House Democrats get their final shot on Friday to make their case to the Senate and the American public that President Trump’s actions warrant conviction and removal from office.
Democrats are expected to use the fourth day of the trial—which marks their third day for opening arguments—to explore the second article of impeachment adopted by the House last month: obstruction of Congress.
During the course of last year’s Democratic investigation into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, the White House had directed all administration officials not to cooperate in the process. While Democrats secured testimony from 17 diplomats and national security officials, most under subpoena, at least 12 others declined to appear.
Additionally, Trump refused to turn over any of the thousands of related documents subpoenaed by the impeachment investigators.
Democrats contend that blanket stonewalling violates Congress’s powers, provided by the Constitution, to be a check on the executive branch. It’s that case that the Democratic impeachment managers, led by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), will bring before the Senate on Friday.
“The Managers will continue to lay out the damning case to the two juries – the American people, and the Senators,” said a Democratic official working on the trial.
The Democrats contend Trump violated his oath of office in pressing Ukrainian leaders to find dirt on his political opponents. Last month, they adopted two separate impeachment articles, charging that Trump had first abused his powers in conducting the pressure campaign in Kyiv, and then obstructed Congress as Democrats sought to investigate the affair.
Democrats delved into the first article on Thursday in hours of arguments before the full Senate, which will offer the final verdict on whether Trump’s conduct merits his removal. On Friday, they’ll move to the obstruction charge before ceding the chamber floor to Trump’s defense team, which will have the same 24-hour window to offer its rebuttal.
House managers have just under eight hours remaining to make their pitch to the Senate. The trial will start at 1 p.m., meaning with breaks and if Democrats use all their time it should wrap by 10 p.m.
Senators are likely to hold closed-door lunches, giving them a chance to strategize. A group of Republican senators, including Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), are also expected to pre-but the final day of arguments from House Democrats with an 11:30 a.m. press conference.
Trump's legal team, which is expected to launch its opening arguments on Saturday, has said the Democrats' impeachment articles are unconstitutional, since neither charge contains a specific violation of criminal law.
Responding last weekend to the obstruction charge, the president's lawyers — Jay Sekulow and Pat Cipollone — dismissed it as "absurd."
"The president's assertion of legitimate Executive Branch confidentiality interests grounded in the separation of powers cannot constitute obstruction of Congress," they wrote. "Asserting valid constitutional privileges and immunities cannot be an impeachable offense."
They’ve been tightlipped about strategy details for their opening arguments, but Sekulow told reporters that they would be prepared to “rebuke their case, and present our case.”
Democrats have rejected the president’s legal arguments. In their formal trial brief, they portray Trump’s information blockade as not only unconstitutional, but also unprecedented.
“President Trump is an aberration among Presidents in refusing any and all cooperation in a House impeachment investigation,” they wrote. “Even President Nixon produced numerous documents in response to Congressional subpoenas.”
The final day of arguments from House Democrats comes as Republicans have appeared restless during the days of back-to-back presentations. Senators were spotted in the chamber reading, dozing off and at times missing altogether.
They’ve bemoaned the House managers’ case as “Groundhog’s day,” indicating that they’ve felt they’ve learned little new information from the trial so far.
“It is the same thing day after day after day … as if you could impeach by just kind of repeating the same thing,” said Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), the No. 3 GOP senator. “We are ready for the president’s team to put their defense on.”
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) characterized the argument from House Democrats as “rinse it, recycle it and repeat it.”
The back-and-forth between Republicans and the House managers comes as the Senate is heading toward a fight next week on whether or not to allow additional witnesses and documents. Democrats will need four Republican senators to break ranks, a potentially herculean lift given the unity within the caucus and the small pool of potential swing votes.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) has said he would vote to call former national security adviser John Bolton, and Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) are open to witness. But even if Democrats ran the board among the trio, it would still leave them needing a fourth elusive Republican senator.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said there are conversations ongoing with Republicans about the need to subpoena witnesses and compel Ukraine-related documents, but stopped short of declaring victory.
"Am I certain that we'll get those four Republicans? Absolutely not. Am I certain that we won't absolutely get those four Republicans absolutely not," he said. “I have hope.”