conversation was placed in a highly classified computer system to shield it from view.

“Who ordered the cover-up of the call record?” asked Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), one of the House managers. “The American people deserve to know.”

Before the trial resumed Friday, Trump addressed the annual antiabortion March for Life rally on the National Mall, an effort to reinforce his support among evangelicals for his reelection campaign. He is the first president ever to attend the event.

“They are coming after me because I am fighting for you,” Trump told the cheering crowd. “And we are fighting for those who have no voice, and we will win because we know how to win.”

Times staff writer Noah Bierman contributed to this report.