The Democratic House managers used their final day of arguments on Friday — the fourth full day of President Donald Trump's impeachment trial — to make their case that President Donald Trump obstructed Congress in denying them witness testimony and documents.
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Highlights from the Senate trial
- Democrats finished hours of arguments in which managers called Trump a "dictator" and a danger to the nation with a plea to the Senate: "Give America a fair trial, she's worth it," lead House manager Rep. Adam Schiff said.
- The White House is set to begin laying out Trump's defense Saturday morning.
- "Get rid of her": A voice appearing to be Trump's is heard on tape demanding Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch's ouster.
- Schiff warned his fellow lawmakers that "the next time, it just may be you" who Trump targets.
- Democratic House manager Rep. Val Demings says the evidence is "pretty painful" for senators.
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Senators pour onto the chamber floor
As soon as Schumer finished speaking, senators poured onto the floor. Democrats have thick binders with blue cover pages. Republicans, including Tim Scott of South Carolina and John Cornyn of Texas, walked up to greet White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Trump attorney Jay Sekulow.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., one of the House managers, enthusiastically greeted home state Democratic colleague Sen. Dianne Feinstein, while Democratic Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California, both erstwhile presidential candidates, chatted with Chaplain Barry Black in the back of the chamber for a while.
While most senators sat, Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., wandered around, randomly doing mini squats as if to prepare for the long, seated day ahead.
White House counsel Cipollone: McConnell's proposal a 'fair process'
White House counsel Pat Cipollone, speaking on the Senate floor Tuesday during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s trial resolution creates “a fair process.”
"We support this resolution. It is a fair way to proceed with this trial," Cipollone said.
"It requires House managers to stand up and make their opening statement and make their case," he continued, adding that, "it is time to start with this trial. It's a fair process."
"We believe that once you hear those initial presentations, the only conclusion will be that the president has done absolutely nothing wrong," he said.
Here's how we expect today to go
The Senate impeachment trial resumed shortly after 1 p.m. Here’s how we expect the rest of the day to go:
- Senators, House managers, and the WH counsel should be in their seats and ready to go. We do not expect the Sergeant at Arms to introduce them like he did when they came to the floor and read the articles on Thursday.
- Chief Justice Roberts will gavel the trial back in session, saying something like, “The Senate will convene as a court of impeachment…” (There may be a prayer here.)
- Chief Justice Roberts will say: “The Sergeant at Arms will make the proclamation…”
- The Sergeant at Arms, Michael Stenger, will say: “Hear ye! Hear ye! Hear ye! All persons are commanded to keep silent, on pain of imprisonment, while the House of Representatives is exhibiting to the Senate of the United States articles of impeachment against Donald John Trump, President of the United States.”
- At this point, McConnell may pass a number of housekeeping measures about various issues related to the trial, including possibly entering the trial briefs into the Senate record.
- Then we expect McConnell will formally introduce the organizing resolution, and any senator can ask that the entire resolution be read on the floor. (In 1999, Sen. Robert Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, asked for that to happen. It was only four pages, so it didn’t take long. The clerk would then read the resolution).
- There will be up to two hours of arguments, equally divided, by the House managers and the WH defense team. They may or may not use the entire two hours.
- After that, we expect Schumer/Democrats to introduce an amendment to the organizing resolution, which we expect would take up the issue of witnesses and documents. That is also subject to up to two hours of arguments, equally divided, by the House managers and the WH defense team. Again, they may or may not use the entire two hours.
- To reiterate, Senators cannot participate in this back and forth, only the House managers and WH defense team. This would mean that there would theoretically be up to 4 hours of back and forth before we see the first vote on Tuesday, and we expect all of this to be open.
- When they vote, each senator's name will be called, and the senator will stand and vote. There is a chance that the vote on that first Democratic amendment could be a vote on a motion to table, which would actually mean Republicans vote YES and Democrats vote NO to kill it (we'll alert everyone if this ends up being the case).
- What happens after that vote? Likely more amendments, but that's all TBD. We expect Tuesday to be a long day.
- There is no limit on amendments, but we (obviously) don’t expect amendments to never end. We hope to have guidance early Wednesday on how many amendments Democrats will introduce. Again, it will largely depend on what’s in the organizing resolution.
- We are in uncharted territory here. The reason why all of this isn't set in stone is simply because the Senate has never had a debate with amendments for the organizing resolution. In 1999, all 100 Senators agreed (after meeting in a closed session in the old Senate chamber) to pass unanimously this initial organizing resolution. Aides and senators who typically go back and look at precedent to determine how a session will go can’t do so here, so we’re all going to be riding this out together.
OPINION: The Senate impeachment trial is a minefield. Will Republicans repeat Democrats' mistakes?
Imagine an alternate timeline in which House Democrats declined to pass articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump on Dec. 18, 2019.
In that universe, the last four weeks would have been most eventful. It would have been a month that saw the release of emails from Office of Budget and Management officials obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests that indicate the order to withhold Ukrainian security aid came directly from the president. A federal appeals court would have continued to litigate the Democratic subpoena of former White House counsel Don McGahn, who was compelled to testify against the president’s wishes by a lower court on Nov. 25. The subpoena of former national security adviser John Bolton’s deputy, Charles Kupperman, would have also been under review (even though House Democrats withdrew that subpoena in November). January would have culminated in the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office’s finding that the delay Trump allegedly ordered was “not programmatic” and violated the law.
Back in our current timeline, though, Democrats have all but surrendered control of the impeachment process to Republicans. The OMB emails landed with a thud. The severity of the GAO’s finding will be left to Republicans to determine. The courts litigating Democratic subpoenas dismissed those cases when the venue in which Trump’s associates might have testified — the House impeachment inquiry — effectively closed. And the stunning accusations levied against the president by Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas have been made in forums like cable news, where his truthful testimony cannot be compelled.
Given the revelations that have emerged over the last month, however, the GOP risks repeating House Democrats’ mistakes if they fail to take their prerogatives seriously while they control the impeachment process.
House managers say Trump 'exemplifies' why impeachment is in the Constitution
House managers, in response to Trump's trial brief, said Tuesday that the president "exemplifies why the framers included the impeachment mechanism in the Constitution."
"President Trump’s impeachment trial is an effort to safeguard our elections, not override them," the Democrats wrote. "His unsupported contentions to the contrary have it exactly backwards. President Trump has shown that he will use the immense powers of his office to manipulate the upcoming election to his own advantage. Respect for the integrity of this Nation’s democratic process requires that President Trump be removed before he can corrupt the very election that would hold him accountable to the American people."
The managers also said Trump's brief "is heavy on rhetoric and procedural grievances, but entirely lacks a legitimate defense of his misconduct. It is clear from his response that President Trump would rather discuss anything other than what he actually did."
The brief, they added, "does not explain why, even now, he has not offered any documents or witnesses in his defense or provided any information in response to the House’s repeated requests. This is not how an innocent person behaves."
Fact check: Could Trump's trial be the first without witnesses and documents?
"If Sen. McConnell makes this the first impeachment trial in history without witnesses or documents, it will not prove the president innocent,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said on Tuesday morning.
Is it true that this could be the first impeachment trial without witnesses or documents?
Let's review the history of presidential Senate trials. The impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson took more than two months and included documents as well as testimony from 41 witnesses. The impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, which lasted 37 days, included both documents and videotaped footage of witness testimony played on the Senate floor.
Still, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has not shut the door on all witnesses and documents. He's giving his party — which enjoys majority control of the Senate — the chance to decide the issue with a vote.
Schiff initially — and correctly — claimed that McConnell was departing from historic precedent: In the Clinton trial, House findings were admitted as evidence at the start of the Senate trial. This time, McConnell did not originally plan for that. However the text of the organizing resolution, read out by the clerk Tuesday afternoon, appears to have been changed to automatically include House evidence, unless there's an objection.
Schumer again hits McConnell, Trump for proposed impeachment trial rules
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., used his Senate floor speech to restate the points he made at his multiple press conferences earlier Tuesday and on Monday, blasting McConnell’s resolution on the impeachment trial rules.
"The McConnell resolution will result in a rushed trial with little evidence, in the dark of night,” Schumer said. “If Leader McConnell is so confident the president did nothing wrong, why don't they want the case to be presented in broad daylight?"
“This resolution will go down as one of the darker moments in Senate history,” Schumer added.
He also took direct aim at Trump himself, asking, “If the president believes his impeachment is so brazen and wrong, why won't he show us why?"
"If the president's case is so weak that none of the president's men can defend him under oath, shame on him.”
A celebrity sighting in the gallery
McConnell says his proposal is 'fair' and 'even-handed'
McConnell said his proposal for Trump's impeachment trial "sets up a structure that is fair, even-handed, and tracks closely with past precedents."
He called his proposal a "sharp contrast with the precedent-breaking inquiry in the House."
McConnell's proposal allots each side a total of 24 hours to present arguments over two working days. Additionally, it suggests that none of the House evidence will be automatically admitted into the trial. Instead, the Senate will vote later on whether to admit the documents.
Once both sides present their cases, 16 hours will be provided for senators to ask questions in writing. The Senate would then consider whether to subpoena witnesses and documents. If witnesses and documents are approved, McConnell's resolution makes clear that witnesses must first be deposed, a process that typically takes place behind closed doors, before a determination over testimony is made.
Democrats on Tuesday blasted the proposal as "appalling," a "national disgrace," and "deliberately designed to hide the truth."
Schumer pledged to offer amendments to change the "most egregious things" McConnell proposed. McConnell said he will move to table Schumer's pledged amendments during Tuesday's debate on the impeachment process resolution.