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Trump poses ‘continuing threat’ to national interests, say House managers

On their second day of arguments in President Trump’s Senate trial, House managers focused on their first article of impeachment, abuse of power. They accused Trump of “extorting” Ukraine’s government by withholding $400 million in critical military aid and a White House meeting until Ukraine delivered an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Nick Schifrin reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we lead with the impeachment trial.

    Nick Schifrin begins with a look at the case for limits to the actions of the commander in chief.

  • John Roberts:

    The journal of proceedings of the trial are approved to date.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    On their second day of arguments, Democrats-turned-prosecutors laid out their definition of abuse of power.

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.:

    President Trump has placed his own personal political interests first. He has placed them above our national security, above our free and fair elections, and above our system of checks and balances. This conduct is not America first. It is Donald Trump first.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    House manager Jerry Nadler and a half-dozen other Democratic congressmen focused today on their first article of impeachment, that President Trump used the powers of the presidency in a manner that compromised the national security of the United States.

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler:

    He betrayed vital national interests, specifically our national security, by withholding diplomatic support and military aid from Ukraine, even as it faced armed Russian aggression.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Ukraine is the only country in Europe at war. For five years, Ukrainian soldiers have faced off against Russian-backed separatists and, at times, Russian soldiers.

    They have fought in farmland and in muddy trenches that are throwbacks to wars of 100 years ago. Most of Ukraine's weapons are American or U.S.-funded, and its soldiers are U.S.-trained.

    Democrats today accused President Trump of — quote — "extorting" Ukraine's government by withholding nearly $400 million in military aid and a White House meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations into the 2016 election and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler:

    Since 1789, no president has abused his power in this way. Let me say that again: No president has ever used his office to compel a foreign nation to help him cheat in our elections.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    President Trump has largely responded on Twitter, tweeting more than 150 times in the last day and a half. Today, he criticized the House investigation and called the process — quote — "the most unfair and corrupt hearing in congressional history."

    That was echoed today by New York Republican and a member of the president's impeachment team, Elise Stefanik.

  • Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y.:

    This is the weakest case for impeachment in the history of this country. We continue to see how flimsy this case is, which is why there was bipartisan opposition in the House. There was bipartisan no-votes when it comes to impeachment.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley said, when the president's lawyers present their defense, the facts would be on President Trump's side.

  • Hogan Gidley:

    All the evidence, all the material, the evidence to prove the president has done nothing wrong and get a complete and total exoneration.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The Democrats tried, but failed to force new witnesses at the trial's beginning.

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler:

    Here's what he said.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    So, instead, they used video clips, including of one of the senators listening, Lindsey Graham, talking about President Clinton's 1999 impeachment.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.:

    Doesn't even have to be a crime. It's just, when you start using your office and you're acting in a way that hurts people, you have committed a high crime.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Before that clip was played in the chamber, Graham told reporters he thought Democrats were doing a good job, and that President Trump wanted to go on the offensive to examine Biden, who led Ukraine policy during the Obama administration, and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company widely considered corrupt.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham:

    Why were you paying Hunter Biden? You can say they're corrupt, but they're not stupid. Does it make sense to hire the son of the guy in charge of the portfolio for the American government? I love Joe Biden. But I can tell you, if the name was Trump, there would be a lot of questions asked.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Democrats spent time today describing Biden's pressure on Ukraine's previous government as in the U.S. national interest.

    And at one point, they even referenced a poll showing Biden as the Democrat with the best chance to beat President Trump.

  • Texas Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia:

  • Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas:

    The president asked Ukraine for this investigation for one reason and one reason only: because he knew he would — it would be damaging to an opponent who was consistently beating him in the polls. And, therefore, it could help him get reelected in 2020.

    President Trump had the motive, he had the opportunity, and the means to commit this abuse of power.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    This trial's jurors are the Senate's 100 members. It would take two-thirds of them, 67, to convict and remove the president from office.

    They can't speak inside the trial. Outside, Delaware's Chris Coons urged senators next week to vote to hear from witnesses.

  • Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del.:

    We ought to be able to hear from the folks who know what actually happened. President Clinton, even President Nixon directed his closest advisers to cooperate, in hopes of clearing themselves. If the president isn't willing to make a defense, he can't claim to have been exonerated.

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler:

    Abuse, betrayal, corruption.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Democrats admitted today they were repeating many of the arguments they'd already made, but they said the threat posed by President Trump required it.

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler:

    He poses a continuing threat to our nation, to the integrity of our elections, to our democratic order. He must not remain in power one moment longer.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Democrats are expected to conclude their opening arguments tomorrow. President Trump's defense team begins up to three days of arguments on Saturday.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.

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