Jeffries zeroes in on Trump's request for 'a favor' on July 25 call
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., who took over after Demings, is using his time at the lectern to revisit and re-emphasize the significance of what occurred on the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelenskiy.
"The president claims that his call was perfect. Nothing can be further from the truth,” Jeffries said. “The call is direct evidence of President Trump's solicitation of foreign interference in the 2020 election as part of a corrupt scheme."
Jeffries went on to read selections from the transcript of the call, offering analysis along the way.
Seizing on Trump’s saying that “I would like you to do us a favor, though,” — and Trump’s mentions of Crowdstrike and the Bidens that followed — Jeffries slammed the president for trying to net a “personal favor.”
"On the July 25th call, Mr. Trump could have endeavored to strengthen the relationship with this new Ukrainian leader. Instead, President Trump focused on securing a personal favor,” Jeffries said.
“He wanted Ukraine to conduct phony investigations designed to enhance his political standing and solicit foreign interference in the 2020 election,” he added.
Demings argues Oval Office meeting was part of pressure campaign on Ukraine
The House impeachment managers are clearly taking turns tackling specific elements of the case they're building against Trump.
After Crow wrapped up more than 45 minutes of remarks focused exclusively on the hold on military aid to Ukraine, Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., took over and announced, “Now I want to talk to you about the White House meeting that President Trump offered to President Zelenskiy during their first phone call in April.”
Citing the November testimony of Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Demings said, “It became clear that President Zelenskiy would not be invited to the Oval Office until he announced the opening of investigations that would benefit President Trump's re-election.”
“During his testimony, Ambassador Sondland stressed that it was a clear quid pro quo,” she said.
Sondland, in fact, was unambiguous in saying that Trump, through Giuliani, attempted a quid pro quo under which a White House meeting for Zelenskiy was conditioned on him making a public statement announcing investigations into Burisma — the Ukrainian gas company that Hunter Biden joined as a board member in 2014 — and a conspiracy theory about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.
'Where were you on July 25?': Crow focuses on Ukraine military aid freeze
After roughly 20 minutes, Garcia stepped away from the microphone and Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., took over.
Focusing almost entirely the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelenskiy that prompted House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, Crow asked the chamber: “Where were you on July 25, 2019? It was a Thursday. Members of the U.S. Senate were here in this chamber. On July 25, across the Atlantic, our 68,000 troops stationed throughout Europe were doing what they do every day, training and preparing to support our allies and defend against Russia.”
In stark terms, he went on to outline the importance of the military aid to Ukraine — and the significance of the argument (at the center of Democrats’ case) about why the White House withheld it.
“While our friends were at war with Russia wearing sneakers, some without helmets, something else was happening. On July 25, President Trump made a phone call. He spoke with Ukrainian President Zelenskiy and asked for a favor.”
“And on that same day,” Crow continued, “just hours after his call, his administration was quietly placing an illegal hold on critical military aid to support our friends."
The view from Trump's legal team
Here's how things look from where Trump and his legal team sit:
What does Trump's defense team think about the opening arguments from the House managers?
Get to it, basically. The defense team is trying to frame the Democrats' arguments as repetitive and drawn out. But here's something to watch: Jay Sekulow, in response to a question from NBC News, dodged when asked about something Democrats have seized on — the president's comments in Davos this morning that "we have all the material. They don't have the material." Democrats say that is basically the "obstruction of Congress" quiet part out loud.
What's Trump doing?
The president is still en route back from Zurich, and has tweeted or retweeted well over a dozen times since he went wheels up. Allies who have spoken to him say he is "resolved," with Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., saying "he wants to get this over with," like most Americans. We're expecting Trump to return to the White House later tonight.
What do we know about the defense team's opening arguments?
Confirming our reporting about the need for responsiveness to House arguments, Sekulow told reporters that the defense argument will be a "combination" of "aggressively" challenging the case House Democrats are putting forward while also making the affirmative case as well. It's partly why Sekulow says he "can’t make any determinations to how long our proceedings will go." The signals have been that a full 24 hours may not be needed, with attorney Robert Ray signaling that's “more than sufficient time” to make the case. But sources keep stressing the element of unpredictability and are wary of divulging too much by way of strategy in the event things change on the fly.
Where does any Bolton testimony stand?
The White House would most likely move to invoke executive privilege if senators were to vote to call witnesses like John Bolton. And Schumer declared any talk of a reported Biden-for-Bolton witness trade "off the table." The president’s stated desire to have Bolton testify should be treated with caution, as he’s talked about having officials do this before only to have testimony fail to materialize. And even when the president says he wants to see these officials (like Bolton, Mulvaney, Perry) speak, he follows it up immediately by explaining why that might not be a good idea because of concerns over privileged or sensitive conversations. If executive privilege is, in fact, invoked, it would almost certainly put a pause on the impeachment trial for an as-yet-undetermined period of time.
Schumer says impeachment witness trade is 'off the table'
Schumer told reporters Wednesday during a brief recess from the trial that he wouldn’t entertain a deal with Republicans in which Democrats secure witness testimony from someone like former national security adviser John Bolton in exchange for someone like Hunter Biden.
Asked whether he would be open to a witness trade, Schumer said: "No. I think that’s off the table."
In recent weeks, there’s been a debate over whether both parties could negotiate witness testimony like a trade.
Former Vice President Joe Biden was asked about such a proposition while campaigning in Iowa on Wednesday.
As part of an extended answer in which he defended his son but noted he’s acknowledged poor judgment, Biden said, "We're not going to turn it into a farce, into some kind of political theater."
Senate GOP whip: 'It's certainly not a cover-up'
Sen. John Thune, the chamber's majority whip, said Wednesday '[i]t's certainly not a cover-up" in response to Rep. Jerry Nadler's late-night suggestion that Republican senators are doing just that for Trump by refusing to call former national security adviser John Bolton to testify — comments that in part drew the admonishment of Chief Justice John Roberts.
Thune, R-S.D., said when asked about Nadler's accusation, "that's the language [they] are using, I think that's very poll-tested language, but that's a political argument that the Democrats are making. It's certainly not a cover-up. We've got a full impeachment hearing going on."
Thune said the Senate would probably get to a decision on whether to call witnesses after the arguments are finished sometime next week. He added that he thought Nadler's comments were "not helpful to their cause, frankly, because a lot of our members believe it was a partisan process coming out of the House, and I think that the tone yesterday in many respects reinforced that."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters that if he were Trump, he wouldn't cooperate with Democrats "at all" because they are "on a crusade to destroy this man" and, he said, have run an unfair, partisan process.
"So to my Democratic colleagues, you can say what you want about me, but I'm covering up nothing!" Graham said. "I'm exposing your hatred of this president to the point that you would destroy the institution."
"[W]hen it comes to replacing this president, nine months-plus from the election, you've got an uphill battle with me," Graham added, "because I really do believe that the best person, group of people to pick a president are voters, not a bunch of partisan politicians."
Garcia continues argument centered on Rudy's involvement in Ukraine
After speaking for just over 20 minutes, Nadler ceded the lectern to Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, who continued the focus on Giuliani’s involvement in Ukraine — and Trump’s interest in it.
"For this campaign to be truly beneficial to his boss, President Trump, Giuliani needed access to the new government in Ukraine. He dispatched associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, to try to make inroads with the Zelenskiy team,” Garcia said.
"As Giuliani and his associates worked behind the scenes to get access to the new leadership in Ukraine, President Trump was publicly signaling his interest in the investigations," she added, citing (and then playing a clip of) a May 2 interview with Trump on Fox News.
Moments later, she quoted from a May 9 New York Times interview with Giuliani in which he admitted to planning trips to Ukraine to push for investigations that would benefit Trump.
"That's it, right there," Garcia said after reading from the story. "Giuliani admitting he was asking Ukraine to work on investigations that would be very, very helpful to the president."
"He was not doing foreign policy. He was not doing this on behalf of the government. He was doing this for personal interest of his client, Donald J. Trump," Garcia said.
Jumping right in, Nadler begins testimony with Yovanovitch details
Nadler wasted no time in jumping into a central argument behind the impeachment articles: that Trump’s dealings in Ukraine were aimed primarily at cheating in the 2020 election.
“Please remember that the object of the president's Ukraine scheme was to obtain a corrupt advantage for his re-election campaign,” Nadler said. “As we will show, the president went to extraordinary lengths to cheat in the next election. That scheme begins with the attempt to get Ambassador Yovanovitch, quote, 'out of the way,' unquote.”
Nadler peppered his remarks with clips from the House testimony from Marie Yovanovitch, the ousted U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, and George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state who worked on Ukraine and several other countries, that focused largely on Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani’s role in the Ukraine affair.
According to Yovanovitch, whose account is backed up by many witnesses in the inquiry, Giuliani seized on Ukrainian disinformation that she'd been badmouthing the president and was blocking corruption investigations to orchestrate a broad smear campaign against her that culminated in her being fired.
Skittles, milk and Sudoku: What senators are doing during arguments
As the arguments continue, senators seem a bit restless on the floor.
Tom Cotton was on his second glass of milk since they resumed around 4 p.m.
Richard Burr, across the aisle, noticed the milk and also asked for a glass
Meanwhile, Rand Paul was spotted with a hidden crossword puzzle in his papers. There also appeared to be a Sudoku game on the page.
Joni Ernst was eating skittles and had a blanket to keep warm.