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Editorial: President Trump is a star witness in his own prosecution

The case against President Trump, as this week’s presentation of articles of impeachment to the Senate underscores, consists to a remarkable extent of Trump’s own words.

Southern California Democrat Adam Schiff, the House’s lead impeachment manager, punctuated his opening argument with damning video excerpts of our incredible self-convicting president — a spectacle akin to a prosecutor letting the defendant do his or her job.

As Schiff noted, Trump’s plot to coerce his Ukrainian counterpart into smearing his political enemies was confirmed not only in a White House transcript of their July conversation, which he displayed with helpful highlights of the president saying, “I would like you to do us a favor, though” and repeatedly mentioning 2020 contender Joe Biden. The president also reiterated the request at the heart of the House’s first article, abuse of power, in public.

“There is no question that President Trump intended impressing the Ukraine leader to look into his political rival,” Schiff told senators Wednesday. “Even after the impeachment inquiry began, he confirmed his desire on the South Lawn of the White House.” The congressman then referred to footage of Trump telling a reporter what he wanted from Ukraine: “They should investigate the Bidens.”

This is not a new tendency on the president’s part, as Schiff reminded senators by replaying then-candidate Trump’s open invitation to the Kremlin to help him win by cyber-attacking Hillary Clinton. “When the president said, ‘Hey, Russia, if you’re listening,’ they were listening,” Schiff said. “Only hours later, they hacked his opponent’s campaign.”

Because a man can scarcely mount a credible defense against his own willing confessions — much as the president regularly tries — Trump and company have been reduced to obfuscating, downplaying and distracting from such admissions. Hence the obstruction of Congress underlying the second article, which the president also admitted in a clip played for the Senate: “We’re fighting all the subpoenas.”

The same imperative informs Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s determination to avoid testimony by Trump’s top lieutenants. Here’s hoping at least a few members of his caucus don’t share the president’s misunderstanding, also displayed for the chamber, that the Constitution gives him “the right to do whatever I want.”

This commentary is from The Chronicle’s editorial board. We invite you to express your views in a letter to the editor. Please submit your letter via our online form: SFChronicle.com/letters.

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