Trump foe Schiff to head Democratic prosecution team at impeachment trial

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday unveiled a seven-member team to prosecute President Donald Trump at his Senate impeachment trial, headed by a former federal prosecutor who has become a nemesis of the Republican president.

After weeks of delay, the House was poised to send the two impeachment charges - abuse of power and obstruction of Congress - against Trump to the Senate later on Wednesday, clearing the way for the trial to start in earnest next week.

The trial in the Senate - controlled by Trump's fellow Republicans - is expected to end in his acquittal after several weeks of televised proceedings, leaving him in office. But it will focus attention on Trump's request that Ukraine investigate domestic political rival Joe Biden, just as the 2020 presidential campaign heats up.

Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman will lead the House "managers" who will present the case that Trump should be ousted for pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son and for obstructing the House investigation by refusing to provide requested testimony and documents.

Schiff, 59, spearheaded the House impeachment investigation launched in September and he is a frequent target of Trump attacks. Trump in December called Schiff, who served as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles for six years, "a deranged human being."

Schiff urged Republicans to allow more evidence and witnesses at the trial.

"Americans overwhelmingly want a fair trial in the Senate, fair to the president and fair to the people. Senators must demand to see and hear the full evidence, including the documents and witnesses the president has blocked," Schiff said in a statement.

Democrats want Trump's former national security adviser John Bolton to be called as a witness, which could prove damaging to Trump. Other impeachment witnesses have said Bolton was a vocal critic of the effort to pressure Ukraine.

The House managers include four men and three women, with two African American lawmakers and one Hispanic lawmaker. Other managers include Jerrold Nadler, 72, who crafted the two articles of impeachment against Trump as House Judiciary Committee chairman, and Val Demings, a former police chief of Orlando, Florida.

"The emphasis is on litigators, the emphasis is on comfort level in the courtroom, the emphasis is making the strongest possible case to protect and defend our Constitution, to seek the truth for the American people," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in announcing the House managers.

The White House greeted the announcement of the House team with scorn, with White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham saying Trump "expects to be fully exonerated."

"The naming of these managers does not change a single thing," Grisham said in a statement. "President Trump has done nothing wrong."

None of the Senate's 53 Republicans has voiced support for ousting Trump, a step that would require a two-thirds majority in the 100-member chamber.

WITNESS DISPUTE

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has resisted the idea of calling witnesses, saying senators should consider only the evidence amassed by the House. Trump and other Republicans have said they would like to bring witnesses - including Biden and his son, Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.

"If McConnell makes this the first trial in history without witnesses, it will be exposed for what it is, and that is an effort to cover up for the president," Schiff told a news conference.

House Democrats indicated they would expand their case by including phone records and other documents provided over the weekend by Florida businessman Lev Parnas, who worked with Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to pressure Ukraine.

Schiff said material released on Tuesday showed Giuliani was acting at Trump's direction. "The president was the architect of this scheme," he said.

A pivotal event in Trump's impeachment was a July 25 telephone call in which he asked Ukraine's president to open a corruption investigation into Biden and his son, as well as a discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.

Democrats have said Trump abused his power by asking a foreign government to interfere in a U.S. election for his own political benefit at the expense of national security.

Republicans have argued that Trump's actions did not rise to the level of impeachable offenses. They have accused Democrats of using the Ukraine affair as a way to nullify Trump's 2016 election victory.

Biden is one of 12 candidates vying for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in the Nov. 3 election.

The 1999 impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton lasted five weeks. If the Senate conducts its trial along those lines, as McConnell has suggested, lawmakers would still be considering charges against Trump at a time when Iowa and New Hampshire hold the first nominating contests of the 2020 presidential race.

(Additional reporting by David Morgan, Doina Chiacu and Richard Cowan; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Will Dunham)

01/15/2020 17:30

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