Democrats condemn Trump at trial as threat to American democracy

Despite Republican Senate majority, Democrats strongly call to remove US president

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 3: U.S. Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks to reporters near the Senate subway in the U.S. Capitol on February 3, 2020 in Washington, United States. Closing arguments began Monday after the Senate voted to block witnesses from appearing in the impeachment trial. The final vote is expected on Wednesday.   Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images/AFP
Powered by automated translation

US Democrats prosecuting President Donald Trump in his impeachment trial made a forceful appeal for conviction on Monday, calling him a man with no moral compass who must be removed to protect American democracy.

Adam Schiff wrapped up closing arguments for the seven House of Representatives impeachment managers after Mr Trump’s lawyers called the case against the Republican president politically motivated, reckless and baseless.

“We have proven Donald Trump guilty. Now do impartial justice and convict him,” Mr Schiff told the 100-member Senate.

"He has betrayed our national security and he will do so again. He has compromised our elections and he will do so again. You will not change him. You cannot constrain him.

"If you find the courage to stand up to him, to speak the awful truth to his rank falsehood, your place will be among the Davids who took on Goliath. If only you will say, ‘Enough'.”

The impeachment drama neared its conclusion a day before Mr Trump is due to give his annual State of the Union speech to Congress.

In Iowa on Monday, voters took part in the first contest in the state-by-state process of choosing the Democratic nominee to challenge the president in the November 3 election.

On Wednesday, the Republican-controlled Senate is set to vote on whether to remove Mr Trump from office.

It looked more certain to acquit him after Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican moderate, said in a speech on Monday evening that she would not vote to convict despite calling Mr Trump’s actions “shameful and wrong".

Senator Joe Manchin, a Democratic moderate, said he had not decided on whether to vote to acquit Mr Trump and saw “no path” to the two-thirds majority needed to remove a president.

But Mr Manchin predicted that a bipartisan majority in the Senate would vote to censure him for his actions, a lesser rebuke. None of the 53 Senate Republicans has called for conviction.

The Democratic-led House impeached Mr Trump on December 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 in the investigation.

The president has called the impeachment effort an attempted coup by Democrats.

Mr Trump's personal lawyer Jay Sekulow urged senators to “stand firm".

“This was the first totally partisan presidential impeachment in our nation’s history. And it should be our last,” Mr Sekulow said.

“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 is outrageous.

"They have cheapened the awesome power of impeachment.”

Mr Schiff said America's founders intended impeachment the power given to Congress under the US Constitution to remove a president for committing "high crimes and misdemeanours" to be used rarely.

But he said it must be used to remove a president who “would sell out his country for a political favour”, undermine the integrity of elections and invite foreign interference in American affairs.

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 03: The American flag hangs in the Trump International Hotel on February 03, 2020 in Washington, DC. Closing arguments began Monday after the Senate voted to block witnesses from appearing in the impeachment trial. The final vote is expected on Wednesday.   Mario Tama/Getty Images/AFP
The American flag hangs in the Trump International Hotel on February 3, 2020 in Washington, DC. Getty Images/AFP

Mr Sekulow said neither charge against Mr Trump was an impeachable offence, and accused Democrats of seeking to negate the 2016 election and subvert the will of the American people.

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

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

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

Mr Schiff told the Senate that if a president could not be impeached for abuse of power, that would open the door to “utterly unacceptable conduct".

“Trump could offer Alaska to the Russians in exchange for support in the next election, or decide to move to Mar-a-Lago permanently and let [son-in-law] Jared Kushner run the country, delegating to him the decision whether to go to war,” he said.

Mr Schiff said Mr Trump, if left in office, would continue to invite foreign interference in November’s election, in which he is seeking re-election. Mr Biden is a leading contender for the Democratic nomination.

“What are the odds if left in office that he will continue trying to cheat? I will tell you: 100 per cent,” he said.

“A president free of accountability is a danger to the beating heart of our democracy."

The Senate voted on Friday not to hear from any witnesses, including Mr Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton, who in an unpublished book depicts Mr Trump as playing a central role in pressuring Ukraine.

Only two Republicans, moderates Mitt Romney and Susan Collins, voted to hear witnesses.

Senators will be making speeches on the matter until Wednesday, when a vote on whether Mr Trump is guilty is scheduled at 4pm.

He is only the third US president to be impeached. No president has ever been removed from office through impeachment.

President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 before the full House could impeach him.