U.S. House Democrats on Thursday accused President Donald Trump of "frequently, flagrantly" abusing the powers of the presidency, actions they said clearly meet the constitutional standard of committing "high crimes and misdemeanors" necessary to remove him from office.
Congressman Jerrold Nadler, one of the lawmakers prosecuting Trump at his Senate impeachment trial, told the 100 senators acting as jurors in the case that Trump's efforts to get Ukraine to investigate one of his key 2020 Democratic challengers, former Vice President Joe Biden, "captures the worst fears of our founders."
"It is wrong, it is illegal," Nadler said, adding that the 44 U.S. presidents who have preceded Trump "would be shocked to the core." Nadler contended that Trump's abuse "puts President Nixon to shame," the scandal-ridden 1970s-era president who resigned in disgrace before he was impeached.
Nadler called Trump's overture to Ukraine for the Biden investigation "shocking corruption of the electoral process," which came at the same time Trump was temporarily withholding $391 million in military aid Kyiv wanted to help fight pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
"This conduct is not America first, it is Donald Trump first," Nadler contended.
Nadler, citing constitutional law experts who testified in the House of Representatives impeachment investigation late last year, said that abuse of power was a clear and permissible reason to convict Trump, even if he did not violate a specific criminal offense. Trump's lawyers are expected to argue that he should be acquitted, claiming that abuse of power is not an impeachable offense warranting his removal from office.
"Impeachment is not for petty offenses," Nadler said. "President Trump's conduct is a continuing threat."
Nadler spoke on the second day of House managers' lengthy and detailed case against the 45th president, only the third impeachment trial in the country's history.
Democrats to Zoom In on Impeachment History at Trump's Trial House managers will try to show how president's alleged 'corrupt scheme' to benefit himself politically fits into the country's constitutional requirement that he committed 'high crimes and misdemeanors'
Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia, another impeachment manager, said Trump had only one goal - "personal political gain" - in looking for the Ukraine investigation against Biden, the leading Democrat in national political polls for the party's nomination to oppose Trump in next November's election.
The two articles of impeachment accuse Trump of abusing the office of the presidency and obstructing congressional efforts to investigate his Ukraine-related actions. Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a phone call last July to launch the investigation of Biden, his son Hunter Biden's work for a Ukrainian natural gas company, and a debunked theory that Ukraine tried to undermine his 2016 campaign.
At the start of Thursday's session, Democrats had nearly 17 hours remaining through Friday to complete their arguments against Trump before the president's legal team gets 24 hours to defend him, likely starting Saturday and extending into next week.
Trump again ridiculed the Democrats' impeachment case on Thursday, saying on Twitter, "The Democrat House would not give us lawyers, or not one witness, but now demand that the Republican Senate produce the witnesses that the House never sought, or even asked for?"
Trump's lawyers were not permitted to participate in impeachment proceedings in front of the Intelligence panel, but declined an invitation to participate once the process reached the House Judiciary Committee, which drafted the two impeachment articles against Trump. Democrats in the full House of Representatives then impeached Trump without the support of any Republican lawmakers.
"There are no serious disputes about the underlying facts," Congressman Adam Schiff, the lead House manager, said Wednesday. Instead, he said White House lawyers defending Trump will argue that he cannot be removed from office for abusing the power of the presidency.
Jay Sekulow, one of Trump's lawyers, said after Wednesday's session that the fact that the impeachment proceedings are even taking place is "ridiculous."
"Are we having an impeachment over a phone call?" he asked reporters. "Or has this been a three-year attempt to take down a president that was duly elected by the American people? And we're doing this with 10 months to go to a general election. Pretty dangerous for our republic, in my view."
Trump has said throughout the process he did nothing wrong in his discussions with Zelenskiy, frequently describing their half-hour phone call as "perfect."
Sekulow said, "We believe, without question, the president will be acquitted. There is not a doubt."
That outcome is widely expected with members of Trump's Republican Party holding a 53-47 majority in the Senate and impeachment rules requiring a two-thirds vote for conviction in order to remove him from office. Democrats would need to persuade 20 Republicans to vote for conviction, and no Republican has called for his removal from office.
Trump eventually released the military aid to Ukraine, and Zelenskiy never opened an investigation into the Bidens - proof, Republicans say, that Trump did not engage in a quid pro quo with Ukraine: the Biden probes in exchange for the defense assistance.
But Schiff said Trump only released the funds because "he got caught," when a still-unidentified intelligence whistleblower filed a complaint that Trump in the July 25 telephone call asked Zelenskiy to "do us a favor," to start the politically tinged investigations to benefit the U.S. leader in his 2020 re-election campaign.
Trump's impeachment trial is just the third such event in U.S. history. Two other presidents - Andrew Johnson in the mid-19th century and Bill Clinton two decades ago - both faced a Senate impeachment trial but were acquitted and remained in office.