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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.

Trump's defense says Ukraine felt 'no pressure.' Dems say how could Ukrainian leaders assert otherwise?

Purpura presented a key part of Trump's defense early on Saturday, saying Zelenskiy and his top aides said publicly that the Ukrainian president felt no pressure in his July 25 phone call with the president.

Purpura said such an assertion from Ukraine amounts to case closed, saying a judge would "toss" such a case based on that evidence. He added that the Democrats are essentially calling these Ukrainian officials untruthful.

Of course, Democrats have argued that Ukrainian officials had to say such publicly, because if they said Trump pressured them, it would almost certainly result in Ukraine facing negative consequences.

"They will also make the argument Ukraine thinks the call was perfect and they said there was no pressure," Schiff said in his closing argument. "That really means Ukraine knows it's beholden to us for aid. Ukraine still hasn't gotten into the door of the White House."

"Ukraine knows if they acknowledge they were shaken down by the president of the United States, the president of the United States will make them pay," he continued. "So when you hear them say Ukraine felt no pressure that's because [Zelenskiy] doesn't want to call him a bad name. You well know why because they need America. The framers did not expect you to leave your common sense at the door."

'I hope they'll make it public': Parnas's lawyer says he turned over Trump recording to House Intel

Dartunorro Clark

Lev Parnas's attorney Joseph Bondy told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow that he has turned over a 2018 recording of President Donald Trump appearing to order the firing of former Ukraine Amb. Marie Yovanovitch to the House Intelligence Committee as of Friday evening. 

Bondy said that he turned over the tape to the panel, which took the lead on the impeachment inquiry, and wants them to make it public because it could help his client's case. 

"I hope they'll make it public," he said. "I think it's of critical importance that we hear the evidence. I think that's the best was we have to ensure our chances of having a fair trial, real trial if you will." 

MSNBC has heard portions of the recording, which was first reported by ABC News. 

Bondy said that he and his client are not the source of ABC's story.

Collins: 'Not true' GOP senators risked heads 'on a pike' if they vote against Trump

Haley Talbot

During Schiff's closing remarks the chamber was almost entirely full expect for three empty seats on the Republican side. The room was very engaged with Schiff's remarks— many never breaking their gaze. 

When Schiff mentioned the CBS report that said Republican senators were told their heads "will be on a pike" if they vote against Trump, Collins said "that’s not true" fairly loudly multiple times and shook her head vigorously. 

The floor was almost completely captivated by Schiff, especially during the emotional family stories, with no one taking notes or reading.

Later, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, called the story "baloney."

"It's hard to keep an open mind when there's so much baloney being thrown at you," she said.

Schiff wraps: 'Give America a fair trial, she’s worth it.'

Schiff concluded Democrats' opening arguments on Friday night, appealing to the senators' faith in American ideals and urging them to consider this trial's place in history and the world.

Schiff said he believed this trial was "a moment when our democracy was gravely threatened and not from without from within. Russia too has a constitution. It’s not a bad constitution, it’s just a meaningless one."

He argued that America is a beacon of democracy and fairness around the world while suggesting the outcome of this trial could threaten it.

"From all over the world, they look to us — and increasingly, they don't recognize what they see," Schiff said. "Americans get a fair trial — and so I ask you, I implore you. Give America a fair trial. Give America a fair trial. She’s worth it."

Dem senator: GOP senators will 'be haunted' by the truth

Haley Talbot

A number of senators spoke to reporters during the dinner break about what they’ve witnessed so far today. Some Republican senators took aim at the House managers— in particular, Nadler's "dictator" comment seemed to strike a nerve.

"Nadler's disposition and tone throughout this entire process, I don't think, it doesn't reflect well on the House process," said John Thune, R-S.D. "I mean I think it's been very partisan and he's got a very partisan tone which is carried over into the, into the Senate, and so it's, you know, it probably doesn't matter to that many people in this room, because everybody kind of knows what they're dealing with there but I don't think it probably helps them with the American public."

"I feel like I'm, like, the prop in the longest political commercial that's ever been produced," said GOP Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri. "Did y'all get that?”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn, said that his Republican colleagues will "be haunted" if they keep "refusing to see the facts."

He said they "have to understand the truth will come out sooner than they think, and they're gonna be haunted by it, because they'll have to justify refusing to see the facts that are fully available to them and witnesses and documents and that's going to be a pretty tough burden for them to carry into this election."

Schiff says Trump defense will be ‘Obama did it’

Schiff attempted to preview some of Trump’s potential defenses, seeking to debunk the various arguments as he went along. 

"I expect you’ll hear the argument Obama did it! Obama did it. Now that may take several different forms, but the form of Obama did it I’m referring to is Obama also held aid. I think that argument is an insult to our intelligence," Schiff said, pointing to how then-President Obama withheld aid during Egypt’s revolution.

"You will hear the call was perfect, you’ll hear the call was perfect. Now I suspect the reason they will make the argument the call was perfect is that because the president insists they do," he said. "I don’t think they really want to have to make that argument — you wouldn’t either. But they have a client to represent so they will make the argument the call was perfect."

He continued: "And they will also make the argument Ukraine thinks the call was perfect, Ukraine says there was no pressure. What that really means is Ukraine wants a future. Ukraine knows it’s still beholden to us for aid. Ukraine still hasn’t gotten through the door of the White House. Ukraine knows that if they acknowledge that they were shaken down by the President of the United States, the President of the United States will make them pay."

Schiff recalls Trump's ire when he mocked Ukraine call

Dartunorro Clark

Mitch Felan

Dartunorro Clark and Mitch Felan

Schiff, as part of his closing remarks, said that Trump and his allies haven't seemed particularly invested in answering the gravity of the charges the House has laid out against the president — choosing instead to attack the process and the Democratic House managers, including himself. 

He then recalled a moment that Trump revisits often — when he parodied Trump's phone call with Ukraine's president while chairing a hearing of the House Intelligence Committee last September. 

"I discovered something very significant by mocking the president and that is for a man who loves to mock others, he does not like to be mocked. As it turns out, he's got a pretty thin skin. Who would have thought it?” Schiff said. “Never mind that I said I wasn't using his words before I said, and I wasn't using his words after I said it, and I said I was making a parody of his words — 'It's an outrage! He mocked the president, that Schiff! Terrible!'"

Trump has said Schiff should resign and be investigated for his mocking interpretation of that July phone call, in which Trump asked a foreign leader to look into the Bidens, as well as a conspiracy involving the 2016 election.

"He is a sick man!" Trump tweeted last September.  

Alex Moe

Schiff wraps Democrats’ case: 'That has been proved'

Schiff read through the articles of impeachment on Friday night, arguing that the managers had proved each element with the refrain 'that has been proved.'

“President Trump solicited the interference of a foreign government in the 2020 election," he began. "That has been proved."

Schiff says he’ll be the last speaker tonight

Looks like tonight could be an early night for impeachment watchers, as manager Schiff says he’ll be the last speaker tonight.

"I'm tired! I don't know about you but I'm exhausted,” he said.

Schiff joked that he was hoping to keep things short tonight, the conclusion of House Democrats' case against the president.

"To be immortal, you don’t need to be eternal."

Democrats' top lines

Alex Moe

A Democratic staffer working on the impeachment trial lays their case out as follows:

  • Democrats made an overwhelming, compelling and airtight case — the evidence is absolutely incriminating, the facts are uncontested.
  • It’s clear that the President is an ongoing threat to our national security and the upcoming elections. That’s why he must be removed.
  • House Managers made a direct appeal to the Senators to consider the lasting impact of the President’s actions on our democracy, constitutional framework and Congress’ ability to exercise oversight of the executive branch. 
  • Americans overwhelmingly want a fair trial. All trials include documents and witnesses – in this case, the hundreds and hundreds of pages of documents and dozen witnesses the President has blocked.


It's baaaack: Tom Cotton's purple fidget spinner makes a reappearance

Deepa Shivaram

Alex Moe

Deepa Shivaram and Alex Moe

Milk is out. Fidget spinners, still in!

Just when you thought the demise of another recent quirk of the Senate — fidget spinners — was imminent, Tom Cotton has breathed new life into the use of the toy on the Senate floor.

The Arkansas Republic was spotted Friday evening with his purple fidget spinner, which he had put into use Thursday during arguments but which disappeared along with the other senators' fidget spinners for most of Friday.

Rather than the packets of paper and binders that occupy most senators’ desks, Cotton just had a few sheets in a manila folder. Arriving a little late after the afternoon recess, he kept checking something in his inner jacket pocket, and later brought out the fidget spinner.

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. — who also started playing with a blue fidget spinner as he sat behind his desk — had handed out the popular toys to several of his fellow senators in the chamber on Thursday. He said Friday he'd passed them out because they "are just an obvious way to keep people awake.”

Also of note: Water seems to be the beverage of choice (that is, of the two possible choices) on the floor on Friday, with nary a glass of milk to be found. That's in stark contrast to a couple of days earlier, when some senators were spotted downing the dairy product (Cotton drank at least two glassfuls).

ANALYSIS: Impeachment managers have trigger man and motive. GOP has the votes.

Democrats believe they have more than a smoking gun in President Donald Trump's impeachment trial. They have a trigger man, they have a motive and they have a record of the key moment.

What they would like more of — but do not believe would be necessary in a jury trial — is access to documents they know exist and witnesses close to Trump that they believe would further support the case for removing him from office.

"This is airtight," said a person familiar with the prosecution, who noted that all of the witness testimony obtained during the House investigation corroborated a long campaign by top Trump lieutenants to effect the president's Ukraine plan. "What [we] don't have is someone saying, 'I helped orchestrate that months-long effort.'"

Read the full analysis.

Nadler: Trump 'is a dictator'

Nadler had harsh words for the president during his Friday remarks: He's a dictator.

"He's the first and only president ever to declare himself unaccountable and to ignore subpoenas backed by the Constitution's impeachment power. If he is not removed from office, if he is permitted to defy the Congress entirely, categorically, to say that subpoenas from Congress in the impeachment inquiry are nonsense, then we will have lost — the House will have lost, the Senate will certainly have lost — all power to hold any president accountable," Nadler said. "This is a determination by President Trump that he wants to be all-powerful; he does not have to respect the Congress, he does not have to respect the representatives of the people. Only his will goes. He is a dictator. This must not stand and that is why — another reason he must be removed from office."

Trump isn’t the first president to fight subpoenas, but he has made unprecedented comments about the reach of his own executive authority.

Engel blasts State Dept. over Yovanovitch threats

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., said in a statement Friday that the State Department has failed to meet a deadline to turn over documents related to a potential threat to the security of former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch last year.

"I have serious concerns that the security of an American ambassador and an American embassy were compromised. When she was called in the middle of the night and told to get on the next plane out of Ukraine, Ambassador Yovanovitch was warned, 'this is about your security'," he said. 

Engel said that he would use certain tools to obtain the answers, which could include a congressional subpoena. 

"I want to know what the State Department knew about it then and what actions have been taken. I’ll use all the tools at my disposal to get the answers I’m seeking from the department," he said. 

There has been renewed attention about Yovanovitch's security after House Democrats released text messages showing Giuliani associate Lev Parnas appearing to discuss the whereabouts of the then-Ukraine ambassador with a Republican congressional candidate, Robert Hyde. It's unclear whether they were actually surveilling Yovanovitch, though.

Democrats hope they persuaded these Republicans to back impeachment witnesses

The House managers are finishing up their opening arguments in their case against President Donald Trump — but it's still unclear whether they'll be able to present any new evidence.

"Every day more and more of the public is watching," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Thursday. "I am more hopeful than ever that four conscientious brave Republicans will come forward and tell Mitch McConnell you can't shut this down without witnesses, you can't shut this down without documents."

With the GOP holding a 53-47 majority in the Senate, Democrats would need at least four Republicans to cross party lines to be able to call witnesses or subpoena documents in the third presidential impeachment trial in American history.

Here's who could cross party lines.

Sanders says impeachment puts Biden at political advantage

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., says he believes Trump's impeachment places former Vice President Joe Biden at a political advantage over him.

“Politically, in the last week or so of the campaign, yeah, I think it does," Sanders said in an excerpt of an interview with "CBS Evening News" released Friday. "I mean, he and others, not just Biden, are able to go out, talk to people. That's really important.”

Sanders is one of four senators running for the Democratic presidential nomination who have to be Washington for duration of the trial.

“Obviously, when we had planned out our schedule, trust me, we were not planning to be in Washington this week," Sanders said in the interview. "We had set up a number of town meetings all over the state. We usually bring out good crowds. So it is disappointing to me not to be in Iowa talking to the people there."

When asked, Sanders added he does think the trial is important business "and I am accepting my constitutional responsibility. But what I'm saying, obviously, it's — at a disadvantage."

Giuliani launches 'common sense' podcast, urges impeachment case be dismissed

As Democrats argued in the Senate on Friday that President Donald Trump should be removed from office, the president's personal lawyer launched a podcast to push back against the allegations.

Rudy Giuliani, who wasn't tapped as a member of the legal team representing the president, used his inaugural episode of his show, "Rudy Giuliani Common Sense," to deliver a presentation that sounded like what he would have said at the Senate trial.

"Look at these charges. Neither one of them is a crime," a restrained Giuliani said of the two articles of impeachment against the president, for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Read the full story.

Behind the scenes: How the Democratic House managers prepped their trial presentation

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

Alex Moe

Rebecca Shabad and Alex Moe

Standing in the well of the Senate chamber on the second day of President Donald Trump's impeachment trial, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., played a video clip of a senator reinforcing a key Democratic argument: that a president doesn’t need to commit a crime in order to commit an impeachable offense.

The star of the 21-year-old footage: Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of Trump's most vocal Senate supporters, who during the 1999 trial of President Bill Clinton made the exact opposite point of Trump's current defense team.

Two decades after Graham's stint in that role, the carefully polished multimedia presentation by Democratic House managers has born little resemblance to the analog case Graham labored over. Which isn't surprising, since it's the first presidential impeachment of the social media age.

Read more here.

Sekulow says Saturday will be 'kind of a coming attractions' for defense's case

Frank Thorp Vproducer and off-air reporter

White House counsel Jay Sekulow, during the break, said the defense team will begin Saturday at 10 a.m. ET and speak for three hours.

"I guess I would call it a trailer, kind of a coming attractions, would be the best way to say it," he said.

Graham says he doesn't want to investigate Joe Biden, but he will if he has to

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

Graham on Friday said that he doesn’t want to investigate Biden, but he will if he has to. 

“You know why I don’t want to do it? Because I love Joe Biden,” Graham, a former colleague of Biden’s in the Senate, told reporters during an afternoon break in the trial. 

Graham said it was a conflict of interest to have Biden put in charge of Ukraine corruption efforts as vice president at the same time that his son Hunter was on the board of Burisma. 

“Here’s what I can say: if this was Liz Cheney or Pence’s son doing this in the Ukraine, Adam Schiff would be leading the charge for an investigation of what happened,” Graham said. 

Graham said that no one has investigated the Bidens and said, “I think they should.”

“The Congress will do it if we can’t have an outside entity do it,” he said. “We’re not going to live in a country where only Republicans get looked at.”

He also said that he doesn’t believe either side — the Democratic House managers or the president’s legal team — should be able to call witnesses in the Senate trial.

Biden says Trump 'wouldn't be there' if he wasn't 'trying to go after me'

Kailani Koenig

Rebecca Hankins

Kailani Koenig and Rebecca Hankins

Former Vice President Joe Biden said from the campaign trail in New Hampshire on Friday that he isn't surprised his name keeps getting mentioned on the Senate floor during the impeachment trial.

Asked by NBC News' Mike Memoli about his name coming up a lot during the trial, Biden said, "I'm sure it did. He wouldn't be there if he was not trying to go after me."

Senators face midnight deadline for next week's questions

Jesse Rodriguez

Frank Thorp Vproducer and off-air reporter

Jesse Rodriguez and Frank Thorp V

As the House managers work through their third (and last) day of arguments, senators are already preparing for the question-and-answer portion of the trial that will happen after Trump's lawyers finish their arguments, which are expected to start Saturday.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's office has sent Democratic senators a letter, obtained by NBC News, with guidelines for the questions they will submit, including guidance on what font to use (Times New Roman, 14 point font, which the letter says will be easier for Chief Justice John Roberts to read), and a request to rank questions in the order of priority. 

Democratic senators have until midnight to submit their questions, and Schumer’s office will gather them, organize them thematically and work to avoid redundant questions, according to the letter.

"We will do everything possible to ensure that senators are able to ask as many questions as possible," the letter says. "When necessary, we will seek to combine duplicate questions so that they are 'sponsored' by multiple senators in order to maximize the total number of questions asked and the number of questions each senator is able to offer."

It adds: "We are setting this deadline because we don’t know how much time the presentation by the president’s counsel will consume, so we need to begin work organizing questions this weekend in order to be prepared for the senators’ question period to begin as early as Monday."  

The Q&A portion of the trial is expected to begin Wednesday.

Schiff warns: 'The next time, it just may be you' who Trump goes after

Schiff turned his attention directly to his fellow lawmakers as he explained why the president must be removed.

"It shouldn't matter that it wasn't you" that Trump was trying to investigate, Schiff said. "It shouldn't matter that it was Marie Yovanovitch, it shouldn't matter that it was Joe Biden."

"Because I will tell you something," Schiff continued. "The next time, it just may be you. It just may be you. Do you think for a moment that any of you, no matter what your relationship with this president, no matter how close you are to this president, do you think for a moment that if he felt it was in his interest, he wouldn't ask you to be investigated?"

Graham says he's not feeling well

Frank Thorp Vproducer and off-air reporter

Some have observed Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has been leaving the chamber a number of times during the trial, and he even missed when his name was dropped during Thursday’s session. 

We asked him what he’s been doing: “I have been sick  as a dog, have spent more time in the bathroom than I normally do," Graham said. "If I were you I wouldn't get too close to me. See if I would have known I was coming up I would have stayed to watch. Nobody likes watching me more than me.”


Finally, some sweet news: Toomey gets 700 pounds of chocolate

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., got a special delivery Friday morning after news got out about senators only being allowed to eat candy while on the floor during the impeachment trial: 700 pounds of Hershey's chocolates.

The sweet treats, which arrived at his office in dozens of boxes, will help resupply the Senate candy desk, which Toomey has kept stocked since 2015. 

“This week, there has been a great amount of interest in the candy desk — from inquiring journalists and also hungry senators," a spokesperson for Toomey said. "Thankfully, Hershey’s is sending reinforcements that have just been delivered." 

It has worked out well for senators that Toomey is in charge of the desk, which is located in the back row of the Republican side of the chamber, since the Hershey Co. is headquartered in his home state of Pennsylvania.  

During the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in 1999, Rick Santorum, then a Republican senator from Pennsylvania, ran the drawer, providing senators with York Peppermint Patties. Only water, milk and candy are allowed to be consumed on the Senate floor.

Toomey also provided baskets of chocolates and treats to the Senate press galleries, to help reporters through the long days of covering the trial.

The case of the vanishing fidget spinners (another Senate mystery)


Leigh Ann Caldwell

Frank Thorp Vproducer and off-air reporter

Adam Edelman, Leigh Ann Caldwell and Frank Thorp V

Unlike during Thursday’s arguments, no fidget spinners were spotted in the chamber on Friday, including on the desk of fidget spinner supplier Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.

NBC News is checking to see if they have been banned from the Senate floor.

The absence of the toys is a stark departure from the day before, when restless senators, sitting through endless hours of the trial, were spotted playing with them.

Burr on Thursday had handed out the fidget spinners to several of his fellow senators in the chamber, and was seen playing with a blue one while listening to arguments. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., was spotted playing with a purple one during arguments.

Burr said Friday he'd handed them out because they "are just an obvious way to keep people awake.”

'Get rid of her': A voice appearing to be Trump's heard on tape demanding diplomat Yovanovitch's ouster

A voice that appears to be that of President Donald Trump ordered aides to "get rid" of U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch after two now-indicted Rudy Giuliani associates told him she had been badmouthing him, according to an audiotape reviewed by ABC News.

The network said the tape appeared to include a discussion between Trump and Giuliani associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman at a small private dinner. Trump has denied knowing the pair and dismissed numerous pictures of them together as just photos taken at public events.

NBC News has neither obtained nor heard the recording and cannot verify the authenticity of the ABC report.

Read the full story.

Senate GOP expresses unhappiness in heavily edited 'Groundhog Day' video

Jeffries kicks off arguments for obstruction of Congress article against Trump

Democratic House impeachment managers have turned their attention during Friday’s proceedings — the third and final day of their opening arguments — to the second article of impeachment against President Donald Trump: Obstruction of Congress.

After Reps. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Jason Crow, D-Colo., wrapped up unfinished arguments related to Thursday’s proceedings, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., kicked off the case being made on obstruction.

"At the heart of Article II, Obstruction of Congress, is a simple troubling reality” Jeffries said. “President Trump tried to cheat, he got caught and then he worked hard to cover it up."

"The president tried to cheat, he got caught and then he worked hard to cover it up,” he repeated, for emphasis.

How to keep your spine healthy while sitting on a Senate seat

Glasses of milk, birthday cake, and now this ...

Democrats, presenting case on obstruction of Congress, have some questions for Republican senators

Alex Moe

A Democratic staffer working on the impeachment trial provided the following information on Friday's presentation:

Yesterday, the House managers laid out a powerful case to both senators and the American people: President Trump abused his power to cheat our elections, and in so doing,  jeopardized our national security interest. Today, we’re going to go through the open-and-shut case on President Trump’s unprecedented obstruction of Congress. 

In the face of overwhelming facts and a mountain of evidence, Senate Republicans continue to deflect, distract and distort the truth. The American people and our democracy deserve better. Every Republican senator should answer the following questions at the center of the case against President Trump.  

  • The president refused to produce any documents. At least some clearly should have been produced to Congress. There is no possible claim that they are covered by executive privilege. They are even being produced in FOIA lawsuits. Aren’t you worried that a future president could use the same argument against you in a Senate investigation to refuse to produce any documents?
  • Aren’t you worried that if you do not subpoena documents and witnesses after the opening arguments, that new information will come out at a later that could have been relevant to your decision? Will that make your decision look political?
  • In his own words, the president said he wants a foreign government to investigate his political rival.  If you do not vote to remove him, are you saying it is OK for the president to go right back to doing that? Do you agree that this activity is “perfect” and should continue, especially before the election?

ANALYSIS: Trump's impeachment lawyers undercut DOJ on witness testimony

President Donald Trump can’t keep his story straight when it comes to blocking White House officials from testifying before Congress, and House lawyers asked a federal court to resolve the discrepancy as quickly as possible in a late Wednesday filing. 

Trump’s impeachment trial defense team has said that the House rushed to judgment without waiting for federal courts to decide whether to compel testimony from witnesses who were subpoenaed. But his Justice Department lawyers have told those same federal courts for months that the House didn’t have the right to subpoena the witnesses because the impeachment investigation wasn’t real.

Trump can’t “have it both ways” House general counsel Douglas Letter wrote to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, citing the words of the president’s impeachment counsel on the Senate floor as evidence of the contradiction in a case involving former White House counsel Don McGahn.

Well, it’s worth asking, which is it? Did the House have no power to subpoena the witnesses or did it rush forward without witnesses? This is part of the reason the House felt comfortable impeaching Trump on an obstruction of Congress charge — his strategy appeared to the House Democratic majority to be aimed more at obfuscation.

“In light of President Trump’s argument, it is not clear whether DOJ still maintains its position that courts are barred from considering subpoena-enforcement suits brought by the House,” Letter wrote. “At the very least, President Trump’s recognition that courts should resolve such suits undermines DOJ’s contrary threshold arguments in this case, which seek to prevent the House and its committees from seeking judicial resolution of subpoena-enforcement disputes. The executive branch cannot have it both ways. Because the impeachment trial has now begun, the need for Mr. McGahn’s testimony is more urgent than ever. We respectfully urge the court to rule expeditiously.”

In a second letter to the court, Letter argued that the beginning of the Senate trial should trigger the release to the House of grand jury material from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Image: House Letter on McGahn
Image: House Letter on McGahn

Democratic House manager says the evidence is 'pretty painful' for senators

Emma Thorne

Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., told MSNBC on Friday that the evidence she and the other House managers are presenting is "overwhelming" for many of the Republican senators and is "pretty painful for them."

"I know that some of them are walking out of the room, but, you know, I kind of see it differently. I think when they are presented with either testimony — and we know we've seen one foreign service officer after another, testimony from those career, very dedicated foreign service officers, many of whom have direct knowledge, they were on the call — I think sometimes when the senators walk out of the room, I see it many times as an indication that the evidence is overwhelming for them, that sitting there listening to things being presented in a chronological way, in order, I think it can be pretty painful for them, and I don't necessarily see them walking out of the room to maybe get a little fresh air as necessarily a bad thing.

Demings also said she thought Schiff's closing remarks Thursday night moved those who were listening and that she was "prayerful" that the Senate would call the witnesses the Democrats are seeking. But, she added, Trump himself is the "best" witness to the events that led to his impeachment.

"I just believe, if there are patriots out there, there are people who love and care about this country, there is no way they were not moved  or touched by Adam's remarks," Demings said. "We certainly were, the impeachment managers were."

If the Senate doesn't call witnesses, "and I'm prayerful that we will, the greatest witness that we have in this case, the best witness is the president himself," she added. "The best witness is the president  himself, and listening to his own words, not only in the call record, but even after the call, where he has publicly invited other foreign powers to interfere in our election, that's hard to ignore. The information, again, the evidence that we have in this  case is overwhelming."


What's up with Trump's 'Death Valley' tweet and Saturday's trial plans?

Hallie Jackson

The president is cognizant of the generally lower ratings on weekends, particularly Saturday, when his defense team is set to begin their much-anticipated (for him) rebuttal. That’s created some speculation on whether the defense team will even begin presenting at all tomorrow. A spokesperson for Sen. McConnell’s office told NBC News: “TBD. Will know more as the day goes on. Cautioning everyone to be patient.”

Sources familiar with the legal team say the current thinking is that there will be arguments tomorrow, although truncated. One of those sources suggests the president was mostly venting in his “Death Valley” TV rating tweet this morning, rather than staking out a red line (although if he gets upset enough, you could see the dynamics start to shift).

Still, there is a real awareness of getting something out there in time for Sunday shows and the Sunday papers, especially after Democrats had days to make their case on the floor uninterrupted. In the words of one source, “After three days of lies and mischaracterizations by the Democrats, the president’s legal team is ready to come out swinging.”

On the mechanics: The defense team itself has no authority to unilaterally “cancel” a trial day, although they could certainly just keep it short. Instead, the move would have to come from 51 senators voting to skip Saturday and return Monday.

'Death Valley in T.V.': Trump complains about his trial defense team starting Saturday

President Donald Trump on Friday slammed Democratic House impeachment managers for perpetrating "lies, fraud and deception" and complained that his own legal defense team would have to start their arguments on Saturday — what the president said is called "Death Valley in T.V."

"After having been treated unbelievably unfairly in the House, and then having to endure hour after hour of lies, fraud & deception by Shifty Schiff, Cryin' Chuck Schumer & their crew, looks like my lawyers will be forced to start on Saturday, which is called Death Valley in T.V.," tweeted Trump, a former reality television star known widely for being especially cognizant of how things play on television.

Read the full story.

Trump complains about Saturday impeachment trial: 'Death Valley in T.V.'

Schumer: We have a 'reasonable chance' at witnesses, documents

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., appeared on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe" on Friday and said he is hopeful that the House managers’ case will persuade Republicans on the issue of witnesses and documents.

"Am I certain we’re going to get them? Absolutely not," Schumer said. "But do we have a chance, a reasonable chance, particularly if we keep fighting the case, and they don’t have any good argument against it, which they don’t? Yes, I’m hopeful we can.

"And once you get witnesses and documents, once these eyewitnesses — I mean there was another telling moment there — just excuse me a minute — and that was the graphic and granular discussion of the meeting with John Bolton on the 10th. And it was so  clear that the chief, cook, and bottle washer who knew everything, was the [acting] chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney. It just cried out, why aren’t we listening to him? Why aren’t we hearing what he has to say? So there were some powerful moments that — and you know, when our Republican friends go to sleep and think of the weight of the Constitution on their shoulders, and think history will record them, yeah, I think we got a shot. I do."

What about a trade?

Schumer also said a potential trade between Democrats and Republicans on witnesses has "never really been seriously considered," adding that Republicans have a majority and could call for the testimony of witnesses they're seeking, like Hunter Biden, if they wanted to do so. 

"They have 53 votes. You know why they don’t? Because they know that will just confirm to every American that everything the president is doing, has done in this whole sad saga, everything the president’s lawyers are doing, everything the Republican senators are doing, is just political. They call in Hunter Biden, someone totally unrelated to the charges against the president."

Jeffries: Trump lawyers will try to 'distract' and 'obfuscate'

Jeffries is ready for the next step of the impeachment trial: Trump's defense.

"His lawyers will get up and they will try to distract, they will try to obfuscate, they may even misrepresent things — consistent with what they see from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue," Jeffries told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow on Thursday night. 

He said the managers intend to use the 16 hours of scheduled questioning to poke holes in the president’s attorney’s defense.

What can we expect from the defense team on Friday?

Hallie Jackson

Like the last couple of days, watch for the media blitz during breaks, the aggressive pushback on the impeachment managers’ arguments, and so on. But we’ll also start to tee up to the defense’s opening arguments, which will start (in some form) on Saturday. The president’s allies believe that’ll be a short day with the team getting to the heart of their argument on Monday.

Conversations with sources and public statements by the defense team suggest the president’s attorneys will split the arguments into several buckets, touching on the substance of the articles as well as what they see as the insufficient threshold for impeachment based on the Constitution. That point is essentially the heart of Schiff's closing statement Thursday night where he made the case that the president’s conduct meets the bar for removal because he’s putting his own personal interests above the country’s.

Schiff's closing: 'You can’t trust this president will do what’s right for this country'

Dartunorro Clark

Mitch Felan

Dartunorro Clark and Mitch Felan

Schiff gave an impassioned closing argument on Thursday of the Democrats' case against Trump’s alleged abuse of power. 

In his final speech of the day, Schiff gave a detailed recitation of the facts, arguing that the evidence shows how Trump pressured Ukraine, a vulnerable U.S. ally, by withholding military aid and a White House meeting in exchange for investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden. 

Schiff then said that senators should consider the consequences of not holding Trump accountable and the dangers it could pose to American democracy. 

"How much damage can he do between now and the next election? A lot. A lot of damage,” Schiff said. 

He said that if Trump is not found guilty and removed, Russia or other foreign governments could interfere in the 2020 election. 

"Let's say they start to blatantly interfere in our election again to help Donald Trump," Schiff said. "Can you have the least bit of confidence that Donald Trump will stand up to them and protect our national interest over his own personal interest? You know you can't, which makes him dangerous to this country. You know you can't. You know you can't count on him, none of us can."

Schiff, speaking directly to a packed and attentive Senate floor with every senator at his or her desk or standing in the back, repeatedly stated that Trump cannot be trusted and is inherently self-interested. 

"If right doesn't matter, we’re lost; if the truth doesn't matter, we’re lost," he said. 

Schiff argued that the Ukraine scandal is a part of the president’s pattern of corrupt behavior and not a one-off issue. 

“You can’t trust this president will do what’s right for this country. He will do what's right for Donald Trump,” Schiff said. “The American people deserve a president they can count on to put their interests first.”

He added, "If you find him guilty you must find that he must be removed because right matters, the truth matters, otherwise we are lost."

Schiff appears to do damage control after Nadler's 'cover-up' remark

After Nadler riled up Republicans by claiming that senators who do not support hearing from witnesses and entering documents into the trial would be complicit in a cover-up, Schiff took a different tone during his closing remarks on Thursday.

"I know you have been bombarded with information all day and when you leave this chamber you are bombarded again by members of the press. There is no refuge, I know," he said. "And I just want to thank you for keeping an open mind about all of the issues we are presenting. An open mind for us and an open mind for the president's counsel, that's all that we can ask for."

Schiff then took a page from Trump's book and, as the president has been saying on Twitter for months now, read the transcripts of the July call with Zelenskiy. The content of the call proves Trump abused his power, Schiff said.

Senators appear to be listening intently as Schiff closes the evening

Throwback Thursday? Trump posts Obama photoshop during trial

As his Senate impeachment trial ran late into the night, Trump appeared to be fantasizing about simpler times — his years of complaining (without evidence) that then-President Barack Obama spied on him in 2016. 

He posted a photoshopped image of Obama using a suction cup to scale the outside of Trump Tower — Mission Impossible-style — to spy on a younger-looking version of Trump. 

It's possible, however, he's reading this story from earlier today about the FBI's secret surveillance of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.

'A testament to cowardice': Vindman's attorney responds to Blackburn tweet

Haley Talbot

Haley Talbot and Peter Alexander

Vindman's attorney responded to Blackburn's criticizing him on Twitter:

"Senator Blackburn’s renewed attack on Lt. Col. Vindman reveals her true character — she has failed to follow her oath of impartiality while serving as a juror and she continues to attack Lt. Col. Vindman, a decorated war veteran, by smearing his service to our country and his courageous act of reporting President Trump's misconduct."

The attorney later added, "That a member of the Senate — at a moment when the Senate is undertaking its most solemn responsibility — would choose to take to Twitter to spread slander about a member of the military is a testament to cowardice. While Senator Blackburn fires off defamatory tweets, Lieutenant Colonel Vindman will continue to do what he has always done: serve our country dutifully and with honor.”

Crow's simple argument: There's no alternative explanation

Rep. Crow said Democrats' arguments that Trump committed impeachable offenses boil down to one simple question: how else do you explain it?

"You've heard a lot the last few days about what happened. How do we know that the president ordered the hold to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations that would help his personal political campaign? In other words, how do we know why it happened? We know it because to this day there is no other explanation.”

Crow then began to make his case: “We know it because the senior administration officials including the president's own senior political appointees have confirmed it. And we know it because the presidents own chief of staff said it at a national press conference. And we know because the president himself directed it."


Graham says he'll 'resist' pressure to call witnesses Trump wants

Graham reiterated Thursday evening that he would "resist" pressure to call the Bidens, Schiff, and the whistleblower — the anonymous CIA staffer who in August filed a complaint about Trump's phone call in July with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy — as witnesses in Trump's trial when the issue comes up for a vote. 

Trump told reporters earlier this month that those were among the people he would like to see testify before the Senate. And on Thursday, the president tweeted that Democrats has nixed a so-called "witness trade" because calling the Bidens and the whistleblower, among others, "would be a BIG problem for them!"

Graham said he remained opposed.

"I am not going to give into that pressure. Because I don’t think it will serve the Senate and the country well, there's ways to do this outside of the trial," he told reporters. 

In the past, Graham has suggested that in the interest of keeping Trump's impeachment trial short, the Bidens could be investigated by Senate committees. The former vice president, Trump has alleged, wielded his influence to benefit his son Hunter Bidens’s private-sector work in Ukraine. But despite Trump's continued claims, there's no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of either Biden.

Trump refers to trial as 'impeachment lite' during RNC dinner

Trump on Thursday evening addressed attendees of the RNC's annual winter meeting, which is taking place at his Doral golf resort.

The president didn’t spend too much time talking about his impeachment trial, but he did refer to the entire process as “impeachment lite,” according to two sources in the ballroom. This is a phrase the president has used at recent campaign rallies and he also argued that what he is experiencing now is nothing compared to the “dark days” of Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal.

Apart from that, the president spent most of his lengthy remarks (80+ mins) on all things 2016, reminiscing about his victory and calling up White House counselor and former Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway to the stage for a standing ovation.

Images show senators playing with fidget spinners during trial

Courtroom sketch artist Bill Hennessy depicted Sens. Tom Cotton and Richard Burr with their fidget spinners.

Image: Detail of Fidget Spinner
Detail of a fidget spinner on the desk of Senator Tom Cotton, R-Ariz.Bill Hennessy
Image: Fidget Spinner
Sen. Richard Burr, R-NC., spins a fidget spinner during the impeachment hearing on Jan 23, 2020.Bill Hennessy
Image: Fidget Spinner
Sen. Richard Burr R-NC., spins a fidget spinner during the impeachment hearing on Jan 23, 2020.Bill Hennessy

Just catching up on impeachment news? Here's what you missed today

Democrats on Thursday honed in on their charge that President Donald Trump abused his power, turning to past statements from some of the president's top allies to help make their case on the third day of his Senate impeachment trial.

House prosecutors used old comments from Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Attorney General William Barr and Trump impeachment defense lawyer Alan Dershowitz to bolster their argument that abuse of power is grounds to remove a president — and pointed to Trump's own statements to illustrate his guilt.

If you're just catching up on the news of the day, here's what you missed.

Garcia: 'Inescapable documentary proof' of quid pro quo

“There was a corrupt deal, an Oval Office meeting for investigations. Quid pro quo, this for that. You also saw inescapable documentary proof that completely proves a corrupt quid pro quo,” Rep. Garcia said in remarks after the Senate trial dinner break. 

She argued that the House inquiry depositions offered overwhelming evidence of the president’s wrongdoing and pointed particularly to Ukrainians’ reaction to Trump’s team’s requests.

“Even Ukraine, a struggling new country, knew this was wrong,” she said.

Sen. Blackburn slams Vindman, suggests he's unpatriotic

Alana Satlin

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., criticized Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman on Thursday, suggesting he was unpatriotic for testifying in the House impeachment inquiry. Vindman, a Purple Heart recipient and Iraq War veteran, listened in on the Trump-Zelenskiy call in July. 

He told impeachment investigators that "there was no doubt" what Trump was asking Zelenskiy for.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see where the gain would be for the president in investigating the son of a political opponent," Vindman said during his closed-door deposition last year.

Giuliani teases his podcast

Sally Bronston

Liz Johnstone and Sally Bronston

It truly does seem like everyone has a podcast these days — including, apparently, Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, who has been teasing his for a little while now without a concrete launch date.

"Starting tomorrow we will begin cracking through the Swamp media’s cover-up of TOP level Democrats selling their public office, resulting in multi-millions, in Ukraine and the conspired attempt with foreign officials to 'destroy' the Trump candidacy," Giuliani claimed on Twitter Thursday evening.

House prosecutors have used Giuliani's involvement in Ukraine to underscore their point that if Trump had truly been concerned about corruption as a matter of U.S. policy, his personal lawyer wouldn't have been a central figure in running what impeachment witnesses have described as a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine.

Trial resumes with Jeffries' arguments on alleged Ukraine pressure campaign

The trial resumed at 7:14 p.m.

McConnell said after consulting with Schiff they will be going until around 10:30 p.m. tonight, so they will take a short break around the midpoint.

At 7:15 p.m., Jeffries resumed arguments. He ran through the series of events surrounding Trump's July call with Zelenskiy, reading text messages and call logs that took place on the alleged diplomatic backchannel in Ukraine.

Democrats had Taylor Gourmet sandwiches for dinner (Schumer says he actually had steak and potatoes homemade by his wife), and Republicans had Carmine's Italian food.

"I was a trial judge for 6 years so I made a point of never eating a heavy meal before you go back on the bench in the afternoon,” said Texas Sen. Cornyn. "It was a mix of pasta and meatballs. It’ll be a killer."

"They’re fattening us up," said South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds.

What's Trump up to today?

Hallie Jackson

What's the latest from the defense team? 

Bubbling up tonight: what their opening arguments will look like starting Saturday. Behind the scenes, we continue to hear about the president’s desire to have his broader team aggressively rebut the impeachment managers’ arguments. And officials at the White House have blasted reporters with no fewer than 15 emails over the course of the day trying to make their case.

So where's the president now?

He’s on the ground in South Florida at his Doral resort, getting ready to speak with party bigwigs at the RNC winter retreat. It’d be shocking if he didn’t mention his impeachment trial tonight. Based on new reporting this morning, there’s "huge frustration" on the part of the president and his allies that the House managers still have today and tomorrow to present arguments before the defense can formally begin its rebuttal so it puts a big emphasis on messaging. 

You should expect to see another full-court press from the president’s defense team during breaks, and from his allies in Congress on 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 (though those only took place on Tuesday during the rules debates.)

Jeffries jokes that Congress should 'subpoena the Baseball Hall of Fame' to see who voted against Jeter

There was a brief moment of levity in the chamber just before 6 p.m. as Jeffries told a short story about running into a fellow New Yorker in D.C. The man asked Jeffries if he had heard the “latest outrage.” Jeffries assumed he was speaking about something Trump had done so he asked the man to explain.

“Someone voted against Derek Jeter on his Hall of Fame ballot,” the man replied.

“Life is all about perspective,” Jeffries said. “Perhaps we can all agree to subpoena the Baseball Hall of Fame.” This elicited a big round of laughter from senators on both sides of the aisle.

Weekend impeachment trial to start early, GOP senator says

Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., offered more definitive guidance to the trial schedule for Saturday, when Trump's team is set to begin arguments in his defense.

Thune said proceedings are likely to begin around 9 a.m. ET, though it could be "closer to 8 than 9" or "closer to 9 than 10." 

Thune said he expects arguments to wrap by early afternoon.

"I’d say noon-ish," he said, noting that giving people time to catch flights was a consideration.


Break for dinner (and cake)

Frank Thorp Vproducer and off-air reporter

The trial recessed for a "30-minute" dinner break shortly before 6:30 p.m. There is also cake for Sen. Tom Carper's birthday.

Sen. Brown says 'puppy dog' McConnell, moderate Republicans are 'in lockstep' with Trump

Dartunorro Clark

Dartunorro Clark and Julie Tsirkin

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, excoriated McConnell and moderate Republican senators on Thursday, saying they are doing "Trump's bidding" by excluding key witnesses from the impeachment trial. 

"This is not a real trial, it’s a sham trial, if Senate Republicans — including the moderates — that they’re unwilling to have witnesses," he said. "They can blame Jerry Nadler, they can blame anyone they want, but the Republican rules, McConnell is doing Trump’s bidding."

He added: "I’m sure Trump told him to do this. McConnell is sort of like a puppy dog, follows along, and they refused to have any witnesses. How do you have a real trial without witnesses?"

Brown said he did not think any moderate Republicans would end up supporting Democrats' calls for witnesses.

"All of them are in lockstep sort of follow