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The mood in the Senate chamber on Wednesday was reminiscent of a high school classroom. Senators — barred from using mobile phones and other electronic devices — dozed off in their seats and passed notes to their friends.
Still, the real gravity of the day could not be ignored: The Senate impeachment trial for President Donald Trump had begun in earnest. The seven-member team of House managers tasked with arguing for Trump’s removal from office gave their first day of opening arguments.
During the House Democrats’ eight-hour presentation, each manager took a turn outlining Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukrainian officials to announce investigations into his political rival, former Vice President and 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter. Trump “abused his office and the public trust,” argued Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the lead House manager and chair of the House Intelligence Committee. It is lawmakers’ responsibility to consider the facts impartially and to act accordingly, he added.
Here are five key moments for the first day of opening arguments in the Senate trial:
Schiff turned to the framers of the Constitution in presenting the Democrats’ case against Trump. At one point, Schiff read from a 1792 letter by Alexander Hamilton warning against an autocratic leader.
“The framers of the Constitution worried then, as we worry today, that a leader might come to power not to carry out the will of the people he was elected to represent, but to pursue his own interests,” Schiff said on the Senate floor. “They feared that a president would subvert our democracy by abusing the awesome power of his office for his own personal or political gain.”
Impeachment was created by the founders, Schiff continued, to remedy the threat of such a leader.
During his remarks, Schiff put in context the security aid that the Trump administration withheld from Ukraine in the summer of 2019. The president used the hold on aid as leverage, Schiff argued.
“These funds, they don’t just benefit Ukraine. They benefit the security of the United States by ensuring that Ukraine is equipped to defend its own borders against Russian aggression,” Schiff said. “The United States provides Ukraine with radar, and weapons, and sniper rifles, communication that save lives.”
Trump has described his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as “perfect.” But House manager and New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries said on Wednesday that “nothing can be further from the truth.”
The call is “direct evidence of President Trump’s solicitation of foreign interference in the 2020 election as part of a corrupt scheme,” he added.
Zelensky was in a vulnerable position and needed support from the U.S., Jeffries said. “On the July 25 call, Mr. Trump could have endeavored to strengthen the relationship with this new Ukrainian leader. Instead, President Trump focused on securing a personal favor.”
House manager and Florida Rep. Val Demings reviewed testimony from key witnesses given during the House impeachment hearings. One of those witnesses was Fiona Hill, a former White House Russia adviser, who testified publicly that then-national security adviser John Bolton characterized the Trump’s efforts in Ukraine as a “drug deal.”
“Senators, as a former chief of police, I think it’s quite interesting that ambassador Bolton characterized the pressure campaign as a ‘drug deal’,” Demings said. “I think that ambassador Bolton was trying to send us a very powerful message … that every person would understand.”
Democrats have criticized the White House for withholding potentially relevant documents they requested as part of the House impeachment inquiry. House manager and California Rep. Zoe Lofgren urged the Trump administration to declassify these documents. “It’s improper to keep something classified just to avoid embarrassment or to conceal wrongdoing,” said Lofgren.
Lofgren specifically cited a classified addendum to testimony given by Vice President Mike Pence’s special adviser Jennifer Williams. The American people have a right to see the information, Lofgren argued.
Candice Norwood is a former digital politics reporter for the PBS NewsHour.
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