The Democratic House managers used their final day of arguments on Friday — the fourth full day of President Donald Trump's impeachment trial — to make their case that President Donald Trump obstructed Congress in denying them witness testimony and documents.
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Highlights from the Senate trial
- Democrats finished hours of arguments in which managers called Trump a "dictator" and a danger to the nation with a plea to the Senate: "Give America a fair trial, she's worth it," lead House manager Rep. Adam Schiff said.
- The White House is set to begin laying out Trump's defense Saturday morning.
- "Get rid of her": A voice appearing to be Trump's is heard on tape demanding Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch's ouster.
- Schiff warned his fellow lawmakers that "the next time, it just may be you" who Trump targets.
- Democratic House manager Rep. Val Demings says the evidence is "pretty painful" for senators.
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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.
Democratic House manager says the evidence is 'pretty painful' for senators
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?
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.
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?
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.