Democrats condemn Trump at trial as threat to American democracy

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Even with acquittal seemingly assured, the Democrats prosecuting U.S. President Donald Trump in his impeachment trial unleashed a blistering attack on him on Monday with a forceful appeal for conviction, calling him a man with no ethical compass who must be removed from office to protect American democracy.

Representative Adam Schiff wrapped up closing arguments for the seven House of Representatives lawmakers who prosecuted Trump in the historic proceedings after the Republican president’s lawyers in their own arguments called the case against him politically motivated, reckless and baseless.

“We have proven Donald Trump guilty. Now do impartial justice and convict him,” Schiff told the 100-member Republican-controlled Senate, which is due to vote on Wednesday on whether to remove Trump from office.

Trump has called the impeachment effort an attempted coup by Democrats.

The Democratic-led House impeached Trump on Dec. 18 on charges of abuse of power for asking Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden and obstruction of Congress for blocking testimony and documents sought by lawmakers in their investigation.

“This was the first totally partisan presidential impeachment in our nation’s history. And it should be our last,” Trump personal lawyer Jay Sekulow told the Senate. “What the House Democrats have done to this nation, to the Constitution, to the office of the president, to the president himself and to this body (the Senate) is outrageous. They have cheapened the awesome power of impeachment.”

Schiff told the senators that the nation’s founders wrote impeachment into the U.S. Constitution to give Congress the power to remove a president for committing “high crimes and misdemeanors” as a remedy to constrain evil.

“They meant it to be used rarely, but they put it in the Constitution for a reason. For a man who would sell out his country for a political favor. For a man who would (undermine) the integrity of our elections. For a man who would invite foreign interference in our affairs. For a man who would undermine our national security and that of our allies. For a man like Donald J. Trump,” Schiff said.

Schiff assailed Trump in usually personal terms.

“He has not changed. He will not change. He has made that clear himself without self-awareness or hesitation,” Schiff added. “A man without character or ethical compass will never find his way.”

Sekulow called the impeachment drive reckless, said neither of the charges brought against Trump represent an impeachable offense and accused Democrats of seeking to negate the 2016 election won by Trump and to subvert the will of the American people.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump gestures as he departs for travel to Florida from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S. January 31, 2020. REUTERS/Leah Millis

“The answer is elections, not impeachment,” Sekulow said.

“The president has done nothing wrong,” added White House Counsel Pat Cipollone. “We can, together, end the era of impeachment.”

The Senate seems certain to acquit Trump. A two-thirds majority is required to remove the president. None of the 53 Senate Republicans has indicated support for conviction.

Schiff said that Trump, if left in office, would continue to seek foreign interference in the Nov. 3 election in which he is asking voters to give him four more years as president. Biden is a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to challenge Trump.

“A president free of accountability is a danger to the beating heart of our democracy,” Schiff said.

NO WITNESSES

The Senate voted on Friday not to hear any witnesses such as Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton, who in an unpublished book manuscript depicts Trump as playing a central role in pressuring Ukraine, despite Democratic demands and opinion polls showing most Americans wanted to hear from them. Only two Republicans, moderates Mitt Romney and Susan Collins, voted to hear witnesses.

When the closing arguments are complete, the senators will be able to make speeches on the matter until Wednesday, when a final vote is scheduled at 4 p.m. EST (2100 GMT) on whether Trump is guilty of the charges and should be removed. Several Republican senators have called Trump’s actions wrong and inappropriate but not impeachable.

During the trial, Trump’s lawyers offered an expansive view of presidential powers and argued that he could not be thrown out of office for abuse of power.

“The logical conclusion of this argument is that the president is the state, that his interests are the nation’s interests, that his will is necessarily ours,” Crow said.

“Allowing a president to get away with conduct based on this extreme view would render him above the law,” Crow added.

Slideshow (7 Images)

Trump is only the third U.S. president to be impeached.

The first contest in the state-by-state battle to determine the Democratic candidate who will challenge Trump was taking place on Monday in Iowa, a stern test for Biden as he seeks his party’s nomination. Three senators are seeking the Democratic nomination: Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar.

Trump was scheduled to deliver his annual State of the Union speech to Congress on Tuesday night.

Reporting by David Morgan, Richard Cowan, Makini Brice, Patricia Zengerle and Susan Cornwell; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Ross Colvin, Daniel Wallis and Paul Simao

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