California Rep. Adam Schiff kicked off the House Democrats' three-day opening case against President Trump by accusing him of trying to "cheat" in the 2020 election through his Ukraine dealings, following a raucous first day of impeachment trial speeches in the Senate that lasted into the middle of the night.
Trump "attempt[ed] to use the powers of the presidency to cheat in an election," Schiff, the top House Democratic impeachment manager, said in kicking off the House's case against Trump. He argued the only remedy is impeachment -- going so far as to question the legitimacy of this year's presidential election with Trump back on the ticket.
"The president's misconduct cannot be decided at the ballot box, for we cannot be assured that the vote will be fairly won," warned Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who led much of the House's impeachment inquiry last year.
Trump believes "he's above the law" and the president engaged in one of "the most blatant efforts of a cover-up in history" once the House started investigating, Schiff said from the well of the Senate chamber.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, a fuming Sen. Lindsey Graham accused House Democrats of trying to "destroy the institution of the presidency" in the name of taking down Trump.
“They are on a crusade to destroy this man!" Graham, R-S.C., said minutes before heading to the Senate chamber to listen to Schiff's speech.
“The president will be vindicated with a verdict to acquittal,” predicted Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind.
Trump, away in Davos Switzerland for the trial kickoff, praised the work of his defense team and blasted Schiff and Rep. Jerrold Nadler, with whom he’s tussled in New York real estate battles going back decades.
“These are major sleazebags,” Trump said from Davos. “It’s a total hoax. It’s a disgrace. They talked about their tremendous case and it’s all done.”
He added: “They had no case….It’s a con-job.”
The impeachment trial kicked off Tuesday with fireworks. A midnight melee broke out when Chief Justice John Roberts scolded House impeachment managers and Trump’s legal team for their language when their floor speeches devolved into low blows.
"It is appropriate at this point for me to admonish both the House managers and the president's counsel in equal terms to remember that they are addressing the world's greatest deliberative body," Roberts said, after a dust-up between Nadler, D-N.Y., and White House counsel Pat Cipollone.
Tuesday’s raucous start followed Democrats pleading with senators to agree to call new witnesses and obtain new Trump administration documents. Nadler told the Senate they’d be guilty of a “treacherous vote" and a "cover-up" to reject an amendment to hear from John Bolton, the former Trump national security adviser. But Cipollone blasted Nadler for making false allegations.
“The only one who should be embarrassed, Mr. Nadler, is you,” Cipollone said.
The GOP-led Senate defeated all of Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer’s 11 amendments in a marathon 12-hour session and passed Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s trial rules before 2 a.m. Schumer blasted the defeat Wednesday and argued the trial begins under a “cloud of unfairness.”
The McConnell resolution allows for the House managers to have 24 hours and three days to make their opening salvo to convince 2/3 of the 100 senators that Trump abused his oath of office and obstructed Congress. Then Trump’s legal team will have the same amount to time to argue their defense.
After opening arguments are complete, senators can ask each side questions in writing to be read by Chief Justice John Roberts. That process is slated for 16 hours.
Once the first phase of the trial is complete, Democrats will force another vote – likely the middle of next week – to call new witnesses. A few moderate GOP senators have signaled they’ll join with 47 Democratic votes to bring new testimony to the trial.
The House impeachment managers argue that Trump used his official powers to pressure Ukraine to interfere in the U.S. presidential election for his personal political gain, and then attempted to cover up his scheme by obstructing Congress’s investigation into his misconduct.
Democrats say Trump’s conduct is so egregious the senators must remove him from office to safeguard the 2020 election and “eliminate the threat that the president poses to America’s national security.”
Trump's team dismissed the articles as "constitutionally invalid" and an effort to undo the results of the 2016 presidential election.
In a press conference earlier Wednesday, Graham blasted the House Democrats for failing to find a remedy in the courts to seek witness testimony and sort out executive privilege before charging through with impeachment.
"If I were the president, I wouldn't cooperate with these guys at all," Graham said.
Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., said Trump’s impeachment case is unlike the other two in history because there was no bipartisan vote in the House and there is no underlying crime.
“It was an incomplete case,” Daines said of the work of Schiff and the impeachment managers. “They have not done their homework.”
Fox News' Adam Shaw contributed to this report.