Rep. Adam Schiff (D–Calif.) kicked off Democratic opening arguments in President Donald Trump's Senate impeachment trial on Wednesday with a quote from Alexander Hamilton, as the House Intelligence Committee chairman made the case for removing the president from office.
"When a man unprincipled in private life desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents," Schiff recited, "having the advantage of military habits—despotic in his ordinary demeanor—known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty—when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity—to join in the cry of danger to liberty—to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government and bringing it under suspicion—to flatter and fall in with all the nonsense of the zealots of the day—It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may 'ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.'"
Hamilton's words were written in a letter to then-President George Washington as he voiced widespread concerns that the head of the U.S. might descend into "that of a monarchy."
In that vein, Schiff, who is one of the impeachment managers tasked with prosecuting Trump during his Senate trial, noted that the Founding Fathers were wary of presidents potentially using the power of their office to advance their personal interests. Trump, he said, crossed that threshold when he sought to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy into announcing investigations of Trump's political rivals, particularly as it pertains to his alleged withholding of $391 million in congressionally authorized military aid to the country. The House in December charged him with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, and the Government Accountability Office deemed that aid blockage illegal in January.
Trump's representation, led by White House counsel Pat Cipollone, counter that the articles of impeachment do not contain actual criminal allegations—the law referenced in the GAO's decision is not mentioned in the articles—which means they are thus unimpeachable. Many legal experts have pushed back on that, though, including Jonathan Turley, the Republicans' witness at the House Judiciary Committee's impeachment hearing on December 4th.
The expression "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors reflects an obvious intent to convey that the impeachable acts other than bribery and treason were meant to reach a similar level of gravity and seriousness (even if they are not technically criminal acts)," wrote Turley.