WASHINGTON — House Democrats launched into marathon arguments in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial Wednesday, appealing to skeptical Republican senators to join them in voting to oust Trump from office to “protect our democracy.”
Trump’s lawyers sat by, waiting their turn, as the president blasted the proceedings from afar, threatening jokingly to face off with the Democrats by coming to “sit right in the front row and stare at their corrupt faces.”
The challenge before the House managers is clear. Democrats have 24 hours over three days to prosecute the charges against Trump, trying to win over not just fidgety senators sitting silently in the chamber but an American public, deeply divided over the president and his impeachment in an election year.
Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, outlined what the Democrats contend was the president’s “corrupt scheme” to abuse his presidential power and then obstruct Congress’ investigation. He then called on senators not to be “cynical” about politics, but to draw on the intent of the nation’s Founding Fathers who provided the remedy of impeachment.
“Over the coming days, we will present to you—and to the American people—the extensive evidence collected during the House’s impeachment inquiry into the president’s abuse of power,” said Schiff standing before the Senate.
“You will hear their testimony at the same time as the American people. That is, if you will allow it.”
After a dinner break, Schiff returned to the well of the Senate to detail the administration’s hold on military aid to Ukraine. He played several clips of testimony from Ambassador William Taylor, who said the assistance was held back as Trump pushed the country to announce investigations of Democrats.
Most senators sat at their desks throughout, as the rules stipulate, though some stretched their legs, standing behind the desks or against the back wall of the chamber, passing the time.
Visitors watched from the galleries, one briefly interrupting in protest.
The proceedings are unfolding at the start of an election year, and there are few signs that Republicans are interested in calling more witnesses or going beyond a fast-track assessment that is likely to bring a quick vote on charges related to Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.
Several GOP senators said Wednesday they’d seen no evidence to support the allegations against Trump even though, just 24 hours earlier, they had rejected subpoenas for witnesses and documents. Democrats, meanwhile, described the evidence against the president as overwhelming but said senators have a duty to gather more.
The trial marks just the third time the Senate has weighed whether an American president should be removed from office.
Democrats argue Trump abused his office by asking Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden while withholding crucial military aid, and also obstructed Congress by refusing to turn over documents or allow officials to testify in the House probe.
Republicans have defended Trump’s actions and cast the process as a politically motivated effort to weaken the president in the midst of his reelection campaign.
A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows the public is slightly more likely to say the Senate should convict and remove Trump from office than to say it should not, 45% to 40%. But a sizable percentage, 14%, say they don’t know enough to have an opinion.
One question there’s wide agreement on: Trump should allow top aides to appear as witnesses at the trial.
About 7 in 10 said so, including majorities of Republicans and Democrats, according to the poll.
The strategy of more witnesses, though, seems all but settled. Wrangling over rules for the trial stretched past midnight Tuesday night, with Republicans shooting down one-by-one Democratic efforts to get Trump aides including former national security adviser John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, to testify.
Senators are likely to repeat those rejections next week, shutting out any chance of new testimony.
One longshot idea to pair one of Trump’s preferred witnesses — Biden’s son Hunter Biden — with Bolton or another that Democrats want was swiftly rejected.
“That’s off the table,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer told reporters.
Chief Justice John Roberts gaveled open Wednesday’s session as senators settled in for the long days ahead.
Trump, who was in Davos, Switzerland, attending a global economic forum, praised his legal team, and suggested he would be open to his advisers testifying, though that seems unlikely.
He said there were “national security” concerns that would stand in the way.
After the House prosecutors present their case, the president’s lawyers will follow with another 24 hours over three days. They are expected to take only Sunday off.
“There’s a lot of things I’d like to rebut,” said Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow at the Capitol, “and we will rebut.”
Then there will be 16 hours for senators, who must sit quietly at their desks, no speeches or cellphones, to ask written question, and another four hours for deliberations.
The impeachment trial is set against the backdrop of the 2020 election. All four senators who are Democratic presidential candidates are off the campaign trail, seated as jurors.
The White House legal team, in its court filings and presentations, has not disputed Trump’s actions. But the lawyers insist the president did nothing wrong.
James Douglas, in his own words, has “seen a lot of strange stuff” while working the bar at the Silver Moon Saloon weekend nights. Anyone who’s spent any time on Trade Street, particularly in the hours long after the sun has set, knows this to be true.
Still, even Douglas admitted to a double take on a recent Sunday night: a young man, clad in oversized, reflective goggles and a leather helmet tooling down the street.
“Yeah, that’s kind of strange,” Douglas said. “When that dude popped up, I thought, ‘That’s completely meme-worthy.’”
So in a flash of the Internet, a meme — an image with a witty caption spread through social media in case you’re unawares — circulated on Douglas’ popular Facebook group, Just Winston-Salem Memes.
A star, or in this case “Night Watch” — a self-styled, self-described advocate for the homeless and the less fortunate — was born.
Literally overnight, Night Watch turned into a hot topic of online discussion, an oddly intoxicating brew of eccentricity, altruism and harmless fun.
At least we certainly hope so.
Instagram, Facebook and other social media outlets buzzed Monday and Tuesday with news about — and sightings of — Night Watch.
Some of the early chat dealt with talk of vigilantism before self-correcting toward a more noble purpose: raising awareness of and advocating for the homeless.
“Because he’s the hero Winston deserves, but not the one it needs right now. … He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector,” reads one Facebook post.
Well, alrighty then.
Bill Marsh, a rather tall man familiar about the downtown, encountered Night Watch on Monday evening while enjoying an adult beverage on Fourth Street. (“I used to be called Wild Bill,” Marsh explained. “Mild Bill is more like it these days.”
Anyhow, by the time Marsh settled into a window seat, he was well aware of the growing phenomenon.
“I thought it was a joke,” he said. “I thought it could have been one of (Douglas’) friends, so I played along.”
Just as he and some friends settled into a discussion of Night Watch — What else would you talk about while hoisting one downtown? — a “guy in a mask and goggles” appeared.
Not one prone to shyness, Marsh engaged the young man in conversation and snapped a selfie that quickly added to the online lore.
“He was exceedingly nice,” Marsh said. “He said he was just trying to look out for people, the homeless, making his rounds.”
Night Watch’s shtick is very much along the same lines as that found in other cities and chronicled through the Real Life Super Hero Project, a real-life movement with an actual mission statement.
“They help the homeless, dedicate time to charities, work to make their communities safe, and help kids regain a sense of the morality inspired by the comic books they grew up on.”
There is an element of danger to it, especially when a Real Life Superhero takes things over the edge toward make-believe crime-fighting. A guy calling himself Phoenix Jones was stabbed in Seattle when he claimed to have intervened in a drug deal.
Still, if someone inclined toward the original ideal — lending a hand to help someone less fortunate — stayed between the twin guard rails of common sense and self-awareness, where’s the harm?
Through Instagram, where Night Watch had posted an invitation for people interested in helping his cause, Marsh found contact information. (“Direct messages are always open for those in crisis, for tips about the city, or just to say hi!”)
And he was more than happy to share it and act as an initial go-between.
“If it’s somebody who just wants people to be safe downtown, then good on him,” Marsh said.
Night Watch answered his phone on the second ring Tuesday afternoon and patiently answered questions.
He wanted to remain anonymous, and for purposes of this exercise — he’s not breaking any laws that we can see — the request was easy enough since he agreed to meet in person.
“I’m just trying to bring awareness to the issue of homelessness,” he said. “And if I can use this in a way that helps a little, great.”
It sounded innocuous enough. Admirable even.
In the grand scheme, the number of people who volunteer their time at shelters or soup kitchens is relatively small. Writing a check (or tithing) is much easier and much quicker.
Dressing up as superhero seems odd — it is — but to each their own. Anybody willing to use their time (and money) to help someone else is OK.
In case you were wondering, Night Watch is well aware of the visuals.
“If I look goofy and can help people, I’m OK with it,” he said. “It’s about helping others.”
Not too long after sunset, Night Watch appeared promptly outside the Campbell Transportation Center exactly where he said he would be.
He was wearing the same leather hat and reflective goggles seen earlier in Marsh’s selfie. “I got ’em on Amazon,” he said.
Night Watch carried with him an overstuffed black string bag — supplies for his work that he said had been dropped off earlier by a supporter. It contained toiletries, clothing, water and food — the sorts of things someone who sleeps outdoors might need.
He knows, too, how he must look to the people he’d most like to help.
“I try to be approachable, smile and wave at people,” he said. “I knew what kind of reaction I’d get.”
Either it’s not too bad or word about what he’s up to has spread. Within minutes of showing up at the bus station, a young man named Joshua Temple approached and posed a familiar question: Anybody got a dollar they can spare?
Night Watch replied that he didn’t have cash, but quickly produced a pair of gloves, a bottle of water and a few snacks. And then he offered to walk Temple the six blocks to transportation to one of the city’s overflow emergency shelters.
He talked to Temple like an old friend, rattling off the names and locations of homeless shelters and soup kitchens.
No doubt that the scene looked strange to passersby, a helmeted and goggled young man walking side by side with another young man who sounded as if he could use a break.
“We gotta look out for each other,” Night Watch said.
There are far worse sentiments on a bitter cold winter night.
DOBSON — In 2015, a van driver transporting disabled Stokes County students sexually assaulted one of those students 21 times on two separate days, according to court documents. And a lawsuit alleges that the sexual assaults were a direct result of Stokes County school officials’ negligence and systemic violations of school policies.
The lawsuit was filed in Stokes Superior Court in 2018. A hearing was held Wednesday in Surry Superior Court to deal with a motion filed by an attorney for Stokes County Schools that asks for a judge to rule in the school system’s favor without a trial. Judge Eric Morgan of Surry Superior Court said he would issue a decision later.
There was no dispute that the student, a 20-year-old woman who was described as having the emotional maturity of a first-grader, was sexually assaulted. The van driver, Robert Anthony King, 53, pleaded guilty to several counts of statutory sex offense and sexual activity by a custodian in 2016. He is currently serving a prison sentence of about five years to 11 years.
The dispute is whether Stokes County Schools should be held liable for the student’s sexual assault.
King was a driver for YVEDDI, shorthand for the Yadkin Valley Economic Development District Inc., a nonprofit community action agency focused on improving the lives of the region’s residents. The school system entered a contract with YVEDDI to provide transportation for special-needs students. According to the complaint and other court documents, King said in a deposition that he sexually assaulted the student over more than five days.
Kirk Sanders, one of the attorneys for the plaintiff, said video cameras in the van caught the sexual assault, showing that when King stopped the van and began a sexual assault, the student would pull a hood over her head and put it down on a bench. The lawsuit says the student has been emotionally traumatized by the sexual assaults.
Deborah Stagner, the attorney for the school system, said students who had disabilities went to special programs at schools outside their assignment routes. That often led to students enduring long rides on the school bus to and from their schools, she argued.
Sanders argued that the real reason for outsourcing transportation was to cut costs, a reason he argued that is not valid.
Students with disabilities are supposed to have an individualized education plan. That document, Sanders said, is required to be updated every year. Parents participate in developing that plan along with school officials, and school officials must adequately notify parents of those meetings.
The victim in this case has ridden on a bus with a monitor, a person designated to assist a student, during her entire time in Stokes County Schools, Sanders said. The student’s mother wasn’t properly notified that the school system had signed a contract with YVEDDI to provide transportation services or that her daughter would be riding the school bus without a monitor.
In addition to having a low IQ, the student also has diabetes and has to have her blood-sugar levels checked on a daily basis, Sanders said.
School officials typically fill out a form that would indicate whether a disabled student needed a monitor on a bus or van. That form is supposed to have a parent signature. But in Stokes County, Sanders argued, school officials systematically ignored those forms. In fact, there was another student whose form indicated she needed a monitor. Despite that, she routinely rode on a bus that didn’t have a monitor, Sanders said.
School officials didn’t follow the protocol for having meetings for individualized education plans, Sanders said, pointing to documents showing that meetings and notifications to parents of the meetings had the same date.
Traci Royal, the former director of the exceptional children’s program for the school system, called the documentation for the individualized education plans “sloppy,” Sanders said.
Stagner, however, argued that there was no way that school officials could have predicted that the student would have been sexually assaulted. YVEDDI screened all their drivers, including King, conducted criminal background checks and made sure that drivers had the proper licenses. Drivers all were trained, she said, on sexual harassment and told that they were not to touch passengers.
Even though they were not trained specifically on transporting disabled students, King knew he was not to sexually assault anyone and he did it anyway, Stagner said.
Stagner also argued that even if there were problems with individual education plans, the remedy is not through a civil lawsuit but through an entirely different process.
Sanders disputed that and argued that after Stokes County school officials found out about the sexual assault, they did not offer the student any counseling. He said she was “left out in the cold.”
It was not clear from the hearing whether she is still a student in the Stokes County school system.