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Democrats used their impeachment questions to call out Trump’s lies and sexual misconduct

They raised damning points about his record.

Senator Kamala Harris walks past reporters holding out recording devices outside the Senate Chamber on her way to the impeachment trial.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) walks near the Ohio Clock outside of the Senate Chamber at the beginning of the impeachment trial January 21, 2020.
Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

Senators finally got to participate in the impeachment trial on Wednesday — and they did not hold back.

For eight hours, senators were able to ask House impeachment managers and President Donald Trump’s defense just about anything they’d like to know about their respective cases, submitting written questions that were read aloud by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.

While a large chunk of the more than 90 questions were designed to allow the two sides to simply reiterate the strengths of their case, several Democrats explicitly — and effectively — capitalized on this opportunity to call out the president for other weaknesses.

Here are three instances when lawmakers used their questions to make a point about Trump.

Kamala Harris cited the Access Hollywood tape

Question to House impeachment managers: “President Nixon said, ‘When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.’ Before he was elected, President Trump said, ‘When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.’ After he was elected, President Trump said that Article II of the Constitution gives him ‘the right to do whatever [he] want[s] as president.’

“These statements suggest that each of them believed that the president is above the law —a belief reflected in the improper actions that both presidents took to affect their reelection campaigns. If the Senate fails to hold the president accountable for misconduct, how would that undermine the integrity of our system of justice?”

Asked by: Sen. Kamala Harris (CA)

Harris’s question refocused attention on an explosive moment in Trump’s 2016 campaign, when an Access Hollywood tape leaked and showed him bragging about abusing his position of power to commit sexual assault.

It raised a direct parallel with the way he has talked about his expansive power as president, and it also reminded lawmakers — and the public — about another damning set of allegations Trump faces: Currently, more than 20 women have accused Trump of sexual misconduct.

If you look at the pattern in this president’s conduct in his words, what you see is a president who identifies the state as being himself,” impeachment manager Adam Schiff said in his response.

Bernie Sanders emphasized just how many times Trump has lied

Question to House impeachment managers: “Republican lawyers have stated on several occasions that two people, Sen. Johnson and Ambassador Sondland, were told directly by President Trump that there was no quid pro quo in terms of holding back Ukraine aid in exchange for an investigation into the Bidens.

“Given the media has documented President Trump’s thousands of lies while in office, more than 16,200 as of January 20, why should we be expected to believe that anything President Trump says has credibility?”

Asked by: Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT)

Sanders’s question explicitly took a swipe at Trump’s trustworthiness, an ongoing pattern that’s been an undercurrent of his presidency ever since he took office.

In the years since his election, Trump has lied about countless subjects including who will bear the burden of tariffs, his focus on protecting Americans with preexisting conditions, and the amount of money Puerto Rico has received for disaster aid.

Sanders drew attention to this recurring issue.

“I’m not quite sure where to begin with that question except to say that if every defendant in a trial could be exonerated just by denying the crime, there would be no trial. It doesn’t work that way,” said Schiff.

Udall raised Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner’s foreign business dealings

Question to House impeachment managers: “The president’s counsel has argued that Hunter Biden’s involvement with Burisma created a conflict of interest for his father Joe Biden. President Trump, the Trump organization, and his family, including those who serve in the White House, maintain significant business interests in foreign countries and benefit from foreign payments and investments.

“By the standard that the president’s counsel has applied to Hunter Biden, should Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump’s conflict of interest with foreign governments also come under investigation?”

Asked by: Sens. Tom Udall (NM), Richard Blumenthal (CT), Patrick Leahy (VT), and Sheldon Whitehouse (RI)

This group of lawmakers sought to underscore the hypocrisy of Republicans’ push to criticize Hunter Biden, whose seat on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian natural gas company, has been at the center of the impeachment inquiry.

Although Hunter Biden’s board seat certainly doesn’t look good, Democrats noted that members of Trump’s family, who are also part of the administration, could similarly be scrutinized. Jared Kushner, for example, continues to own part of Cadre, a real estate company that has received an influx of foreign investment, even as he’s served as an adviser in the White House, the Guardian reports.

“The reason why we’re here has nothing to do with anybody’s children,” impeachment manager Val Demings said. “The reason why we’re here is because the president of the United States ... used the power of his office to try to shake down a foreign power to interfere in this year’s election.”