On Thursday, House managers of the impeachment trial of Donald Trump shifted gears from the chronology of events as laid out on Wednesday to the corrupt intent behind Trump’s actions. The entire day was focused on just the issue of abuse of power and why it is an impeachable offense, and on evidence that Trump’s actions in Ukraine were taken with a deeply corrupt intent. Over the course of the day, that meant revisiting some of the same statements and clips from the hearings that were presented on Wednesday. But the tone of the day was quite different. More pedantic in places. More insistent in others.
And then the whole thing ended with Adam Schiff giving a 10-minute closer that, in any other circumstance, should have brought on a standing ovation. It was a masterful demonstration not just of how to make a point, but of why Donald J. Trump really has to go.
The opening of the day was really left to House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler, who spoke of the basic idea of abuse of power and grounded the first article of Trump’s impeachment in historical thought. For Republicans who love to hear those quotes from founders, Nadler’s talk delivered. From The Federalist papers to English common law to the Constitution itself, Nadler reviewed the origins of both the phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” and the way in which abuse of power had become defined as a crime that can only be committed by someone who is, obviously, in a position of power.
After that beginning, each of the House managers took a turn at methodically plowing through the history of past impeachments before switching to look at how Trump’s actions compared to those past cases. Schiff took part in carrying one of those segments at mid-morning, but, as the day wore on, it was Rep. Val Demings and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries who again emerged as stars of the management team. Both of them looked specifically at how Trump’s actions regarding Ukraine were taken not out of any concern over corruption or out of any national interest, but purely to benefit Trump personally.
Jeffries in particular did a knock-out job of destroying the argument that Republicans have used so often: the idea that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky felt “no pressure.” Reviewing the steps that began before U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was forced from her position and proceeding to the moment when Trump relented to release military assistance to Ukraine, Jeffries showed that Zelensky recognized that what Trump and Rudy Giuliani were trying to force on him was corrupt and wrong. Zelensky actually tried to resist that effort until Trump piled on the freshman president with a push that came from all directions, and with statements that made it obvious that giving in to Trump was the price of Ukraine’s security.
Over the course of the day, the Democratic team also took the time to pre-puncture some other parts of the Trump argument, with Schiff stepping in to detail the CrowdStrike conspiracy theory, and show that what Ukraine was being asked to support wasn’t some generic review of actions in 2016. Zelensky was being asked to support Russian propaganda, even as Russia was crushing Ukrainian troops at his eastern border. Overall, the day was another powerful, deeply convincing turn from the House team, which is expected to continue talking about abuse of power before moving to discussion of obstruction on Friday.
Then, at the end of the day, Schiff rose again for a brief conclusion. This wasn’t the closing argument for the team. It wasn’t the closing argument for this phase of the presentation. It wasn’t even the closing argument for the case on article one. This was just the closing argument for Thursday.
But it was amazing. Devastating. A plea for the ages that should have brought the room to its feet, and created a spark of doubt in even the biggest Trump supporter. In less than 10 minutes, Schiff laid out not just why what Trump did was wrong, but why it is vital to the nation that Donald J Trump be removed from office. Immediately. And it started with a very simple question.
Schiff said, "Whether we can say it publicly, we all know what we're dealing with here with this president. Donald Trump chose Rudy Giuliani over his own intelligence agencies ... that makes him dangerous ... Why would anyone in their right mind believe Giuliani over Christopher Wray?"x
Donald Trump must be convicted and removed from office.Because he will always choose his own personal interest over our national interest. Because in America, right matters. Truth matters. If not, no Constitution can protect us.If not, we are lost. pic.twitter.com/USfx6v9KsT— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) January 24, 2020
Schiff continued, “If right doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter how good the Constitution is. The framers could not protect us from ourselves if right and truth don’t matter. And you know what he did was not right. That’s what they do in the old country, where Colonel Vindman’s father came from, the old country that my great-grandfather came from, or the old country that my ancestors came from, or maybe where you came from.
“Because right matters. And the truth matters. Otherwise, we are lost.”
The Senate chamber was silent as he left the podium. But that silence was ringing.