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Trump impeachment trial live coverage: Democrats make case for obstruction

In their final day of arguments, House Democrats presented their case alleging Trump obstructed Congress.
Image: Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the House voted to send impeachment articles against President Donald Trump to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell officially received the House managers on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the House voted to send impeachment articles against President Donald Trump to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell officially received the House managers on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020.Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

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.

Follow us here for all of the latest breaking news and analysis on impeachment from NBC News' political reporters, as well as our teams on Capitol Hill and at the White House.

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.

Download the NBC News mobile app for the latest news on the impeachment inquiry.

1045d ago / 7:20 PM UTC

Got Milk? Senate rules allow for only water, milk on the floor

If you’re lactose intolerant, stop reading here. 

FUN FACT: The only beverages allowed on the Senate floor is water and MILK. It’s an arcane Senate rule, per multiple Senate leadership aides.

  • The Senate historian’s office told NBC News that the "current practice in the Senate is to allow only water into the Senate Chamber. Technically, milk is also allowed, but in recent years the practice has been to allow only water (still or sparkling)."
  • We have not seen anyone with milk in the chamber.

As we’ve already noted:

  • Food is not allowed in the Chamber. The exception to that regulation is the candy desk, which is stocked with candy and available to senators.
1045d ago / 7:13 PM UTC

White House may assert executive privilege to block Bolton testimony, Republicans say

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If former national security adviser John Bolton is called to testify at the Senate impeachment trial, several Republicans told NBC News they believe that President Donald Trump will assert executive privilege.

A president claiming executive privilege during the trial would be unprecedented, and it's unclear how the Senate would handle the dispute. Chief Justice John Roberts is presiding over the proceedings and can rule on what evidence can be allowed — but his rulings can be overruled or sustained by a majority of the Senate.

Bolton testifying would touch off concern in the White House because of his proximity to presidential decision-making, according to a senior administration official.

"It would be extraordinary to have the national security adviser testifying about his communications directly with the president about foreign policy and national security matters," the official said.

Read more here.

1045d ago / 7:03 PM UTC

Dems say they're pressuring GOP senators on impeachment in other ways

In First Read Tuesday morning, we observed how Democrats aren’t trying to pressure vulnerable GOP senators over the TV airwaves on impeachment.

Of the 11 impeachment-themed television ads airing across the country right now, according to the ad trackers at Advertising Analytics, all are from Republicans and GOP groups.

But Democrats at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee tell us that they’ve been pressuring GOP senators — like Cory Gardner of Colorado, Martha McSally of Arizona and Susan Collins of Maine — in other ways.

For Maine’s Senate contest, for instance, the DSCC has created a website – WhatChangedSusan.Com – highlighting how Collins called for more evidence and witnesses in Bill Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial, but hasn’t made the same explicit demands for President Trump’s impeachment trial.

And in Colorado, the DSCC has blasted out press releases noting that Gardner has refused "to answer basic questions on [the] president’s conduct” or on the demand for “a fair trial.”

1045d ago / 6:51 PM UTC

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.

1045d ago / 6:41 PM UTC

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. 

1045d ago / 6:40 PM UTC
1045d ago / 6:27 PM UTC

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.)
  3. Chief Justice Roberts will say: “The Sergeant at Arms will make the proclamation…”
  4. 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.”
  5. 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.
  6. 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).
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
1045d ago / 6:26 PM UTC
1045d ago / 6:25 PM UTC

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.

Read the full opinion piece.

1045d ago / 6:16 PM UTC

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."

Read the full response.

 

1045d ago / 6:14 PM UTC

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.

1045d ago / 6:10 PM UTC

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.”

1045d ago / 5:57 PM UTC

A celebrity sighting in the gallery

1045d ago / 5:55 PM UTC

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.

1045d ago / 5:21 PM UTC

What Trump is doing today

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Trump is in Davos and is being “briefed by staff periodically” on Tuesday’s proceedings, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said. But he's also got an eye on Fox News, interrupting his Wall Street Journal interview this morning to make various comments on segments.

The president told the Journal he did not currently have plans to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who is also attending the summit. "I didn’t know he was here. I don’t think we had it planned," Trump said when the newspaper asked him about a potential meeting. But Trump said he'd be willing to meet with the Ukrainian president, adding, "I think he’s a really good guy."

Earlier in the morning, in quick on-camera questions and answers, Trump again railed against the impeachment as “a hoax. It's a witch hunt that's been going on for years. And it's frankly - it's disgraceful. But we look forward to being here. “

The president also said Tuesday that the trial “goes nowhere because nothing happened" and expressed confidence that “it's going to work out fine.”

Trump's meetings and events wrap up at 2 p.m. ET, so he will be able to tune in to afternoon impeachment coverage in the U.S. if so inclined. 

1046d ago / 4:25 PM UTC

Schumer slams McConnell's proposal, outlines proposed amendments

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on Tuesday again slammed the impeachment trial rules, calling them “completely partisan” and accusing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., of letting the White House basically write them.

“The McConnell rules seem to be designed by President Trump for President Trump,” Schumer said at a press conference alongside other Senate Democrats. “It appears that leader McConnell decided to go along with the president's desire to cover up his wrongdoing, hook, line and sinker. It almost seems the resolution was written in the White House, not the Senate.” 

Schumer vowed to offer amendments to the proposal that would allow for subpoenas to be issued for White House documents “related to the charges against the president” and for the calling of witnesses.

Schumer also slammed McConnell’s resolution as “a national disgrace” that “will go down in history as one of the very dark days of the Senate.”

1046d ago / 4:24 PM UTC
1046d ago / 4:21 PM UTC

McConnell's evidence proposal explained

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McConnell's organizing resolution for the Senate impeachment trial has a provision that would allow a vote on whether to include evidence presented in the House investigation, as well as evidence that emerged after the articles were sent to the Senate, into the official trial record.

The vote would occur after the Senate takes up the issue of calling additional witnesses or documents, which is after the arguments and question-and-answer portion of the trial (which would hypothetically discuss all this evidence). 

What does it mean?

Team McConnell sees the issue as a vote on the legitimacy of the House impeachment investigation. If Republicans think it was a sham process, then they’d vote with the majority leader on the evidence issue.

“Impeachment rules do not automatically admit evidence from the House into the Senate trial,” a senior Republican leadership aide told reporters. “This is an important fact specific to this trial because the White House was denied due process throughout the 12 weeks of partisan House proceedings. That makes this record meaningfully different from the House record in Clinton, which consisted primarily of evidence compiled by court-appointed prosecutors in the federal grand jury process.”

House managers will be able to discuss the information during their arguments and senators will still have access to all the House evidence during the trial, a senior Republican leadership aide said. Those documents will be printed and placed on senators' desks.

But if McConnell wins this vote, then the evidence will not be included in the official Senate impeachment record. In the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, the House record was admitted as evidence as a part of the organizing resolution.

“A trial with no evidence — no existing record, no witnesses, no documents — isn’t a trial at all,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., tweeted after the resolution was released, “It’s a cover up.” 

 

1046d ago / 3:58 PM UTC

Schiff rips McConnell's impeachment rules proposal as “process for a rigged trial"

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the lead House impeachment manager, on Tuesday blasted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s impeachment trial rules proposal as "a process for a rigged trial.”

"This is not a process for a fair trial. This is the process for a rigged trial,” Schiff said at a brief press conference alongside the six other House managers for the trial.

“This is the process if you do not want the American people to see the evidence. This is a process you use if you want to, hand in hand, working in concert with the president, allow the president to continue to obstruct the Congress and deny the truth to the American people.”

The proposal by McConnell, R-Ky., allots each side a total of 24 hours to present arguments, although that time is confined to 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.

Arguments will begin Wednesday afternoon, according to those rules, which are expected to be adopted Tuesday. The proposed 12-hour sessions to present each side's case could lead arguments to extend well into the night and possibly the early morning hours.

Schiff took particular aim at that aspect of the rules, accusing McConnell and the Republicans of “compressing the time of the trial” so that “the proceedings could conceivably go well into the night when apparently Sen. McConnell hopes the American people will not be watching.”

1046d ago / 3:46 PM UTC

House managers call White House counsel a fact witness, warn of 'disqualification' from defense team

The House managers in the impeachment trial have told President Donald Trump's lead lawyer, White House counsel Pat Cipollone, that they believe he is a fact witness to the charges and are demanding he disclose all related information so that the Senate and Chief Justice John Roberts "can be apprised of any potential ethical issues, conflicts, or biases.”

The managers sent a letter to Cipollone on Tuesday saying that the risks associated with his being an advocate for Trump and an alleged witness "are so serious that they can require a lawyer's disqualification."

Read the letter.

The White House responded in a statement later Tuesday, calling the Democrats "an utter joke."

"The idea that the Counsel to the President has to turn over protected documents and confidential information is ludicrous, and to imply he can’t represent the President of the United States in an impeachment proceeding is completely absurd," the statement said.

Image:
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff walks to a press conference with other impeachment managers at the Capitol on Jan. 21, 2020.J. Scott Applewhite / AP
1046d ago / 2:54 PM UTC
1046d ago / 2:42 PM UTC

'Appalling,' a 'national disgrace,' 'designed to hide the truth': Democrats blast McConnell's impeachment proposal

Democrats on Tuesday called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's proposal for President Donald Trump's impeachment trial "appalling," a "national disgrace," and "deliberately designed to hide the truth."

"This is just appalling," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told MSNBC's "Morning Joe," adding that McConnell, R-Ky., was seeking to turn the trial into "a farce" and that under this proposal it would be a "national disgrace."

Schumer pledged to offer amendments to change the "most egregious things" McConnell proposed, pleading for four Republicans — the total needed to form a majority — to vote with the Democrats.

Read more about the Democrats' response.

1046d ago / 2:36 PM UTC

Trump calls impeachment trial a long-running 'hoax' at Davos summit

President Donald Trump called the impeachment trial set to start in Washington later Tuesday a long-running "hoax" after landing in Davos.

"It's been going on for years," the president said at the Swiss mountain summit of the world's elite hours before senators in Washington kick off the proceedings.

"Look forward to being here, meeting with biggest companies in the world, for the benefit of the United States," he added in a speech to some of the world's richest and most influential people.

Trump is using the moment on the world stage to divert attention from the drama playing out back home and give the appearance of a president hard at work. It’s a strategy used by former President Bill Clinton, who scheduled events across the country during his impeachment, though he didn’t travel abroad.

Read the full story.

1046d ago / 2:32 PM UTC

Trump impeachment trial: The rules and everything else you need to know

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The Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump — only the third in U.S. history — is scheduled to get fully underway Tuesday, with Democrats and Republicans potentially clashing over whether to call witnesses.

The proposed rules for the trial, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., released Monday evening, are similar but not identical to the format of President Bill Clinton's impeachment trial in 1999. McConnell's rules would set aside up to four hours of debate, equally divided between both sides, on whether there should be subpoenas for witnesses or documents, and then the full Senate would vote on the issue.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., could seek to amend the rules Tuesday to ensure that his side can call witnesses, a process that could take several hours and could even include closed-door debates. 

Read about the rules and everything else you need to know.