House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) on Tuesday launched the Democrats’ impeachment arguments on the Senate floor with an appeal to the senators charged with weighing the case to remove President Trump: Give us a fair trial.
Schiff, in a blue speckled tie, ticked through the impeachment trial rules as he called on Republican senators to allow Democrats to call in witnesses for testimony and receive new documents as evidence, warning that a fair trial is needed in order for senators to faithfully make a decision on whether to convict or acquit Trump.
“The most important question is the question you must answer today: Will the president and the American people get a fair trial?” Schiff said.
“I submit that this is an even more important question than how you vote on guilt or innocence, because whether we have a fair trial will determine whether you have a basis to render a fair and impartial verdict,” he continued. “It is foundational — the structure upon which every other decision you make must rest.”
The comments highlight a central controversy surrounding Trump’s impeachment as the process has shifted from the House, where Democrats hold the majority, to the GOP-controlled Senate.
House Democrats impeached Trump in December after a months-long investigation into his dealings with Ukraine, but new evidence related to the episode has emerged since then.
Democrats contend that the newly obtained evidence is material to the case and should therefore be considered.
“A trial with no evidence is not a trial at all; it’s a cover-up,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said shortly before the trial started on Tuesday.
Democrats are also hoping to hear new testimony from officials who refused to cooperate in the House investigation. One in particular — John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser — has had a change of heart and is now offering to testify if the Senate subpoenas him for testimony.
“Why should this trial be different from every other trial?” Schiff asked on the floor. “The short answer is, it shouldn’t.”
Schiff’s appeal to allow the new information underlines the political nature of the impeachment trial, as both sides are dug in surrounding the ultimate verdict — widely expected to be an acquittal — and are vying to convince voters of their contrasting judgments about the propriety of Trump’s actions in Kyiv. Amid that fight, Democrats clearly see the new evidence and testimony as damaging to Trump’s defense — and beneficial to their public relations campaign.
“Right now, a great many — perhaps even most — Americans do not believe there will be a fair trial. They don’t believe the Senate will be impartial. They believe the result is pre-cooked,” Schiff said. “Let’s prove them wrong. Let’s prove them wrong.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has pushed back on the need for witnesses, arguing that the House should not have rushed through their impeachment process if they wanted to incorporate new evidence.
In their calls for a fair trial, Democrats have said that witnesses are not only a key component in Senate proceedings, but they are necessary after the White House worked to block key witnesses with first-hand accounts from testifying for the House inquiry.
Schiff on Tuesday took advantage of the multimedia system installed in the Senate chamber for the trial, using videos of the president’s own speeches and interviews — along with other powerpoint slides — to emphasize his points.
In one clip from a Trump rally, the president tells the audience that the impeachment effort must be invalid because under Article II of the Constitution, “I have the right to do whatever I want.”
Schiff also warned that the White House must not control the levers of what information is made public. Doing so, he warned, would allow the Trump White House to mislead the public by withholding key evidence in selective document dumps.
“This is very important,” Schiff said. “The president must not be allowed to mislead you by introducing documents selectively while holding all the rest.”
“You may infer the president’s guilt,” Schiff added, noting Trump’s decision to block testimony and other new details from coming to light.