Adam Schiff brilliantly used Trump's own words against him at the start of the impeachment trial

Adam Schiff brilliantly used Trump's own words against him at the start of the impeachment trial

Addressing the Senate on the first official day of President Donald Trump's impeachment trial, House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) delivered a persuasive and impassioned speech that urged senators to conduct a robust and thorough proceeding — rather than rushing through the trial as many Republicans would like.


Schiff repeatedly dismantled many of the arguments against hearing new witnesses and obtaining new evidence that have been put forward by the president's defenders, and he rebutted the arguments that the impeachment inquiry he led in the House of Representatives was too swift. The House, he said, has a constitutional right conduct impeachment in the manner it sees fit, and it was obligated to move forward once it had a compelling and urgent case against Trump. And while some critics have said that he should have fought to obtain more witness testimony and documents, he pointed out that the president obstructed many efforts to get this evidence and that going to the courts would have been unnecessary and far too slow.

In a clever and compelling move, Schiff used video clips of Trump's own words to bolster his arguments. He played a clip of Trump saying, for instance, that he would like to see witnesses at the Senate trial.

"I would love to have [Secretary of State] Mike Pompeo, I'd love to have [Chief of Staff] Mick [Mulvaney], I'd love to have [Energy Secretary] Rick Perry, and many other people testify," Trump said on Dec. 3, 2019 in London.

"The Senate has an opportunity to take the president up on his offer to make his senior aides available, including Mr. Mulvaney and Secretaries Perry and Pompeo," Schiff said after playing the clip. "But now the president is changing his tune. The bluster of wanting these witnesses to testify is over. Notwithstanding the fact that he has never asserted a claim of privilege during the House impeachment proceedings, he threatens to invoke one now, in a last-ditch effort to keep the rest of the truth from coming out."

Responding to the president's lawyer's arguments that the witnesses can't testify now because it would endanger national security, Schiff said that it was Trump who endangered national security when he violated the law to block congressionally approved aid to Ukraine. And, he argued, the most serious cases of impeachment will always involve national security, so this can't be a blanket excuse to obstruct impeachment proceedings.

"This is dangerous nonsense," Schiff said. "In the name of national security, he would hide graphic evidence of his dangerous misconduct."

Schiff then used more clips of Trump's own words against him to make the case that the efforts to obstruct Congress — which prompted the second article of impeachment on their own — were abusive and unjustified.

"Last year, President Trump said that Article II of the Constitution will allow him to do anything he wanted," Schiff said. "And evidently believing that Article II empowered him to denigrate and defy a co-equal branch of government, he also declared that he will fight off subpoenas. Let's hear the president's own words."

Schiff then played two clips back-to-back. In the first, Trump said: "Then I have an Article II where I have the right to do whatever I want as president." In the second, he said: "Well, we're fighting all the subpoenas."

"True to his pledge to obstruct Congress, when President Trump faced an impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives, he ordered the executive branch to defy every single request on every single subpoena," Schiff said. "Following President Trump's categorical order, we never received key documents and communications. It is important to note that in refusing to respond to Congress, the president did not make any — any! — formal claim of privilege ever."

He concluded: "The president was determined to obstruct Congress no matter what we did."

"The videos of Trump encouraging people from his administration from testifying a few months ago (and then blocking everyone from testifying) won’t impact senators too much in terms of how they vote in this process, I think," said Perry Bacon, Jr. of FiveThirtyEight. "I expect nearly all Republican senators to vote against new witnesses and to vote for Trump’s acquittal. But the clips do make Trump look bad, and they make the pro-Trump votes [Maine Republican Sen. Susan] Collins, [Colorado Republican Sen. Cory] Gardner and others are going to cast in this process look even worse."

Watch the video below:

Cody Fenwick is a senior editor at AlterNet. He writes about politics, media and science. Follow him on Twitter @codytfenwick.

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