Lead House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) made three major blunders on Wednesday during the first of two days of questions and answers from Senators in the president’s impeachment trial.
The first came when Schiff delivered a carefully crafted PowerPoint presentation explaining why he had “protected” the so-called “whistleblower” who filed the complaint about President Donald Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian president.
Whatever the merits of that argument, Schiff was essentially telling the Senate that it could not see a witness who was material the president’s defense and the overall case itself.
Later, in response to a question by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and David Perdue (R-GA), Schiff argued against giving the Senate the transcript of the House Intelligence Committee’s closed-door interview with the Intelligence Committee Inspector General (ICIG), who apparently told members about the way the “whistleblower” complaint was filed. Schiff tried to argue that the transcript needed to be kept secret.
These two arguments undermined Schiff’s case that a “fair trial” requires witnesses and documents in the Senate. As the White House lawyers pointed out, Schiff only wants witnesses and documents for one side.
The third major blunder was when Schiff tried to argue that the president had committed “bribery” and “extortion.” Deputy White House Counsel Patrick Philbin responded with the answer of the night, pointing out that the House’s articles of impeachment said nothing about bribery or extortion, and that an ordinary court would have declared a mistrial had Schiff tried to allege crimes that were not in the actual indictment.
Having dug that hole, Schiff and the Democrats kept digging. House manager Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) tried to argue that “bribery” was contained within the first article of impeachment. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) tried to make a case that the president had committed bribery. And Schiff tried to argue that “abuse of power” was worse than bribery, indeed the worst impeachable crime — though it is not in the Constitution.
Those three moments damaged Schiff’s credibility and likely shifted momentum within the Republican caucus against supporting a motion to call more witnesses and prolong the runaway impeachment trial.
Democrats apparently believe they scored points when Republican Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) asked the White House whether President Trump had ever asked Ukraine about the Bidens in connection with the issue of corruption before the July 25th phone call with the Ukrainian president. It was a perceptive question, one that spotted an interesting gap in the House’s factual record.
The White House answered that it did not know, because it was confined to the facts on the record. That excited Democrats, because even though the House managers had argued that Trump never spoke about corruption, which is plainly contradicted by the record, now they could shift the argument. The president only spoke about the Bidens, they said, after he became a political threat in the 2020 presidential race.
But there is another possibility: as Philbin pointed out, Trump only became aware of the problems with the Bidens and Burisma later, either because of Rudy Giuliani’s research in Ukraine, or belated media reports. Three days before the Ukraine call, he noted, the Washington Post published an article: “As vice president, Biden said Ukraine should increase gas production. Then his son got a job with a Ukrainian gas company.”
The lengthy investigative article revisited questions reporters first raised five years before, when Hunter Biden was appointed to Burisma’s board while his father was vice president. It included a whole section recalling the story of Vice President Biden ordering the Ukrainian prosecutor fired. One expert is cited as telling the Post: “I think there is a conflict of interest even if it doesn’t break any laws … It’s a big deal.”
It remains to be seen whether Philbin’s answer reassures Collins and Murkowski. Democrats hope they will want to call more witnesses. But as Day 2 begins, Adam Schiff has a lot of work to do to repair his case.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.