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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.

1103d ago / 5:57 PM UTC

Key moderate Republicans 'offended,' 'stunned' after Nadler accuses senators of 'cover-up'

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Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she was "offended" by House manager Jerry Nadler's comments this week that Republican senators would be involved in a cover-up if they did not agree to call former national security adviser John Bolton to testify in the impeachment trial, one of her aides said Thursday.

Murkowski is one of a handful of moderate GOP senators who have expressed openness to calling witnesses, including top Trump administration officials. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, another Republican who has been open to witnesses, wrote a note to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts which took issue with Nadler's remark, according to a spokesperson.

For Democrats in need of four Republican senators to support them on the issue, Murkowski and Collins are critical votes.

Other moderate senators also weighed in Thursday on Nadler's late-night remark on the Senate floor, which drew a pointed response from White House counsel Pat Cipollone, prompting Chief Justice John Roberts to admonish the two.

“I appreciated the chief justice admonishing the House managers and White House counsels," Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said. "Senators do their best to conduct their debates in a civil manner and have rules to encourage it.” 

Another Republican senator who has expressed willingness to call witnesses, Mitt Romney of Utah, said, “I won’t speak to the process until the entire thing is done.”

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., also chimed in on the issue, saying, “It was late at night, I think, when Nadler spoke, and it came off pretty hard and strong, which I thought was Ill-advised.”

Read the full story.

1103d ago / 5:15 PM UTC

Trump and team feeling 'huge frustration' over wait for floor rebuttal

Here's the latest on what's happening inside Trump's defense team.

So what's the president's status this morning?

A source familiar with the president's thinking said there’s “huge frustration” on the part of the president and his allies that the House managers still have Thursday and Friday to present arguments without any Senate floor rebuttal, so it puts a big emphasis on messaging. (For example, we’re told the defense team on Wednesday counted what they considered some dozen false or misleading arguments that Schiff and company made, and they’re eager to push back on those sooner rather than later.) It’s why you should expect to see another full-court press from the president’s defense team during breaks, and from his allies in Congress on the TV today. The strategic teams have been huddling twice daily ahead of arguments as well, and the president has been working the phones with his allies. Overall, though, multiple sources say the president has generally been pleased with his defense team’s presentations, although there’s really only a been a day of it. 

What does the defense expect to see from Democrats today? 

The spin from sources close to the team: a theatrical yawn, basically. Expecting what they describe as more repetition from Wednesday, with Democrats taking the facts they laid out in their timeline and applying that to the law and Constitution, as Rep. Schiff previewed last night.

1103d ago / 4:32 PM UTC

Schumer: If Republicans want to hear 'new stuff, there's plenty of it'

Schumer hit Republicans on Wednesday for saying they hadn't heard anything "new" during opening arguments, adding, "If they want new stuff, there's plenty of it."

"What are the Republicans saying after yesterday? Well, the same Republicans are saying that they heard nothing new," Schumer said at a press conference. "But these Republicans voted nine times on Tuesday against amendments to ensure new witnesses and new documents to come before the Senate."

"This argument that they've heard nothing new when they vote repeatedly against witnesses and documents rings very, very hollow," he added.

A number of Republicans said Wednesday and Thursday that they were just hearing the same things being repeated over and over by Democrats, though they mostly avoided discussing the substance of that evidence.

Barrasso told CNN Thursday that he's "expecting to hear a repetition of what they said yesterday (Wednesday)" during Thursday's proceedings.

Speaking with Fox News on Wednesday, Trump's attorney Jay Sekulow said of the case presented by House impeachment managers: "We're hearing the same things each time."

Democrats have been pleading for the Senate to allow for additional witnesses like Bolton and Mulvaney, who they say have first-hand knowledge of the president's actions toward Ukraine, as well as documents the Trump administration has withheld.

1103d ago / 4:29 PM UTC

Sen. Murphy: 'I don't support bringing in Joe Biden or Hunter Biden'

1103d ago / 2:45 PM UTC

House impeachment manager: More details of Trump's Ukraine efforts are 'going to come out'

Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Thursday that more details will come out regarding Trump's efforts to have Ukraine investigate the Bidens and Democrats "whether it's now or down the road.

Crow, one of the House impeachment managers, has focused his presentation on the national security implications of Trump withholding military aid to Ukraine as he was asking Zelenskiy to announce the sought-after investigations.

"If the president of the United States wants to use national security funds and jeopardize our national security and put our men and women in uniform at risk as a result of it, and our allies at risk for his own political campaign, the American people are going to know about it," Crow said. "And they’re going to know about it whether it’s now or down the road."

"This stuff is going to come out, whether it's in books, whether it's in movies, whether it's in some future administration that releases these records, it's going to come out," Crow added. "So the question right now in front of everybody is whether or not they want it to come out now when it matters the most, during this trial, and what side of history they want to be on."

1103d ago / 2:43 PM UTC

Trump rages against impeachment in tweetstorm

Trump opened up Thursday posting a series of tweets lamenting the ongoing impeachment trial, which he called "unfair" and "corrupt."

The president also made a series of misleading assertions or outright false claims as he tweeted.

Read more here

1103d ago / 1:03 PM UTC

Trump tweets against the trial and 'Shifty Schiff'

1103d ago / 1:01 PM UTC
1103d ago / 3:33 AM UTC

Here's what Trump's defense team has been up to

Here's how things look from where Trump and his legal team sit:

How's the president dealing with Democrats' monopoly on floor time?

House managers have the stage all to themselves for the next couple days but the president and his defense team are doing everything they can to try to pull the spotlight their way because that’s what the president wants. He’s anxious to get his arguments out there. His surrogate team, including lawmakers he’s been on the phone with, is out in full force. And during two breaks today and immediately after the day ended, one of his lead attorneys, Jay Sekulow, beelined to television cameras to get the defense’s messaging out there, and squeezed in a Fox hit to boot.

How does the president's team think this is playing out politically?

Generally, allies think the Democrats' arguments are repetitive and unlikely to change minds. And the Trump campaign is trying to capitalize: the campaign is highlighting continued financial gain from the impeachment trial overall. Some of the highest-ever fundraising days occurred around the release of the Mueller report in April and initial impeachment inquiry news in September.   

Tell us more about the president's opening arguments!

Sure thing, especially since we’re learning more about how it’ll play out. In one of the clearest indications yet of how the defense is looking directly rebut managers, Sekulow hinted that the defense team would reference the same career diplomats Democrat did but cite different comments where these staffers praised the president and his policies. He also signaled the team may wrap arguments Monday, but left the door open to continuing Tuesday as well. Earlier, Sekulow told NBC News that the defense's arguments could take "10 hours, 14 hours, 24 hours, or six hours," emphasizing they want to be flexible and fluid.

Per multiple sources close to the team, Cipollone will do the initial opening, where he will address “substantive and constitutional and procedural” positions. Sekulow will likely go next with an overview from beginning to end on how they got here. Then, it sounds like Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr will make the Constitutional argument that the articles of impeachment don’t meet the threshold for impeachment. There will then be what the team refers to as fact presentations and that’s when you’ll see other team members make their oral arguments. 

Do you think the president will actually show up at the Senate trial?

Almost certainly not. Sekulow made it clear when he said, "presidents don’t do that."

1103d ago / 3:31 AM UTC

After trial adjourns, Graham and Schiff spotted shaking hands

1103d ago / 3:14 AM UTC

Podcast: NBC News' Frank Thorp breaks down the first day of arguments

On today’s bonus episode of NBC News' Article II impeachment podcast, Steve Kornacki talks to Frank Thorp, an NBC News producer covering the Senate, about the first day of opening arguments and the case House managers are making to a few select senators they hope to bring to their side.

The two discuss:

  • How House managers presented their case to the Senate
  • The three Republican senators Democrats hope they can persuade to join them in a vote for witnesses
  • Whether there’s any likelihood that Democrats will get the four votes they need in total to subpoena witnesses and change the trajectory of the trial
1103d ago / 3:10 AM UTC

Trial ends for the day

The first day of the House managers' arguments ended around 9:45 p.m. eastern.

McConnell said everyone will return on Thursday at 1 p.m. for the second day of the House managers' arguments.

“We’ve introduced the case, we’ve gone through the chronology, and tomorrow we will apply the facts to the law as it pertains to the President’s abuse of power,” Schiff said.

All seven of the impeachment managers spoke during today’s session.

1103d ago / 3:06 AM UTC

Sekulow says he's confident Trump will be acquitted by Senate

Trump counsel Jay Sekulow declared Wednesday after the first day of opening arguments by Democrats that "the president will be acquitted."

“Without a question, the president will be acquitted,” he told reporters after the trial adjourned for the night. 

“The whole fact that we are here is ridiculous,” he said, suggesting that the president’s impeachment may not be just over the July 25 phone call but a “three-year attempt” by the Democrats to reverse the 2016 election. 

1103d ago / 2:59 AM UTC

'Do you want to know the full truth now?': House managers continue push for more evidence

For roughly eight hours Wednesday, House impeachment managers outlined their case against Trump, repeatedly hammering him for calling on foreign nations to investigate the Bidens, detailing what they said was a quid pro quo with Ukraine and never missing a chance to highlight why additional documents and witnesses were necessary for the Senate trial.

"Do you want to know the full truth now?" Schiff said as he neared the end of Wednesday arguments, adding, "Want to know how broad this scheme was?"

"We can and will prove President Trump guilty of this conduct and of obstructing the conduct," he added. "You should want the whole truth to come out" and "want to know about every player in this sordid business."

House managers pointed to Trump's defenses throughout the day, seeking to poke holes in claims such as "no quid pro quo" and that his July 25 phone call with Zelenskiy was "perfect."

"The president claims that his call was perfect," Jeffries said. "Nothing can be further from the truth. The call is direct evidence of President Trump's solicitation of foreign interference in the 2020 election as part of a corrupt scheme."

The House managers pleaded for the Senate to allow for additional witnesses and documents after Republicans voted Tuesday into Wednesday morning to table motions made by Schumer to allow for them. At the end of Wednesday's proceedings, Roberts entered classified testimony from a Pence aide into the official record — evidence that was not yet available during the House investigation.

Fireworks were few and far between throughout the day, a far cry from the prior day's proceedings where the House managers and Trump's legal team traded turns arguing for and against amendments to the process resolution.

1103d ago / 2:49 AM UTC

Schiff: 'You should want to know about every player in this sordid business'

As Wednesday's session approached its conclusion, Schiff said that the articles on impeachment implicate more than just Trump.

"We can and will prove President Trump guilty of this conduct and of obstructing the investigation into his misconduct,” said Schiff, the lead House manager in the Senate trial. "But you and the American people should know who else was involved in this scheme ... You should want to know about every player in this sordid business."

Throughout the House impeachment inquiry, witnesses testified in public about how people close to the president, including Giuliani, Sondland, then-Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, played key roles in the campaign to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations into the Bidens and a debunked 2016 conspiracy theory.

Schiff quoted Sondland’s testimony from the inquiry in which he stated that “everyone was in the loop” about the president’s efforts.

1103d ago / 2:48 AM UTC

A moment of levity: applause for the outgoing Senate pages

The Senate chamber burst into applause when, just before the chief justice adjourned, McConnell thanked the outgoing class of Senate pages.

The last day of their term is January 23.

"In addition to witnessing this unusual event that we're all experiencing, they're studying for their final exams as well, and we wish them well, as they head off back to boring normal high school," McConnell said. 

Schumer also thanked the pages, all high school juniors, according to the Senate, for their work. Pages largely serve as messengers and prepare the Senate chamber for each day's business. Schumer also noted that the standing ovation the pages inspired was a "rare" moment of bipartisanship.

1103d ago / 2:41 AM UTC

Lofgren suggests Pence hiding testimony of key aide

1103d ago / 2:39 AM UTC

Democrats' impeachment formula is easy math

WASHINGTON — The plot is intricate, but the math is simple.

The latter requires senators and the American public to understand only that "two plus two equals four," Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the lead House manager in President Donald Trump's Senate impeachment trial, said Wednesday.

That basic math is all it takes, he argued, to conclude that Trump prioritized his own interests over American national security by using U.S. foreign aid as leverage to force Ukraine into helping his re-election effort. The Ukrainians knew the score — "they're not stupid," Schiff said — and he left unspoken his thoughts on the intellectual capacity of senators who couldn't or wouldn't perform the same addition with the facts in front of them.

Of course, the arithmetic of the eventual Senate vote is nothing like the formula for determining whether the president abused the powers of his office in the very ways the founding fathers envisioned a chief executive might when they vested Congress with removal authority.

Read more here.

1103d ago / 2:33 AM UTC

House managers hammer hard on Trump's call for China to probe Bidens

Schiff just highlighted Trump's public call in October for China — in addition to Ukraine — to probe the Bidens.

It's a moment that's been highlighted repeatedly in the first two days of Trump's impeachment trial.

At the time, a handful of Republicans criticized Trump for calling on China to probe the private U.S. citizens. Romney called it "wrong and appalling." Collins said she was "stunned" to hear Trump call on China to to launch an investigation into the former vice president and his son. And Sasse said "Hold up: Americans don't look to Chinese commies for the truth."

Others said Trump was just joking.

Rubio said Trump was "needling the press, knowing that you guys were going to get outraged by it." And Blunt expressed "doubt" that Trump "was serious."

1103d ago / 2:25 AM UTC

ANALYSIS: Democrats aren't interested in a witness swap. Was there any upside to a deal?

Top Democrats made clear Wednesday that any potential deal for a witness swap — the testimony of Hunter Biden for the testimony of former national security adviser John Bolton — is off the table.

Here's one possible reason why: Just because the senators agree to the witness swap doesn’t mean that the witnesses or the White House are parties to the deal. The witnesses and the White House may resist this testimony, resorting to the courts or otherwise. President Trump said Wednesday that Bolton’s testimony would cause a “national security problem.” Trump is not a party to any witness swap; he may find a way to interfere with the deal.

It's possible that only Hunter Biden would end up testifying, given the power of the Republican majority, in which case this would be a horrible deal for Democrats. 

But assuming the possibility of a true Bolton-for-Biden deal, one approach might be to call Republicans’ bluff and take it. Hunter Biden would deny under oath allegations Democrats already consider debunked, and John Bolton is, at present, the number one draft pick of Democratic witnesses. His testimony could lead to legitimate grounds for additional witness testimony, as well. But again, that's assuming a world where the witness swap results in the seamless and prompt production of these witnesses. That’s just not part of the deal, and that's why Democrats might not be interested.

What's more, there's a game of witness "chicken" at play. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., was right to note that a majority of Republicans could call Hunter Biden without any deal. But if the Senate Republicans summon Hunter Biden, and not Bolton or any of the other witnesses requested by Democrats, then they risk undermining one of their guiding principles: this unjustified trial doesn’t need witnesses; it needs to be over. 

Danny Cevallos is a legal analyst for NBC News and MSNBC.

1103d ago / 1:44 AM UTC

Schiff: Trump was trying to put his 'alibi out there' in key call with Sondland

Schiff pointed to a September phone call between Trump and Sondland as an example of the president's suspect conduct as his efforts in Ukraine were coming under more scrutiny.

The call Schiff highlighted was the one in which Trump insisted there was "no quid pro quo" with regard to pushing the Ukrainian president to investigate the Bidens and Democrats as he was withholding an official White House visit and nearly $400 million in military aid to the country.

"During this call between the president and Ambassador Sondland, without a prompt, President Trump told Sondland there's 'no quid pro quo,'" Schiff said. "Now, why would he do that? ... That's the kind of thing that comes up in a conversation if you're trying to put your alibi out there."

In November, Sondland testified that he did believe there was at least one quid pro quo with Ukraine, alleging that a White House visit was conditioned on the announcement of investigations. That same day, Trump read his side of that conversation, in which he claims to have said, "I want nothing" and "I want no quid pro quo."

1103d ago / 1:25 AM UTC

ANALYSIS: Sekulow reads over 'quid pro quo' in article of impeachment

Trump defense lawyer Jay Sekulow said Wednesday that Democrats were leveling new charges against the president when they repeatedly said the president offered a "quid pro quo" to Ukraine — military aid and a White House meeting in exchange for investigations Trump desired. 

"Notice what's not in the articles of impeachment — allegations or accusations of quid pro quo," Sekulow told reporters. "That’s because they didn't exist. So you know, there’s a lot of things we’ll rebut but we’ll do it in an orderly and I hope more systematic fashion."

But while the first article of impeachment doesn't use the Latin phrase — which means "what for what" — it charges the president with "conditioning" official acts of the U.S. government on acts by Ukraine. The House impeached Trump for a quid pro quo in plain English.

1103d ago / 1:11 AM UTC

Here's the dramatic moment the impeachment protester was tackled by police

The protester who interrupted Jeffries was charged with unlawful conduct later Wednesday. See the dramatic moment he was tackled by Capitol Police as he burst through the chamber doors, as depicted in a courtroom sketch by artist Bill Hennessy.

Image: Sketch, impeachment trial
Man tackled as he shouts at chamber door during Senate Impeachment Trial on Jan. 22, 2020.Bill Hennessy
1103d ago / 12:49 AM UTC

Schiff uses text messages to paint picture of shadow Ukraine policy

Schiff, the lead House impeachment manager, is using his time at the lectern to review text messages sent among and between Volker, Andriy Yermak, a top adviser to Zelenskiy, Sondland and Giuliani that he said paint a picture of the shadow Ukraine policy that several witnesses testified to in November.

"Think about how unusual this is. This is the president's personal lawyer who's on this personal mission on behalf of his client to get the investigations in Ukraine. The president of Ukraine can't get in the door of the Oval Office and who are they going to? Are they going to the Security Council? No. Are they going to the State Department? No. They tried all that, they're going to the president's personal lawyer,” Schiff said.

“Does that sound like an official policy to try to fight corruption?” he added.

1103d ago / 12:31 AM UTC

And they're back!

The dinner break is over, the proceedings have resumed, and Schiff is back at the lectern.

1103d ago / 12:27 AM UTC
1104d ago / 12:18 AM UTC

Republicans say they haven't heard anything new today

Republican lawmakers, as well as the president's legal team, echoed one another in saying they had heard nothing new Wednesday as they emerged during a brief break in the impeachment trial.

Speaking with Fox News, Trump's attorney Jay Sekulow said the case presented by House impeachment managers amounted to "repeat cycles" within the first five hours of the presentation.

"We're hearing the same things each time," he said,

Sens. John Cornyn of Texas, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, and John Barrasso of Wyoming expressed similar sentiments as they left the Senate floor.

"Six hours of testimony so far today since I didn't hear anything new, at all," Barrasso said. "We were here all day yesterday for about 13 hours, no new material presented."

Democrats have been pleading for the Senate to allow for additional witnesses like Bolton and Mulvaney, who have first-hand knowledge of the president's actions toward Ukraine. Republicans voted Tuesday into Wednesday morning to table motions made by Schumer to allow for additional witnesses and documents.

1104d ago / 11:56 PM UTC

Jeffries wraps up; Senate breaks for dinner

Jeffries has just wrapped up his remarks — all focused on the July 25 call — concluding them with a sharp rebuttal to Trump’s repeated claims that his phone conversation with Zelenskiy that day was “perfect.”

"This was not a perfect call,” Jeffries said in closing. “It is direct evidence that President Donald John Trump corruptly abused his power and solicited foreign interference in the 2020 election."

With that, Chief Justice John Roberts announced a 30-minute break for dinner.

1104d ago / 11:45 PM UTC

Impeachment coverage draws 11 million TV viewers

The Senate impeachment trial is becoming must-see TV.

About 11 million people tuned in to at least part of the first day of the trial across the broadcast networks and cable news channels, according to Variety

And Fox News viewers are showing particularly strong interest, outpacing even the broadcast channels in daytime viewership. The Trump-friendly cable news channel drew 2.7 million viewers from 12:30 p.m. ET to 5 p.m. ET, beating out CBS (1.9 million), ABC (1.6 million) and NBC and CNN (1.4 million). MSNBC drew 1.9 million.

Fox News also drew the biggest audience in primetime (from 8 p.m. ET to 11 p.m. ET) with 3.5 million viewers. MSNBC drew 2.5 million, while CNN attracted 1.5 million. 

NBC took the top spot in evening coverage from 5:18 p.m. ET to 7:40 p.m. ET with 2.8 million viewers, topping Fox News (2.6 million), MSNBC (2 million) and CNN (1.5 million). ABC and CBS did not cover the trial in the evening hours.

NBC is owned by NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News and MSNBC.

1104d ago / 11:42 PM UTC
1104d ago / 11:35 PM UTC

Fact-checking Trump's defense: 'They got their money'

President Donald Trump repeatedly made false claims Wednesday about his handling of Ukraine foreign aid, seeking to publicly defend himself as Democrats began opening statements in the Senate trial on whether to remove him from office.

Trump — who has sought to block White House documents and aides from offering evidence in the trial and insists there is no basis to Democrats' claims — repeatedly said that Ukraine got their foreign aid early and that Ukrainian officials have said he did nothing wrong.

Neither claim is completely true, but the president's remarks — made from Davos, Switzerland — suggest that his defense against the impeachment charges will be rooted in his own reading of the facts.

Read NBC News' fact check of his claims.

1104d ago / 11:28 PM UTC

Jeffries interrupted by protester

Jeffries was briefly interrupted by a protester yelling loudly. 

The protester was escorted out of the chamber within seconds, and Jeffries resumed his remarks, but the man continued to scream loudly just outside the chamber, on the third floor near the press gallery.

He could be heard yelling, "Schumer is the devil," "Dismiss the trial of impeachment," and he repeatedly mentioned abortion, as he was arrested and led away by Capitol Police. He was charged with unlawful conduct, police said.

1104d ago / 11:21 PM UTC

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.

1104d ago / 11:02 PM UTC

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.

1104d ago / 10:11 PM UTC

'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."

1104d ago / 10:08 PM UTC

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.

1104d ago / 9:43 PM UTC

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."

1104d ago / 9:41 PM UTC

Senate GOP whip: 'It's certainly not a cover-up'

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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."

1104d ago / 9:40 PM UTC

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.

1104d ago / 9:24 PM UTC
1104d ago / 9:22 PM UTC

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.

1104d ago / 9:21 PM UTC

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.

1104d ago / 9:09 PM UTC
1104d ago / 9:08 PM UTC

ANALYSIS: Did Schiff miss a ready audience?

Schiff might have missed an opportunity to drive home a point about the president’s encroachment on the powers of the Senate. While the California Democrat described how the pause in aid for Ukraine plays into the larger storyline of the impeachment case, he didn’t appeal directly to senators to stand up for themselves and their constitutional authority.

Trump has substituted his judgment for that of congressional appropriators repeatedly, from his decision to reroute money to a border wall to the withholding of Ukraine defense funds. That is, Democratic managers might find a receptive audience for arguments that Trump abused his power by playing around with federal money. 

Nearly one-third of the Senate sits on the Appropriations Committee. Under the thumbnail-sized photos of the panel's members on the Appropriations Committee website, in the lower right-hand corner, sits a  quotation that refers to the source of their power: “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in consequence of Appropriations made by law.” It is from Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution.

1104d ago / 8:51 PM UTC

Jerry Nadler to take up Democratic arguments next

Rep. Jerry Nadler will take over Democratic arguments from Schiff when the Senate trial resumes shortly.

Some background on Nadler: As the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, he wrote the impeachment articles against Trump based on Schiff's investigation report. Nadler also led hearings into former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's 2016 meddling. Nancy Pelosi noted that Nadler served as the top Democrat on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties for more than a dozen years.

Who are the seven House Democrats in charge of prosecuting the case against Trump?

1104d ago / 8:07 PM UTC

Schiff gives impeachment trial version of CliffsNotes with testimony clips

Rep. Adam Schiff is deploying quick, made-for-TV clips to punctuate his points — and to try to undermine the president’s expected defense — in his opening argument, much like an impeachment trial version of the CliffsNotes study guides.

Schiff played a short clip of Bill Taylor, the former top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, who described a conversation he had with a Ukrainian aide.

“Also, on July 20th, I had a phone conversation with Oleksandr Danylyuk, President Zelenskiy’s national security adviser, who emphasized that President Zelenskiy did not want to be used as an instrument in a U.S. re-election campaign,” Taylor said in one of the testimony clips played on the Senate floor on Wednesday.

“Remember that conversation when counsel says Ukraine felt no pressure to be involved in a U.S. re-election campaign,” Schiff said.

1104d ago / 7:59 PM UTC

And the first senator who appears to have dozed off on Wednesday is ...

1104d ago / 7:57 PM UTC
1104d ago / 7:54 PM UTC

'That means you, Lindsey!' Senators asked to silence their phones

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, posted a behind-the-scenes photo to her Instagram page showing the cellphone cubby in the GOP cloakroom. Attached to the sign that tells senators to silence their phones is a sticky note that reads, “That means you, Lindsey!" — apparently addressed to Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

The photo has since been deleted from Murkowski's account.

Image: A now deleted photo posted to the Instagram of Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Jan. 22, 2020.
A now deleted photo posted to the Instagram of Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Jan. 22, 2020.via Instagram
1104d ago / 7:36 PM UTC

GOP senator explains why milk is allowed in the chamber (and other snack and beverage mysteries)

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., shed some light on the senators' limited snack and beverage situation in a Q&A with NBC News. A gastroenterologist, Cassidy explained why he thinks an obscure Senate rule allows only water or milk on the floor of the chamber. (Spoiler alert: Coffee is also available.)

Q: Why milk in the chamber? 

A: “It was thought to be a treatment for peptic ulcer disease in the '50s, and there was no medicines for peptic ulcer disease, but people would drink milk. And so the senators were allowed to drink milk because they had ulcers.”

Q: Have you ever had a glass of milk on the floor?

A: “Of milk, on the floor? I haven’t. You know, I might try it at some point. But they have food back there, so you can go back there and get snacks if you’re really hungry.” 

Q: Still or sparkling? 

A: “Yeah, they have sparkling water, too.”

Q: The dreaded cloakroom coffee 

A: “There’s coffee, but it’s miserable coffee. ... I mean, it’s like, you would wish it on a Democrat, but no one else — just joking. So you eat chocolate or something to keep you awake.” 

Q: Why can’t senators just ask for better coffee?

A: “We’re not prima donnas. Most folks are just kind of glad to get what you want, you know what I’m saying? I suppose we could’ve asked, but I mean, it’s just awful. It’s three days old.”