WASHINGTON (CN) – Raising the stakes of the impeachment inquiry, the Democrats accused President Donald Trump on Monday of an ongoing campaign to interfere in the 2020 elections.
“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,” Daniel Goldman, a former federal prosecutor known for taking on Russian organized crime, told Congress this morning.
Goldman is one of two lawyers presenting the Democrats’ case for impeachment this morning before the House Judiciary Committee.
“The July 25 call was neither the start nor the end of President Trump’s efforts to use the powers of his office for personal political gain,” Goldman said, referring to the conversation between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that triggered a whistleblower complaint and weeks later these impeachment hearings.
Goldman’s colleague Barry Berke made a point earlier Friday that the call occurred just one day after special counsel Robert Mueller testified before the same committee now investigating Trump. Mueller’s report pointed out that, during the 2016 election contest with Hillary Clinton, Russian operatives tried to hack into Clinton’s servers mere hours after Trump openly invited the Kremlin to do so at a press conference in 2016.
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” then-candidate Trump declared in footage replayed before the committee this morning.
Berke told Congress that Trump’s announcement mirrored his most recent one asking China to investigate the Bidens, some three years later.
Democrats wove the two controversies together through a common beneficiary: Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Thank God no one is accusing us any more of interfering in U.S. elections,” Putin announced in February 2017, quoted by Goldman this morning. “Now they’re accusing Ukraine.”
As was widely expected, the White House counsel was conspicuously absent from today’s hearing – an absence Chairman Jerry Nadler attributed to Trump’s lack of a defense.
“President Trump chose not to show,” Nadler remarked in his opening statement this morning. “He may not have much to say in his own defense, but he cannot claim that he did not have an opportunity to be heard.”
Referring to evidence that Trump pressured Zelensky to initiate political investigations, Nadler said: “To the members of this committee, to the members of the House, and to my fellow citizens, I want to be absolutely clear: the integrity of our next election is at stake.
“Nothing could be more urgent,” he added.
Like other Republican minority leaders, the Judiciary Committee’s ranking member Doug Collins used his statement to seek to delegitimize the proceedings as a political effort to overturn the results of an election.
“For anyone to think that this was not a baked deal is not being honest with themselves,” Collins said. “Presumption is now the standard instead of proof.”
After weeks of testimony from fact witnesses and constitutional law professors, attorneys for Democrats and Republicans have been called to make their cases to the U.S. public in the style of opening arguments at a trial.
Berke simplified the scandal that wrought the impeachment inquiry by opening his remarks through the eyes of a child.
“Dad, does the president have to be a good person?” Berke said his son asked him.
“Like many questions of young children, it had a certain clarity but was hard to answer,” Berke continue.
“I said, ‘Son, it is not a requirement… but that is the hope,’” he continued.
No sooner had proceedings begun than Owen Shroyer, a host from the pro-Trump disinformation organ InfoWars, jumped up from his seat and heckled Nadler, repeatedly accusing the New York congressman of treason.
Known long before Trump’s election for propagating 9/11 and Sandy Hook conspiracy theories, InfoWars landed an interview with and endorsement from Trump early in the 2016 presidential campaign and has been known as one of his most strident defenders ever since.
Capitol Police promptly escorted Shroyer out of the magisterial hall, but passions continued to remain high as House Republicans followed with a flurry of objections demanding that Nadler schedule a minority hearing before today’s proceedings. Nadler denied each motion, going on to argue in his speech that consensus could be possible.
“We agree, for example, that impeachment is a solemn serious undertaking,” the Democrat said.
“If we could drop our blinders for just one moment, I believe we would agree on a common set of facts as well,” he added later.
A whistleblower’s concerns that Trump used the call to exploit his power and invite interference in U.S. elections set off the impeachment inquiry have since been corroborated before the House by more than 100 hours of testimony from 17 fact witnesses, including nonpartisan officials from the State Department, National Security Council and other agencies.
As in prior hearings, Republican members engaged in personal attacks against witnesses called by the Democrats. Florida Representative Matt Gaetz, deploying the same line of questioning he used on law professor witnesses, asked Goldman and Berke about their political donations to Democrats.
Congressman Greg Steube’s repeated characterization of Berke as a “New York lawyer” raised the eyebrows of Representative Ted Deutch, his Democratic colleague.
Without expressly calling the phrase an anti-Semitic dog whistle, Deutch asked what his fellow Florida congressman meant by that.
Interrupting the testy exchange, Chairman Nadler moved the questioning onto other topics.
During a recess, Representative Hakeem Jeffries echoed Goldman’s sentiment that Trump’s conduct threatened the nation.
“Donald Trump brazenly solicited foreign interference in the 2020 election,” The New York Democrat told Courthouse News. “That is a clear and present danger to our democracy.”
Like three constitutional law professors called by the Democrats, Jeffries emphasized that Trump’s conducted implicated three of the concerns of the Constitution’s framers: abuse of power, betrayal of national interests, and corruption of U.S. elections.
With the Democrats’ witnesses calling attention to how Trump’s counternarrative benefited Putin, Jeffries reserved judgment on whether the Russia investigation should be included in the articles of impeachment.
“That’s a decision that remains to be made,” the chair of the House Democratic Caucus said. “I don’t believe that anything should be ruled in and nothing should be ruled out.”
Representative Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., made quick work of unraveling one of the most oft-repeated falsehoods from several lawmakers: the impeachment inquiry of President Trump is unfolding at a historically fast pace.
In fact, it is not. Lofgren – who served as a staffer to the House Judiciary Committee as impeachment for Nixon was weighed and then sat on the committee when President Bill Clinton was impeached – offered facts for the record. Clinton’s impeachment stretched a total of 73 days from start to finish. The impeachment of Trump, still two weeks away from being put to a vote by the full House, entered its 76th day Monday.
The inquiry is often met with criticism that it is happening in a vacuum on Capitol Hill where other affairs of the world are put on the back burner. On Monday, several Democrats, like California Representative Karen Bass, used the hearing to connect the inquiry to important events unfolding on the world stage, like Zelensky’s first-ever meeting with Putin on Monday.
Because of Trump’s actions, Zelensky is automatically coming to the table with Putin from a position of weakness, Bass argued.
After their meeting on Monday, Zelensky said he hopes for a lasting cease-fire in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia.
Since Russia attacked Ukraine in 2014, it is estimated that at least 13,000 people have been killed, according to the United Nations.