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Schiff's role in Trump impeachment trial draws usual fire, but also unlikely praise

Sarah D. Wire and Chris Megerian, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- House prosecutors began their second day of arguments in the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on Thursday, as lead manager Rep. Adam B. Schiff drew some unexpected praise from Republicans for his steady performance so far during the hourslong, often tedious presentations.

"Good job," Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a staunch Trump ally and critic of the impeachment, told Schiff, a California Democrat, as they passed each other in the Capitol the previous evening. "Very well spoken."

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., told reporters Schiff has been "very eloquent" in presenting the case.

Schiff has long been a punching bag of Trump and of conservative media, particularly for his role leading the House impeachment investigation. And those attacks have continued this week on Twitter and Fox News. Trump on Wednesday said Schiff is a "corrupt politician," which made the kind words from Republicans stand out even more.

Schiff's final speech at the end of a lengthy Wednesday session laying out the timeline of the Ukraine scandal had Republican senators rapt, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said.

"Schiff had such power in his speech that he almost forced (Republicans) to listen," Schumer said.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., disputed that, saying Schiff "comes across as pretty smooth" but is a "known liar."

"He's very smooth, very slick, but I take everything he says with a grain of salt," Johnson said.

The praise from Graham was noteworthy since the South Carolinian built a name and national reputation as a House manager during the 1999 Clinton impeachment trial, something Schiff no doubt would not mind emulating. On the other hand, Schiff knows well the risks. He was elected to the House in 2000 by defeating Rep. Jim Rogan, another House manager during the Clinton impeachment whose role in the trial backfired on Election Day.

Thursday's potentially eight-hour argument is expected to focus on the House impeachment article related to abuse of power, and what Democrats describe as Trump's scheme to use investigations in Ukraine to tip the 2020 election in his favor.

In December the House impeached Trump for withholding nearly $400 million in congressionally approved aid to Ukraine and a coveted White House meeting for its president, while asking that nation's government to open investigations into his political rivals. Trump was also impeached for obstructing the House's subsequent investigation by instructing federal employees not to comply with subpoenas to testify or turn over documents.

House managers are expected to wrap up their arguments Friday, after which the White House's lawyers will get 24 hours spread over three days to make their case.

 

The House managers and Trump attorneys face an unusual test: Laying out the evidence of a case to senators -- some of whom may only have a vague idea of how it all fits together and others who may have already made up their mind.

"I know the House proceedings were heavily reported. But I think most, if not all, senators are hearing the case by the prosecution and the case by the defense for the first time," Kennedy said. "Senators, because they are busy being senators, have not heard the case."

Republicans said they are eager to hear the White House rebuttal.

The White House didn't participate in the House investigation and blocked many of the key witnesses and documents Democrats sought. Most of the arguments they've presented so far have focused on the procedures followed in the House investigation or declarative statements that the president was acting within his power by pressuring Ukraine and withholding the money without providing new evidence or witnesses to verify it.

Schiff said he hopes the senators keep an open mind.

"Whatever they may have thought in the past, whatever they may have said in the past, there's an event of constitutional dimension that supersedes all of that, and that is the oath that they took at the beginning of this trial," Schiff said.

Still, several Republicans called the Schiff-led presentation repetitive, saying they haven't yet learned anything new that makes them think Trump should be removed from office.

"I think I've heard everything they have to say six or eight times already," said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. "It's not a very deep case."

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