Trump’s Abuse of Power Was ‘Brazen’ and ‘Clear,’ Democrats Argue in Impeachment Case

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WASHINGTON — House Democrats delivered a scathing summation of their impeachment case against President Trump on Monday, arguing that the president had put his personal and political interests above those of the nation in soliciting re-election help from Ukraine in a pattern of conduct that clearly warranted his impeachment.

In a contentious hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Barry H. Berke, the Democratic counsel, told lawmakers that the evidence against Mr. Trump was “overwhelming” and that the case for impeaching him was urgent. Summarizing the findings of more than two months of inquiry, Mr. Berke asserted that the president had repeatedly put the integrity of American elections and national security at risk by pressing Ukraine to tarnish his political rivals, and trying to conceal it from Congress.

“The scheme by President Trump was so brazen, so clear — supported by documents, actions, sworn testimony, uncontradicted contemporaneous records — that it’s hard to imagine that anybody could dispute those acts, let alone argue that that conduct does not constitute an impeachable offense or offenses,” Mr. Berke said.

“This is a big deal,” he added, appealing to the deeply divided panel of lawmakers sitting before him. “President Trump did what a president of our nation is not allowed to do.”

The presentations by Mr. Berke and another Democratic lawyer for the Intelligence Committee will form the basis for a debate in the committee, expected to begin as soon as Wednesday, over articles of impeachment charging the president with “high crimes and misdemeanors” for only the fourth time in American history.

Mr. Trump is accused of having pressured President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to announce investigations of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and an unsupported claim that Democrats conspired with Ukraine to interfere in the 2016 election, while withholding as leverage a White House meeting and nearly $400 million in security assistance the country needed to hold off Russian aggression.

The hearing, which unfolded in the stately House Ways and Means Committee room near the Capitol, featured bitter rounds of partisan sparring between Democrats and Republicans and testy cross-examinations of lawyers from both parties. Republicans arrived primed to poke holes in Democrats’ case and condemn the process they have used to assemble it. They repeatedly interrupted the Democrats’ public presentation, and their own counsel used two addresses to try to dismantle it.

“Very simply, the evidence in the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry does not support the Democrats’ conclusion that President Trump abused his power for his own personal, political benefit,” said Stephen R. Castor, a lawyer representing Republicans on both the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees.

Mr. Castor said there was “simply no clear evidence” that Mr. Trump had “malicious intent in withholding a meeting or security assistance,” and ample evidence that the president had legitimate concerns about corruption in Ukraine. And he accused Democrats of having gone “searching for a set of facts on which to impeach the president,” essentially manufacturing a scandal where there was not one.

The White House once again refused to participate in the day’s proceedings, despite appeals by Democrats to come to the table before it is too late. Mr. Trump and his allies, though, have now publicly turned their attention toward a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate, where they believe they will have an easier time mounting a defense.

But that did not stop Mr. Trump himself from participating — at least via social media.

After posting or reposting nearly 100 messages on Twitter on Sunday, most of them complaining about the impeachment effort and assailing Democrats, the president began lobbing digital missiles on Monday as the hearing progressed.

Both Democrats and Republicans had already submitted competing written reports on the Ukraine matter last week. But even if the facts recited have become well known over the course of the last two months, the hearing provided the clearest account yet of the respective cases.

During his 45-minute presentation, Daniel S. Goldman, a lawyer who led the Intelligence Committee’s Ukraine investigation, described “a monthslong scheme” by the president “to solicit foreign help in his 2020 re-election campaign, withholding official acts from the government of Ukraine in order to coerce and secure political interference in our domestic affairs.”

Mr. Goldman said that Mr. Trump continues to try to distort next year’s election with false allegations, pointing to his weekend statements to reporters that Rudolph W. Giuliani, his personal lawyer, would make a report to the Justice Department about Democrats.

“President Trump’s persistent and continuing effort to coerce a foreign country to help him cheat to win an election is a clear and present danger to our free and fair elections and to our national security,” Mr. Goldman said.

Mr. Castor lamented that the Democrat who led the inquiry, Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, would not testify himself about the report. And he suggested that the memories and accounts of several witnesses had been colored by an anonymous C.I.A. whistle-blower complaint about the Ukraine matter that helped start the inquiry.

Republican lawmakers also bitterly complained when Mr. Berke, who appeared at a witness table at the start of the hearing to deliver his argument against Mr. Trump, later climbed onto the dais and led the cross-examination of Mr. Castor. It is highly unusual both for House lawyers to testify in hearings, and for one lawyer to question another in that way, but Democrats left themselves latitude under the rules of the process to do so.

“Bang the gavel harder — still doesn’t make it right,” Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, told the chairman, Representative Jerrold Nadler, as he repeatedly hammered down Republican objections.

For now, Democrats appear to have elected to press ahead without them. The committee is expected to unveil and then begin debate over articles of impeachment, or formal charges against the president, later this week.

By the weekend, lawmakers will very likely vote along party lines to recommend the full House vote to adopt the articles. They are on track to do so before Christmas, setting up a Senate trial early in the new year.



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