“Does anybody really question whether the president is capable of what he’s charged with?” Schiff said. “No one is really making the argument ‘Donald Trump would never do such a thing.’ Because, of course, we know that he would. And of course, we know that he did.”
“It’s a somewhat different question, though, to ask, okay, it’s pretty obvious — whether we can say it publicly or we can’t say it publicly” — a nod to the Republican majority listening to his speech — “we all know what we’re dealing here with this president,” he said.
Schiff then outlined why that assessment of Trump’s motives meant that Trump needed to be removed from office.
“Donald Trump chose Rudy Giuliani over his own intelligence agencies. He chose Rudy Giuliani over his own FBI director. He chose Rudy Giuliani over his own national security advisers. When all of them were telling him this Ukraine 2016 stuff is kooky, crazy Russian propaganda. He chose not to believe them. He chose to believe Rudy Giuliani.”“That makes him dangerous. To us. To our country.”“That was Donald Trump’s choice. Now, why would Donald Trump believe a man like Rudy Giuliani over a man like [FBI Director] Christopher Wray? Okay. Why would anyone in their right mind believe Rudy Giuliani over Christopher Wray? Because he wanted to and because what Rudy was offering him was something that would help him personally. And what Christopher Wray was offering him was merely the truth. What Christopher Wray was offering him was merely the information he needed to protect his country and its elections. But that’s not good enough. What’s in it for him? What’s in it for Donald Trump? This is why he needs to be removed.”
This is the heart of Schiff’s point: When push comes to shove, whose side will Trump take, his own or the country’s? He used the example of possible Russian interference in the upcoming election, something that Trump’s own intelligence agencies say is underway.
“Can you have the least bit of confidence that Donald Trump will stand up to [Russia] and protect our national interests over his own personal interest? You know you can’t,” Schiff said. “Which makes him dangerous — to this country.”
That first question, whether Trump can be trusted to put the national interest first, is one most Americans would answer in the way that Schiff does: You can’t.
A poll released by Fox News in October put the question directly. More than half of respondents said that they thought Trump found that doing what was best for himself was more important than doing what was best for the country. That included nearly a fifth of Republicans.
But, of course, that also means that three-quarters of Republicans disagreed.
A CNN-SSRS poll released the following month asked respondents if they felt that Trump’s focus on Ukraine was meant to benefit himself personally as opposed to fighting corruption in that country — a claim which Schiff spent much of Thursday trying to prove. On that question, too, most thought Trump was putting himself first, though three-quarters of Republicans again disagreed.
Those poll results cast Schiff’s remarks Thursday night in a particular light. While most agreed with his line of argument, the people he most wanted to reach, those Republican senators — or, really, their constituents — say they don’t accept it.
Schiff nonetheless pressed the point.
“Can any of us really have the confidence that Donald Trump will put his personal interests ahead of the national interest?” Schiff asked, apparently accidentally reversing the intent of his statement. “Is there really any evidence in this presidency that should give us the iron clad confidence that he would do so? You know you can’t count on him to do that. That’s the sad truth. You know, you can’t count on him to do that. The American people deserve a president they can count on to put their interests first.”
He invoked testimony from Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman during a public impeachment hearing last year.
Vindman noted that his father, an immigrant from Ukraine, was concerned about Vindman’s publicly opposing the president since, where he came from, that was “the ultimate risk.” Asked why he was nonetheless confident in doing so, Vindman replied: “Because this is America. This is the country I have served and defended, that all of my brothers have served. And here, right matters.”
“No constitution can protect us if right doesn’t matter any more,” Schiff said Thursday night. “And you know you can’t trust this president to do what’s right for this country. You can trust he will do what’s right for Donald Trump.”
Schiff was visibly emotional as he made the point, no doubt a function in part of the lengthy day that was reaching its end. He completed his remarks and stepped away from the lectern.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) rose and moved that the Senate adjourn for the day. As is almost always the case, he did not himself appear to be particularly emotional.