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.
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Collins: 'Not true' GOP senators risked heads 'on a pike' if they vote against Trump
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
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
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.
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
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
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.'"
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."
Engel blasts State Dept. over Yovanovitch threats
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.
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.
Behind the scenes: How the Democratic House managers prepped their trial presentation
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.
Sekulow says Saturday will be 'kind of a coming attractions' for defense's case
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
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'
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
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
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)
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.
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
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.
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.
Schiff's closing: 'You can’t trust this president will do what’s right for this country'
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.
'A testament to cowardice': Vindman's attorney responds to Blackburn tweet
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.
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
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
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?
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)
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
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 following whatever Mitch McConnell tells them, who does whatever Donald Trump tells them and we don’t have witnesses," he said. "I think that speaks for itself."
Brown said he wants to see people who were in the room with the president who can testify first-hand about what they saw. Nadler, the House Judiciary chair and one of the seven impeachment managers, has called the trial a cover-up for not having key witnesses testify.
What they're reading and other ways senators are coping with Thursday
As the trial arguments stretched through the day, so did some of the senators, while others busied themselves by catching up on their reading lists.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., read a hardcover book — “Resistance (At All Costs): How Trump Haters Are Breaking America” by Kimberley Strassel (whom Trump recommended for the Pulitzer Prize), according to her press secretary — and earlier in the day was underlining passages. A copy of Victor Davis Hanson’s “The Case for Trump” was visible beneath it.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, had several books piled up on his desk, though he was busy taking pages of notes. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, sat with a blanket on her lap.
Elsewhere in the chamber, Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., stood behind his chair for about 20 minutes, while Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., rose for just a quick minute to stretch his legs. Bill Cassidy, R-La. — who had a fascinating explanation for why milk is one of two beverages allowed on the chamber floor — paced in the back of the room as he listened to Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, make the House managers’ case.
Sekulow says White House could use documents it withheld from the House last year
Sekulow, during the first break Thursday, was asked if the White House would use any of the documents the administration refused to turn over to House impeachment investigators last year in its defense.
"Look, the White House will use, and we will use, appropriate documents that will be admissible to what this record is," he said.
Schiff argues Rudy was always under Trump's direction: 'Not some Svengali'
Schiff, the first manager to speak after the first break ended, is now making the point that while Giuliani was busy maneuvering in Ukraine last year — a picture painted by managers yesterday — he wasn’t doing so on his own motives. Rather, Schiff argued, he was doing so because Trump had directed him to.
"It's important to emphasize that Rudy Giuliani is not some Svengali here who has the president under his control," Schiff said. "There may be an effort to say, OK, 'the human hand grenade here, Rudy Giuliani, it's all his fault. He had the president in his grip and even though the U.S. intelligence agencies and the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee and everyone else told the president time after time this is nonsense, the Russians interfered, not the Ukrainians, that he just couldn't shake himself of what he was hearing from Rudy Giuliani.'"
"You can say a lot of things about President Trump, but he is not led by the nose by Rudy Giuliani," Schiff said.
The point may be designed to preempt any effort by Trump's defense team to pin the whole Ukraine affair on Giuliani, and only Giuliani.
Democratic takeaways on Thursday's presentations so far
The House managers came prepared again, a Democratic leadership aide said. They’re making their case to both senators and the American people: An abuse of power is when the president uses his official power to help himself while hurting the national interest. Even the president’s own lawyers agree that an abuse of power is impeachable, the aide said, adding that the House did a good job explaining the law to the Senate and the American people. From the presentation yesterday, we know the facts. The facts and evidence fit the law. They show an abuse of power, the aide said.
Where are they now? Key players in the impeachment saga
Given we’re hearing so many of these names again on the Senate floor during this impeachment trial, here's a primer on where key players in the saga are now:
Rudy Giuliani: While not a formal part of the president’s impeachment defense team, he’s still part of the broader outside team and appeared on Fox this week to defend the president and discuss the Parnas situation.
Fiona Hill: Her representative says she has returned to the Brookings Institution, where she was a senior fellow on Europe prior to joining the Trump administration.
Yuri Lutsenko: He’s no longer a Ukrainian government official and as of October, had relocated to London, saying he wanted to study English there. In October, Ukraine’s State Bureau of Investigations opened a criminal investigation into Lutsenko on allegations of abuse of power. Like Viktor Shokin (see below), he’s continued to cooperate with Giuliani, giving him a new interview in December while Giuliani was in Europe.
Tim Morrison: He is now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute after leaving his National Security Council position this fall.
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman: We believe Vindman remains detailed to the National Security Council from the Department of Defense, although Ambassador Robert O’Brien suggested in November he would be rotated out at some point. Vindman’s attorney previously has said publicly that he is on that detail until July.
Lev Parnas: He’s under federal indictment in the Southern District of New York on campaign finance charges and on house arrest in Miami (but has received special dispensation to travel for those media interviews he’s been conducting and to meet with his attorneys in New York).
Viktor Shokin: He retired as a prosecutor and is living in Ukraine. Giuliani said in December that Shokin was “not healthy” and had difficulty traveling. He has also been cooperating with Giuliani, giving him an interview in December in Europe.
Bill Taylor: He left his position as the top diplomat in Ukraine on Jan. 1 as well as the State Department.
Kurt Volker: He resigned under pressure during the impeachment saga from his post running the McCain Institute, but he’s remained as senior international advisor at BGR Group, a D.C. public affairs and lobbying shop.
Jennifer Williams: We believe Williams remains on that detail to the vice president’s office from the State Department, a rotation that began April 1. The vice president’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on her current status.
Marie Yovanovitch: The former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine is a senior State Department fellow at Georgetown’s Walsh School of Foreign Service in the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, but is not teaching classes this semester.
ANALYSIS: What a witness vote would tell the Senate about Trump’s use — or abuse — of power
The lesson of this impeachment so far for President Donald Trump and his successors is that there are major strategic and tactical advantages in simply refusing to send witnesses and documents to Congress.
Not only has the president benefited from blocking the evidence itself, but his defenders have argued — compellingly in the minds of some observers — that the House Democrats’ case against him on both articles of impeachment is weaker because they did not wait to see if courts would compel testimony and the production of documents at issue.
But it’s not clear that the president, who has said repeatedly that Article II of the Constitution gives him the authority to do "whatever I want," would abide by either a Senate vote to subpoena witnesses (from another Article I branch) or a Supreme Court ruling requiring their participation (from the Article III branch).
The Senate could find out quickly with a vote to compel testimony from a single witness — or the production of a single document — whether Trump is so convinced of the supremacy of his own office that he would defy Congress in the midst of a trial over whether his use of power is so abusive that it represents a threat to the checks and balances fundamental to the functioning of the republic.
GOP senators turn to 'fidget spinner' toys during trial
Restless senators, sitting through endless hours of the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, now have an outlet: Fidget spinners.
Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., handed out the toys to several of his fellow senators in the chamber before Thursday's trial proceedings got underway.
A fidget spinner is a small toy with a ball bearing at its center that can be used to play with between the fingers. They have become especially popular in recent years and have prompted a collection of YouTube videos on how to perform tricks with them. The fidget spinners, which are sold for a couple of dollars each, have been promoted as toys that can reduce anxiety and help users focus.
Saturday shaping up to be a shorter day
Expect a trial day Saturday, not for senators to be there all day, as source familiar with the plans said.
It will be the first day of Trump's defense team's arguments, and Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., told reporters earlier, “There’s been some talk of maybe a little earlier start, a little shorter.”
McConnell’s office says we likely won’t see an announcement on timing until the end of Friday’s session (which is how the scheduling announcements have been going).
Each day of the trial so far has started at 1 p.m., and ended later in the night.
Trump wasn't bragging about obstructing Congress, White House spokesman says
President Donald Trump wasn't "bragging" about obstructing Congress when he told reporters "we have all the material" in the impeachment case, a White House spokesman said Thursday.
"That's a ridiculous allegation," Hogan Gidley told NBC News' Hallie Jackson.
Trump made the remark while commenting on his impeachment trial after attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. "We're doing very well," he said. "I thought our team did a very good job. But honestly, we have all the material. They don't have the material."
Some Democrats, including Rep. Val Demings of Florida, said the comment proved the second article of impeachment, obstruction of Congress. Demings, one of the House managers prosecuting the case against Trump, described the charge as "covering up witnesses and documents from the American people."
"This morning the president not only confessed to it, he bragged about it," Demings tweeted Wednesday.
Gidley maintained that Trump wasn't bragging about withholding materials, and was saying that the facts favored the White House's side.
"What the president was clearly saying was that the evidence is all on our side. We'll get a chance to present our case in the days ahead, and you'll all see it," Gidley said.
When Jackson noted that Trump said "we have the materials," Gidley responded, "All the evidence, all the material, the evidence to prove the president has done nothing wrong and get a complete and total exoneration."
First 3 women to be impeachment managers say public will see trial as 'rigged' if Trump is acquitted
The first three women to be House presidential impeachment managers in U.S. history told NBC News in an exclusive interview Thursday that if the Senate votes to acquit President Donald Trump, the American public will view it as a "rigged trial."
In an interview with NBC News correspondent Kasie Hunt, Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, and Val Demings, D-Fla., also spoke about the need for witnesses in the trial, and added that even an acquittal won't amount to an exoneration of the president.
"It seems to me, if there's not a full, fair trial with witnesses, he may get an acquittal, but he's not going to get an exoneration," Lofgren told Hunt, in response to a question about whether an acquittal would be promoted by the administration as a victory. "It's going to be seen for what it is, just a rubber stamp to get him off the hook."
Nadler highlights Dershowitz's, Barr's and Graham's past comments on impeachment
Nadler used past comments by Alan Dershowitz, Attorney General Bill Barr and Sen. Lindsey Graham to back the premise that abusing power is an impeachable offense and that a specific crime is not required.
Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor and a member of Trump's legal team, said in a 1998 interview with CNN's Larry King regarding then-President Bill Clinton's impeachment that an impeachable offense "certainly doesn't have to be a crime if you have somebody who completely corrupts the office of president, and who abuses trust and who poses great danger to our liberty. You don't need a technical crime."
Dershowitz disavowed those comments this week, tweeting: "To the extent therefore that my 1998 off-the-cuff interview statement suggested the opposite, I retract it. Scholars learn to adapt and even change old views as they do more research."
Barr wrote in a June 2018 letter to then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein with regard to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation: "The fact that president is answerable for any abuses of discretion and is ultimately subject to the judgment of Congress through the impeachment process means that the president is not the judge in his own cause. ... The remedy of impeachment demonstrates that the president remains accountable under law for his misdeeds in office."
Nadler also played a clip of Graham, R-S.C., a House manager himself in 1999, saying that "high crimes" didn't have "to be a crime."
"I think it's the truth," Graham said. "I think that's what they meant by high crimes. Doesn't have to be a crime. It's just when you start using your office and you're acting in a way that hurts people, you committed a high crime."
When Nadler played that clip to the packed Senate chamber, Graham was absent.
Dems to argue each impeachment charge on consecutive days
A Democratic official working on the impeachment trial said the House managers on Thursday will go through the first article of impeachment, abuse of power, arguing for the constitutional underpinnings of the charge and applying the facts and evidence of the president’s actions to the law and Constitution. On Friday, Democrats will do the same on the second article of impeachment, obstruction of Congress.
Nadler: 'No president has abused his power' like Trump has
Opening up Thursday's arguments, Nadler said "no president has abused his power in this way," calling Trump's push for Ukraine to probe the Bidens as he withheld military aid and a White House meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy "dangerous" and saying it captured "the worst fears of our founders and our Constitution."
Nadler added that Trump is arguing he cannot be removed from office no matter what.
"This president sees no limits on his power or his ability to use his public office for a private gain," the New York lawmaker said, alleging that Trump believes "he can use his power to cover up his crimes," which he claimed put former President Richard Nixon "to shame."
Nadler followed a brief statement from Schiff outlining what the House managers' second day of arguments will encompass.
Schiff said that although some of the information will be repetitive, it will be shown in "new context" and "new light" because of "what else we know."
"So there is some method to our madness," he said.
Executive privilege can't stop John Bolton from testifying, House manager says
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, one of the House managers presenting arguments in the impeachment trial, said Thursday that the president would not be able to block former national security adviser Bolton from testifying before the Senate.
"Executive privilege cannot be used to prevent a witness who is willing to testify from appearing, and certainly not one who no longer works in government. It’s not a gag order," the California Democrat tweeted along with a link to an NBC News story on Republicans predicting a fight over the issue.
Trump has repeatedly suggested he might assert executive privilege if Bolton is called to testify.
"There are things that you can't do from the standpoint of executive privilege. You have to maintain that,” Trump said earlier this month. "You can't have him explaining all of your statements about national security concerning Russia, China, and North Korea — everything — we just can't do that."
Bolton's lawyer has said his client has relevant information about Trump's dealings with Ukraine, and Bolton has said he'd be willing to testify if subpoenaed by the Senate.
A senior administration official told NBC News this week that it would be "extraordinary to have the national security adviser testifying about his communications directly with the president," and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Bolton's testimony could lead to a legal fight that would temporarily pause the trial.
Lofgren maintained there is no legal rationale that would block Bolton from being able to take the witness stand.
"Bolton has a right to testify if he wants to," she wrote.
Graham: I won't be voting for any witnesses
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Thursday that he's not voting for calling witnesses in the impeachment trial.
"The country needs a break from this," he told reporters. "We're going to listen to the case. And then we're going to vote."
Of the witnesses that some Republicans want to hear from, Graham said that can be dealt with "outside impeachment."
Key moderate Republicans 'offended,' 'stunned' after Nadler accuses senators of 'cover-up'
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.”
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.
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.
Sen. Murphy: 'I don't support bringing in Joe Biden or Hunter Biden'
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."
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.
Trump tweets against the trial and 'Shifty Schiff'
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."
After trial adjourns, Graham and Schiff spotted shaking hands
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
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.
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.
'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.
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.
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.
Lofgren suggests Pence hiding testimony of key aide
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.
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."
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
And they're back!
The dinner break is over, the proceedings have resumed, and Schiff is back at the lectern.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jeffries zeroes in on Trump's request for 'a favor' on July 25 call
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., who took over after Demings, is using his time at the lectern to revisit and re-emphasize the significance of what occurred on the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelenskiy.
"The president claims that his call was perfect. Nothing can be further from the truth,” Jeffries said. “The call is direct evidence of President Trump's solicitation of foreign interference in the 2020 election as part of a corrupt scheme."
Jeffries went on to read selections from the transcript of the call, offering analysis along the way.
Seizing on Trump’s saying that “I would like you to do us a favor, though,” — and Trump’s mentions of Crowdstrike and the Bidens that followed — Jeffries slammed the president for trying to net a “personal favor.”
"On the July 25th call, Mr. Trump could have endeavored to strengthen the relationship with this new Ukrainian leader. Instead, President Trump focused on securing a personal favor,” Jeffries said.
“He wanted Ukraine to conduct phony investigations designed to enhance his political standing and solicit foreign interference in the 2020 election,” he added.
Demings argues Oval Office meeting was part of pressure campaign on Ukraine
The House impeachment managers are clearly taking turns tackling specific elements of the case they're building against Trump.
After Crow wrapped up more than 45 minutes of remarks focused exclusively on the hold on military aid to Ukraine, Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., took over and announced, “Now I want to talk to you about the White House meeting that President Trump offered to President Zelenskiy during their first phone call in April.”
Citing the November testimony of Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Demings said, “It became clear that President Zelenskiy would not be invited to the Oval Office until he announced the opening of investigations that would benefit President Trump's re-election.”
“During his testimony, Ambassador Sondland stressed that it was a clear quid pro quo,” she said.
Sondland, in fact, was unambiguous in saying that Trump, through Giuliani, attempted a quid pro quo under which a White House meeting for Zelenskiy was conditioned on him making a public statement announcing investigations into Burisma — the Ukrainian gas company that Hunter Biden joined as a board member in 2014 — and a conspiracy theory about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.
'Where were you on July 25?': Crow focuses on Ukraine military aid freeze
After roughly 20 minutes, Garcia stepped away from the microphone and Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., took over.
Focusing almost entirely the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelenskiy that prompted House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, Crow asked the chamber: “Where were you on July 25, 2019? It was a Thursday. Members of the U.S. Senate were here in this chamber. On July 25, across the Atlantic, our 68,000 troops stationed throughout Europe were doing what they do every day, training and preparing to support our allies and defend against Russia.”
In stark terms, he went on to outline the importance of the military aid to Ukraine — and the significance of the argument (at the center of Democrats’ case) about why the White House withheld it.
“While our friends were at war with Russia wearing sneakers, some without helmets, something else was happening. On July 25, President Trump made a phone call. He spoke with Ukrainian President Zelenskiy and asked for a favor.”
“And on that same day,” Crow continued, “just hours after his call, his administration was quietly placing an illegal hold on critical military aid to support our friends."
The view from Trump's legal team
Here's how things look from where Trump and his legal team sit:
What does Trump's defense team think about the opening arguments from the House managers?
Get to it, basically. The defense team is trying to frame the Democrats' arguments as repetitive and drawn out. But here's something to watch: Jay Sekulow, in response to a question from NBC News, dodged when asked about something Democrats have seized on — the president's comments in Davos this morning that "we have all the material. They don't have the material." Democrats say that is basically the "obstruction of Congress" quiet part out loud.
What's Trump doing?
The president is still en route back from Zurich, and has tweeted or retweeted well over a dozen times since he went wheels up. Allies who have spoken to him say he is "resolved," with Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., saying "he wants to get this over with," like most Americans. We're expecting Trump to return to the White House later tonight.
What do we know about the defense team's opening arguments?
Confirming our reporting about the need for responsiveness to House arguments, Sekulow told reporters that the defense argument will be a "combination" of "aggressively" challenging the case House Democrats are putting forward while also making the affirmative case as well. It's partly why Sekulow says he "can’t make any determinations to how long our proceedings will go." The signals have been that a full 24 hours may not be needed, with attorney Robert Ray signaling that's “more than sufficient time” to make the case. But sources keep stressing the element of unpredictability and are wary of divulging too much by way of strategy in the event things change on the fly.
Where does any Bolton testimony stand?
The White House would most likely move to invoke executive privilege if senators were to vote to call witnesses like John Bolton. And Schumer declared any talk of a reported Biden-for-Bolton witness trade "off the table." The president’s stated desire to have Bolton testify should be treated with caution, as he’s talked about having officials do this before only to have testimony fail to materialize. And even when the president says he wants to see these officials (like Bolton, Mulvaney, Perry) speak, he follows it up immediately by explaining why that might not be a good idea because of concerns over privileged or sensitive conversations. If executive privilege is, in fact, invoked, it would almost certainly put a pause on the impeachment trial for an as-yet-undetermined period of time.
Schumer says impeachment witness trade is 'off the table'
Schumer told reporters Wednesday during a brief recess from the trial that he wouldn’t entertain a deal with Republicans in which Democrats secure witness testimony from someone like former national security adviser John Bolton in exchange for someone like Hunter Biden.
Asked whether he would be open to a witness trade, Schumer said: "No. I think that’s off the table."
In recent weeks, there’s been a debate over whether both parties could negotiate witness testimony like a trade.
Former Vice President Joe Biden was asked about such a proposition while campaigning in Iowa on Wednesday.
As part of an extended answer in which he defended his son but noted he’s acknowledged poor judgment, Biden said, "We're not going to turn it into a farce, into some kind of political theater."
Senate GOP whip: 'It's certainly not a cover-up'
Sen. John Thune, the chamber's majority whip, said Wednesday '[i]t's certainly not a cover-up" in response to Rep. Jerry Nadler's late-night suggestion that Republican senators are doing just that for Trump by refusing to call former national security adviser John Bolton to testify — comments that in part drew the admonishment of Chief Justice John Roberts.
Thune, R-S.D., said when asked about Nadler's accusation, "that's the language [they] are using, I think that's very poll-tested language, but that's a political argument that the Democrats are making. It's certainly not a cover-up. We've got a full impeachment hearing going on."
Thune said the Senate would probably get to a decision on whether to call witnesses after the arguments are finished sometime next week. He added that he thought Nadler's comments were "not helpful to their cause, frankly, because a lot of our members believe it was a partisan process coming out of the House, and I think that the tone yesterday in many respects reinforced that."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters that if he were Trump, he wouldn't cooperate with Democrats "at all" because they are "on a crusade to destroy this man" and, he said, have run an unfair, partisan process.
"So to my Democratic colleagues, you can say what you want about me, but I'm covering up nothing!" Graham said. "I'm exposing your hatred of this president to the point that you would destroy the institution."
"[W]hen it comes to replacing this president, nine months-plus from the election, you've got an uphill battle with me," Graham added, "because I really do believe that the best person, group of people to pick a president are voters, not a bunch of partisan politicians."
Garcia continues argument centered on Rudy's involvement in Ukraine
After speaking for just over 20 minutes, Nadler ceded the lectern to Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, who continued the focus on Giuliani’s involvement in Ukraine — and Trump’s interest in it.
"For this campaign to be truly beneficial to his boss, President Trump, Giuliani needed access to the new government in Ukraine. He dispatched associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, to try to make inroads with the Zelenskiy team,” Garcia said.
"As Giuliani and his associates worked behind the scenes to get access to the new leadership in Ukraine, President Trump was publicly signaling his interest in the investigations," she added, citing (and then playing a clip of) a May 2 interview with Trump on Fox News.
Moments later, she quoted from a May 9 New York Times interview with Giuliani in which he admitted to planning trips to Ukraine to push for investigations that would benefit Trump.
"That's it, right there," Garcia said after reading from the story. "Giuliani admitting he was asking Ukraine to work on investigations that would be very, very helpful to the president."
"He was not doing foreign policy. He was not doing this on behalf of the government. He was doing this for personal interest of his client, Donald J. Trump," Garcia said.
Jumping right in, Nadler begins testimony with Yovanovitch details
Nadler wasted no time in jumping into a central argument behind the impeachment articles: that Trump’s dealings in Ukraine were aimed primarily at cheating in the 2020 election.
“Please remember that the object of the president's Ukraine scheme was to obtain a corrupt advantage for his re-election campaign,” Nadler said. “As we will show, the president went to extraordinary lengths to cheat in the next election. That scheme begins with the attempt to get Ambassador Yovanovitch, quote, 'out of the way,' unquote.”
Nadler peppered his remarks with clips from the House testimony from Marie Yovanovitch, the ousted U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, and George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state who worked on Ukraine and several other countries, that focused largely on Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani’s role in the Ukraine affair.
According to Yovanovitch, whose account is backed up by many witnesses in the inquiry, Giuliani seized on Ukrainian disinformation that she'd been badmouthing the president and was blocking corruption investigations to orchestrate a broad smear campaign against her that culminated in her being fired.
Skittles, milk and Sudoku: What senators are doing during arguments
As the arguments continue, senators seem a bit restless on the floor.
Tom Cotton was on his second glass of milk since they resumed around 4 p.m.
Richard Burr, across the aisle, noticed the milk and also asked for a glass
Meanwhile, Rand Paul was spotted with a hidden crossword puzzle in his papers. There also appeared to be a Sudoku game on the page.
Joni Ernst was eating skittles and had a blanket to keep warm.
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.
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?
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.
And the first senator who appears to have dozed off on Wednesday is ...
'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.
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.”
Schiff: Putin's and Trump’s Ukraine narratives look very similar
Schiff claimed that when the president asked about “CrowdStrike” and “the server” in his call with Ukraine’s president, he was repeating Russian disinformation.
“That’s a Russian propaganda conspiracy theory, and here it is being promulgated by the president of the United States,” Schiff said.
Schiff noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin pushed the theory himself as early as February 2017, when he said publicly that Ukraine had boosted Clinton in the 2016 election.
Schiff also played a clip of the sworn House testimony of Russia expert Fiona Hill, who condemned the Ukraine conspiracy theory as a “fictional narrative” advanced by Russian intelligence.