WASHINGTON, D.C. – For a few gripping minutes, Rep. Adam Schiff, the lead impeachment prosecutor against President Donald Trump, had made the restless Senate snap to attention.
Voice cracking as he spoke, Schiff made an impassioned plea late Thursday for removing Trump from office, framing the choice in moral terms. "If right doesn’t matter, we’re lost,” he said.
“You know you can't trust this president do what's right for this country,” Schiff said. "You can trust he will do what's right for Donald Trump. He'll do it now. He's done it before. He'll do it for the next several months, he’ll do it in the election if he's allowed to. This is why if you find him guilty you must find that he should be removed. Because right matters."
Reactions to the speech were as divided as the country. Democrats gushed, tweeting glowing words about the California Democrat's rousing late-night speech. Republicans said they were unconvinced, and strenuously rejected the idea that Trump can't be trusted.
Still, even some Republicans gave Schiff grudging respect for the skill of his arguments.
“I thought he was passionate and his case has been well articulated,” said South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican. Still, he added, “in the end it's all going to come down to the facts, the law and the what people think is the threshold for what's an impeachable offense.”
Schiff is unlikely to win over enough GOP senators to convict Trump, as most are solidly supporting the president. But for his articulate presentations to the Senate he has won praise from some senators like South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who shook his hand and told him he was doing a good job after the first day of House arguments.
Schiff is the face of the House’s impeachment case against Trump, which has made him the principal target of Trump's ire. Though he has six managers by his side, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appointed Schiff, her confidant, as the lead impeachment manager. He is setting the tone of the prosecution's case, working methodically to convince even his most ardent detractors that Trump deserves to be removed from office.
“In a way I do feel like I'm introducing myself to a number of the senators,” Schiff said in an interview with The Associated Press before arguments resumed on Thursday. He said many of them are familiar only with conservative criticism of him, and they are “finding I'm not the demon that I'm portrayed as on Fox."
Schiff said he wishes that the Graham exchange wasn’t caught on camera, “because it was nice to have a private moment. And I don't want to discourage that kind of thing. But I very much appreciated his comments.”
Though Graham has ridiculed the case against the Republican president and heaped scorn on Democrats like Schiff, he said on Thursday he believes the California Democrat is “well spoken” and “did a good job of creating a tapestry, taking bits and pieces of evidence and emails and giving a rhetorical flourish ... sometimes effectively, sometimes a little over the top.”
Other Republicans had similar words. Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt said the Democrats had “admirable presentations,” even though he found them repetitive and said he didn’t learn much new. Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst says she’s “not a fan" of Schiff, but believes he has been presenting a “calm, level case” against the president.
Graham, who was an impeachment manager himself in President Bill Clinton's 1999 trial, again complimented the House impeachment managers Friday on “the way they have conducted themselves,” but said he was less impressed with Schiff's closing speech on Thursday evening.
“He told me that I have to get rid of this president now, because I can’t trust him to do what’s best for the country because he’ll only do what’s best for Donald Trump,” Graham said. "That decision needs to be made by the voters.”
Schiff, who represents parts of Hollywood, has been a frequent target of conservatives since the then GOP-led House Intelligence Committee started investigating Trump’s ties to Russia in the 2016 election. He was frequently on television questioning Trump’s actions.
The criticism intensified, though, when Democrats took the House majority in early 2019 and he became chairman of the intelligence panel. And it reached a full-on roar as he took charge of the impeachment investigation of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine last fall.
Trump has trained his ire on the congressman on Twitter and elsewhere, alternatively calling him “shifty,” “sleazy,” and “liddle.” He has also turned his name into a vulgarity, occasionally calling him “Schitt” on Twitter, and dubbed him “pencil neck” at a campaign rally. Trump tweeted about Schiff only a handful of times in 2017 and 2018, but hundreds of times since Democrats gained the House majority.
In contrast to the president, Schiff has tried to set a non-combative tone on the Senate floor, with conciliatory words to the Senate. He said at the start of his arguments on Wednesday that he was “deeply grateful” for their attention and understands that it’s hard to sit and listen four hours on end.
Roberts’ comments came around 1 a.m. Wednesday after another impeachment manager, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, charged that the White House lawyers were lying and that GOP senators' votes against witnesses were “treacherous.” Trump's defense team responded that Nadler should apologize to the president and the American people.
The next morning, before the trial resumed, the impeachment managers gathered for a news conference. When asked about Roberts’ comments, Schiff was the only one who spoke. “You’re going to have tempers flare” when trials go into the wee hours, Schiff said, and that happens in every courtroom in America.
“But we are going to try to keep focused on the facts,” Schiff said. “The president’s team would like nothing more than to provoke a bitter conflict.”
Schiff told The AP on Thursday that when talking on the Senate floor, he is trying not to make the case personal and he wants to “show respect for the senators and for the chief justice, present the evidence, make the appeals to have a fair trial, and that's the best I can do.”
His House GOP colleagues were less complimentary than the senators.
“I don't agree with Lindsey Graham's analysis that they're doing a good job,” said North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, one of several Republican House members who are consulting with the White House lawyers. “I've had to look in the cabinet for a bottle of No-Doz. When you look at Adam Schiff’s performance, I think what we all have come to understand is, that's exactly what it is, it's a performance.”
Senate Democrats, on the other hand, have been thrilled. Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow said Thursday evening that “I think you could have heard a pin drop” when Schiff gave his closing speech.
Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy tweeted that senators leaving for the night "were awestruck.”
Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.