President Donald Trump's lawyers began their case in his defense Saturday as the Senate impeachment trial concludes its first week of arguments.
The defense phase of the trial follows three days of arguments against the president from House impeachment managers.
Trump's lawyer Jay Sekulow said Friday that Saturday's arguments, which lasted only about two hours, would be "our sneak preview" of their broader case.
Highlights from the Senate trial
- Trump's defense team attacks credibility of lead House manager Adam Schiff and Amb. Gordon Sondland, invokes Mueller investigation and accuses Democrats of trying to interfere in the election.
- NBC News fact-checks the defense's claims on when Ukraine knew about the aid hold, the comparative amount of European aid to the country, whether Ukraine got the meeting it sought, and whether it interfered in the 2016 election.
- Senate and House Democrats, GOP moderates, respond to Trump team's arguments. Republican Sen. Mitt Romney says he will likely vote for witnesses.
- What happened Saturday and what to expect Monday and Tuesday.
Schiff: 'No exoneration' for Trump without witnesses at Senate trial
Schiff warned Sunday that a Senate trial without additional witnesses won’t translate to an exoneration of the president.
Speaking two days after the House impeachment managers wrapped up their opening arguments, and the day after Trump’s legal team began their defense arguments, Schiff accused the president’s team of trying to convince senators “you don’t need a fair trial” that calls witnesses who had first-hand knowledge of the accusations against the president.
“If they are successful in depriving the country of a fair trial, there is no exoneration,” Schiff said during an exclusive interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“Americans will recognize that the country did not get what the founders intended.”
Trump suggests Schiff will pay a 'price' for pushing impeachment
Trump on Sunday suggested Schiff will pay a "price" for his role in the impeachment saga.
The president posted those comments after writing earlier Sunday that his impeachment "is a massive election interference the likes of which has never been seen before."
Speaking with NBC's "Meet the Press," Schiff, the lead House impeachment manager, said he thought Trump's tweet is "intended to be" a threat to him.
'Insulting and contemptuous': Democratic senators blast Pompeo for attack on reporter
Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and several Democratic colleagues criticized Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday over his attack on the integrity of an NPR reporter who said he berated and cursed at her after she pressed him on why he hasn't defended former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.
“At a time when journalists around the world are being jailed for their reporting — and as in the case of Jamal Khashoggi, killed — your insulting and contemptuous comments are beneath the office of the secretary of state,” the senators wrote in a letter to Pompeo. “Instead of calling journalists ‘liars’ and insulting their intelligence when they ask you hard questions you would rather not answer, your oath of office places on you a duty and obligation to engage respectfully and transparently.”
Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va., Ed Markey, D-Mass., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., joined Menendez on the letter.
GOP senator drafts motions to subpoena Schiff, the whistleblower, Bidens
Trump appears on audio to demand Yovanovitch's ouster without knowing her name
President Donald Trump appears to have asked donors for their assessment of how long Ukraine could survive against Russia and called for ousting the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine without even knowing her name, according to a recording obtained Saturday by NBC News.
The recording is from an April 2018 dinner attended by indicted Rudy Giuliani associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, according to Parnas’ attorney. NBC News has not confirmed that the voices on the tape are of Trump, Parnas and Fruman, but Trump can be seen in early parts of the video. Neither he nor the White House have disputed that the recording is authentic.
Trump, who has asserted publicly he doesn’t know Parnas and Fruman, appears to have spoken at length about Ukraine and Russia with them during the dinner, along with other topics, including cannabis legalization and their natural gas venture.
In the recording, a voice that appears to be Parnas' tells Trump during a conversation on Ukraine that “where we need to start is we got to get rid of the ambassador, she’s still left over from the Clinton administration.” He says the ambassador has been” basically walking around telling everybody 'Wait, he's gonna get impeached, just wait.'"
Trump asks for the ambassador’s name, but both Parnas and another person at the table say they don’t have her name at the front of their memory. Trump says to “get rid of her.”
ANALYSIS: Trump's Senate defense so far echoes his Twitter feed
President Donald Trump’s lawyers provided opening arguments on the first official day of his defense that sounded at times like a public reading of their client’s Twitter feed — a sign of what’s to come as their case moves forward next week.
While Trump has technically turned over his defense to his lawyers, his voice could clearly be heard on the Senate floor this week as they offered the start of their opening arguments, in Trumpian arguments involving many of the same discredited accusations, confusing conspiracy theories, and unrelated events that have been hallmarks of the president's personal defense.
It was a strategy that appeared to be tailored more at pleasing Trump’s base and giving Republican senators in the room help justifying their vote for acquittal — whether the arguments had a factual basis or not — than swaying an undecided audience at home.
Multiple elements of the presentation seemed aimed squarely at the man sitting at the White House, with attacks on Trump’s favorite villains, such as House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and former special counsel Robert Mueller and his investigators.
Democratic aide offers points to counter defense's claims
A Democratic aide working on the Senate trial provided a multi-part rebuttal to the defense team's arguments on Saturday afternoon, some of which follows:
Claim: Zelenskiy and other Ukrainians publicly said they never felt pressured to open investigations.
- Ambassador Sondland testified that on Sept. 1 he personally delivered a message to Zelenskiy’s aide, Andriy Yermak, that Ukraine would not receive the assistance unless Ukraine announced the investigations. It defies logic that Ukraine would not have felt pressure.
- The Ukrainians were repeatedly rebuffed in their request for Zelenskiy to visit the White House, they knew the security assistance was frozen, and Zelenskiy even prepared to give in to Trump’s pressure campaign and make the desired public announcement on CNN.
- In September, Zelenskiy agreed to a CNN interview and planned to announce the investigations. He abandoned the interview only after Trump released the aid.
Claim: Ukraine did not know Trump was withholding security assistance until it was disclosed publicly in late August 2019.
- Defense Department official Laura Cooper testified that her staff received two e-mails from the State Department on July 25 revealing that the Ukrainian embassy was “asking about security assistance” and that “the Hill knows about the FMF [foreign military financing] situation to an extent, and so does the Ukrainian embassy.”
- The former deputy foreign minister of Ukraine stated publicly that top Ukrainian officials, including Zelenskiy’s office, learned of the hold no later than July 30, but were told to keep it confidential.
- Career diplomat Catherine Croft said she was “very surprised at the effectiveness of my Ukrainian counterparts’ diplomatic tradecraft, as in to say they found out very early on, or much earlier than I expected them to.” She got two separate inquiries from Ukrainian officials who wanted to keep it confidential because it would be damaging to their position with Russia if it became public.
- Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman testified that by mid-August, he was getting questions from Ukrainians about the status of security assistance. He testified that “it was no secret, at least within government and official channels, that security assistance was on hold.” He went on to say that, “to the best of my recollection, I believe there were some of these light inquiries in the mid-August timeframe.”
Claim: No witnesses said security assistance was conditioned on the investigations.
- Sondland called Zelenskiy and said if he did not “clear things up in public,” they would be at a “stalemate” and the security assistance would not flow, according to diplomat Bill Taylor's testimony.
- White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said in October that the president conditioned the aid, stating: “Did he also mention to me in passing the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely. He added, "And that’s why we held up the money.”
- Sondland mentioned the quid pro quo for the security assistance to Secretary of State Pompeo in an August 22 email and to Vice President Pence on Sept. 1, and neither of them disputed that understanding.
- Contemporaneous documents corroborate the quid pro quo. For example, in a text message to Sondland, Taylor said: “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign."
Republicans laugh during whistleblower presentation
Several Republican senators were laughing during the whistleblower portion of the defense's presentation, including Cramer, Cotton and Barrasso, who looked at each other and nodded. Schiff was silent during this moment and looked serious, while the rest of the legal team took copious notes. Overall, senators seemed to be paying attention.
Minority Leader Schumer had a binder open on his lap, its open pages showing what appeared to be photos and bios of the White House defense team, when Philbin, the soft-spoken deputy White House counsel, took over the presentation from Sekulow.
To the left of the press gallery, columnist Connie Schultz, who is Sherrod Brown’s wife, sat with Kamala Harris’ husband, Doug Emhoff.
As White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrapped up his remarks at just after noon, the sounds of senators shuffling papers and closing binders filled the chamber, which had the energy of a high school class anticipating the last bell of the school day. Before Majority Leader McConnell even rose from his chair to motion to adjourn, several senators had already made their way to the doors.
Senators seemed happier at the end of Saturday's session compared to the last several days days. Many waved to each other as they left the chamber. Cipollone made his way around the room to chat with a few senators on both sides of the aisle, including Kyrsten Sinema and Lisa Murkowski, as the chamber began to clear out.
Pompeo steps up attacks on NPR reporter, but doesn't deny her account
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday attacked an NPR correspondent who reported that he berated and cursed at her following questioning over Ukraine, claiming “she lied to me” and describing her actions as “shameful.”
“NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly lied to me, twice. First, last month, in setting up our interview and, then again yesterday, in agreeing to have our post-interview conversation off the record,” Pompeo said in a statement. “It is shameful that this reporter chose to violate the basic rules of journalism and decency.”
Pompeo did not challenge the details of Kelly's claims about his statements or demeanor during their conversation.
5 takeaways from Saturday's defense arguments
President Donald Trump's legal team began their defense of the president in Trump-ian fashion on Saturday, charging Democrats were the ones who are trying to interfere in the 2020 election and accusing lead House manager Adam Schiff of being dishonest.
Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow also gave an astonishing explanation for why his client turned to outsiders for his dealings with Ukraine — he doesn't trust his own officials.
Here are five takeaways from Saturday's abbreviated opening arguments in the president's Senate trial, which will continue on Monday.
Trump responds a 'fair minded person' watching defense would see 'how unfairly' he's been treated
Romney says he's 'likely' to vote for witnesses
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, indicated Saturday that he is "likely" to vote to call witnesses in Trump's impeachment trial, but would not commit to doing so just yet.
"I think it's very likely I'll be in favor of witnesses but I haven’t made a decision finally yet and I won't until" arguments on both sides are done, Romney told reporters after the first day of Trump's defense, according to CNN.
Romney's office confirmed his comments to NBC News.
Democrats need four Republicans to vote with them in order to try and call additional witnesses and admit documents House impeachment managers have said are necessary to reveal the full truth of Trump's Ukraine dealings. Other Republican targets for Democrats hopeful of hearing additional testimony include Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, among others.
Democratic House managers respond to first day of Trump's defense arguments
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Saturday after the White House defense team made their arguments that the “most striking” thing to him about their presentation was that they didn’t “contest the basic architecture of the scheme.”
“I think they acknowledge this by not even contesting this. The facts are overwhelming,” Schiff told reporters at a press conference. “The president invited Ukraine to get involved in our election to help him cheat against Joe Biden.”
Schiff said the defense team claimed that the detailed summary of the Trump-Zelenskiy phone call on July 25 made no explicit reference to a quid pro quo or bribery. “That’s not what you would generally see in a shakedown,” he said, explaining that the people involved wouldn’t explicitly say it during such a conversation. Schiff said that the day after that call, Trump asked Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, if Ukraine was going to do the investigations.
Reacting to the defense team's point that Zelenskiy hasn’t said in his public remarks that he felt pressure to engage in a quid pro quo, Schiff said, “as if a country wholly dependent on us is going to admit to being shaken down.”
Schiff said the defense team also claimed that Ukrainians didn’t know that the U.S. military aid was being withheld. “That’s just not true,” Schiff said, adding that they found out about the freeze before even members of Congress.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said during the press conference that the idea that House Democrats, according to the defense team, didn’t call certain witnesses also isn’t true.
“Remember the president gave a blanket order to everyone not to testify,” he said. “Why haven’t they testified? Because the president told them not to testify.”
Responding to the GOP argument that removing a president would overturn the election, Nadler said it’s “nonsense” because impeachment’s purpose is to “deal with dangerous presidents who cheat.”
Schiff added toward the end of the news conference when asked about the whistleblower, “I don’t even know who the whistleblower is.”
'Very effective': Senators react to first day of Trump defense
Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., told reporters that they thought the president's lawyers made a favorable first impression as they departed Capitol Hill on Saturday, while Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, declined to offer an evaluation.
"I thought for the most part, the House managers were effective, and thought the president's attorneys this morning were very effective. They were low key, specific, and I thought they were persuasive so we'll see," Alexander said.
"I thought that they did a good job in presenting the defense for the president," Manchin said. "The thing that I walked away with was, they were very clear in saying there’s not one witness they heard from in the prosecution's case that they made that's had direct contact with the president."
Trump's defense spent time Saturday going after E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland, a witness in the House's inquiry who did, in fact, have direct contact with Trump about the Ukraine dealings that sparked the impeachment inquiry. Sondland noted in his public testimony that the Trump administration would not provide him with access to documents he said would back up some of his assertions. Other witnesses in direct contact with Trump who were subpoenaed as part of the House's inquiry — such as acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney — were blocked by the White House from testifying.
Collins said she has no reaction to the day's arguments. "They just started," she said.
Schumer: Trump's defense team made case for more witnesses, documents
House Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., rebutted Trump's defense team on the first day of their arguments on Saturday, saying they had made the Democrats' case for more witnesses and documents.
"Now, the first point that I would like to make is that the president's counsel did something that they did not intend: They made a really compelling case for why the Senate should call witnesses and documents," Schumer said.
Trump's defense team repeatedly argued that witnesses in the House impeachment investigation did not have firsthand knowledge of the events, and at one point showed a supercut of E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland's various assumptions about the Ukraine matter — although Sondland had spoken with Trump on multiple occasions about the issue and also told House investigators that "everyone was in the loop," referring to top administration officials.
But Schumer argued that this bolstered the call by Democrats and House impeachment managers for witnesses with firsthand knowledge to testify and additional documents to be entered as evidence.
"They kept saying there are no eyewitness accounts, but there are people who have eyewitness accounts, the very four witnesses and the very four sets of documents that we have asked for," he said. "But there are people who do know."
Schumer said those people included acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and his adviser Robert Blair, and former national security adviser John Bolton. "'Why shouldn't we have witnesses and documents here?' I thought,'" the senator said.
Schumer also called out the defense team for claiming there was no due process for Trump in the House impeachment inquiry, but in the Senate process they have that option.
"They believe the president couldn't participate in the House process because it didn't go by the rules of the Constitution and what was required," he said. "Here in the Senate we're doing it exactly as the Constitution requires. Will they participate, or will they find some other excuse?"
Thoughts and threads on Trump defense's opener
White House counsel Pat Cipollone levied a serious accusation right off the bat: that House managers are looking to "perpetrate the most massive interference in an election in American history."
The president's attorney repeatedly hammered the argument that it's American voters — not Congress — who should decide whether the president is removed. This doesn’t speak squarely to the facts of the case, but appears to be more of a political rather than legal argument aimed at the Republicans who are uncomfortable with what the president allegedly did but don’t think it rises to the level of stripping his office.
On the facts
The defense team, as expected, engaged on the facts, arguing that the president "did nothing wrong" in part because the aid ultimately flowed to Ukraine.
But a couple of context checks: On the argument that witnesses did not have direct contact with president, keep in mind the people who would have had direct contact — like Mick Mulvaney, etc. — were blocked from testifying by the White House.
And on the argument Ukraine didn’t know about freeze on aid until the Politico report at end of August, remember that Laura Cooper testified Ukrainian officials knew at end of July. (See NBC News' fact check here.) They also, as we reported, attempted to use House managers’ evidence against them by pointing out other context that they argue was left out.
Conspiracy theory watch
Trump's attorney Jay Sekulow tried to link both Russia and Ukraine to 2016 election interference. That is, in effect, Russian propaganda — and stands in contrast to what FBI Director Chris Wray said to ABC last month: "We have no information that indicates that Ukraine interfered with the 2016 presidential election."
There's a big 'audience of one' factor here
Several parts of the presentation seemed squarely aimed at the man sitting at the White House (who, by the way, acted as his own team’s hype man by tweeting ahead of the start of the hearing to presumably try to boost viewership and goose ratings.) There was the early exhortation to “read the transcripts.” There was the early use of the “Schiff riff” from September, something that has been under the president’s skin for months and serves as another way for the White House team to attack Schiff’s credibility. (Same goes for the Schiff “more than circumstantial” collusion bite from 2017 that was played today.) And there was a lot of talk from Sekulow decrying the Mueller investigation — and we know how the president feels about that.
The defense team, as we've been reporting, is unlikely to go all 24 hours, per Cipollone: “We will finish efficiently and quickly so that we can all go have an election.”
On the rapid response
The typically Monday-through-Friday rapid-response team and war room are fully staffed up Saturday at their Rosslyn headquarters, tweeting away in lockstep with White House social accounts and sharing lots of clips, as would be expected. The rapid response team at the White House has blasted more than a dozen talking points supporting the team’s arguments to a group of reporters.
What you saw today
Cipollone, opening and closing with the broad overview of the team’s case, focusing largely on the election-year argument: that you shouldn’t “tear up the ballots” by voting for removal. Mike Purpura, deputy White House counsel, ticking through a fact presentation on Ukraine. Sekulow presenting on the timeline from Russia through now. Pat Philbin, also a deputy White House counsel, rebutting the Democrats’ obstruction argument and raising due process questions.
What you'll see Monday
Some repetition, given the bigger audience on weekdays. Biden references. Saturday wasn’t the day for that, but Monday almost certainly will be based on what the attorneys have said. Other higher-profile attorneys on the president’s team, like Alan Dershowitz, Ken Starr, etc.
What you'll see Tuesday
Maybe nothing. The defense team might wrap Monday night, as the president’s attorneys were looking at about 10 hours’ worth of arguments total. Big caveat, as always: This could change depending on how arguments go today and how the president’s team feels the Senate is responding.
Remember Gordon Sondland? Trump's defense pokes at his credibility
Trump's defense team put Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador the European Union, directly in its crosshairs on Saturday, seeking to paint him as an unreliable witness.
Sondland, a key House witness who spoke directly with Trump regarding the hold on nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine, testified publicly that there was a quid pro quo with respect to the Ukrainian investigations Trump sought and the official White House visit for Zelenskiy. He also updated his closed door testimony to acknowledge, in light of the testimony of other witnesses, that he remembered telling a top aide to Zelenskiy that Ukraine would not receive U.S. military assistance until it committed to investigating the 2016 election and former Vice President Joe Biden.
"How did Ambassador Sondland come to believe there was any connection between security assistance and investigations?" Purpura said. "Again, the House managers didn't tell you. Why not? In his public testimony, Ambassador Sondland used variations of the words, presume, assume, guess, speculate and belief over 30 times. Here are some examples."
Who is Gordon Sondland? Read more about him
Several Republicans laughed approvingly at the supercut of Sondland's testimony that Purpura then played. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., laughed loudly.
"The Democrats' entire quid pro quo theory is based on nothing more than the initial speculation of one person, Ambassador Sondland," Purpura sad. "That speculation is wrong. Despite the Democrats' hopes, the ambassador's mistaken belief does not become true merely because he repeated it."
Sondland noted in his public testimony that the Trump administration would not provide him with access to documents he said would back up his assertions.
After the trial adjourned for the day, Trump allies pointed to the clip of Sondland as one of the most key pieces of the president's Saturday defense.
"That says it all, folks," Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., told reporters of the Sondland clip.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said the clip showed that Democrats "failed to mention" that Sondland was making presumptions and assumptions.
Sondland, a hotelier, was nominated to the ambassadorship after making a $1 million donation to Trump's inaugural committee.
Schiff responds to Trump team's defense
Fact check: No evidence for Trump defense claim that Ukraine interfered in 2016
"The House managers, over a 23-hour period, kept pushing this false dichotomy that it was either Russia or Ukraine, but not both," Sekulow said, attempting to suggest that Ukraine also interfered in the last presidential election as as part of Trump's defense that his actions with respect to the country were proper and predicated on legitimate national security concerns.
While this argument echoes the president — Trump has repeatedly suggested that the 2016 meddling began in Ukraine while expressing skepticism about what the U.S. intelligence community concluded was a concerted and far-reaching effort by Russia to interfere in 2016 — it's been previously debunked by numerous intelligence and government officials, including Trump appointees.
"We have no information that indicates that Ukraine interfered with the 2016 presidential election," FBI Director Christopher Wray said in an ABC News interview.
White House lawyer argues Dems didn't allow whistleblower testimony, but Schiff explained why they chose not to
Deputy White House counsel Patrick Philbin argued Saturday that Democrats never allowed an inquiry into or testimony from the whistleblower who filed a formal complaint about Trump’s alleged misconduct involving Ukraine, which triggered the House impeachment inquiry.
Philbin pointed to Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson's assessment that the whistleblower had a political bias. But Atkinson, a Trump appointee, said that the whistleblower's complaint was still credible.
"Further although the ICIG's preliminary reviewed identified some indicia of bias of an arguable political bias on the part of the complainant in favor of a rival political candidate, such evidence did not change my determination that the complaint relating to the urgent concern 'appears credible' particularly given the other information the ICIG obtained during its preliminary review," Atkinson wrote.
“At first when things started, it seemed like everyone agreed they’d want to hear from the whistleblower, including Manager Schiff,” said Philbin. “What changed? At first manager Schiff said we should hear the unfiltered testimony from the whistleblower, but then he changed his mind.”
Philbin then played video of an interview Schiff did with MSNBC in which he said that they had not spoken directly with the whistleblower.
“It turns out, that that statement was not truthful,” Philbin said. "His staff had spoken with the whistleblower before the person filed the complaint. ... After that point, it became critical to shut down any inquiry into the whistleblower.”
Schiff explained in his closing arguments Friday night, however, that while he initially wanted the whistleblower to come testify, that was at the time in which the only evidence lawmakers had was the person’s complaint. But then they heard from a first panel of witnesses, he said, and Trump and his allies began threatening the whistleblower, whose life, according to Schiff, was at risk. At that point, Democrats wanted to ensure that the person’s identity was protected.
Senate gavels out after a short opening day for Trump's defense
President Donald Trump's attorneys ended Saturday's argument after just a couple of hours, about an hour shy of what was expected.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell moved to adjourn until 1 p.m. Monday, which is expected to be a longer day of the defense presenting much more of their arguments.
Fact check: Did Ukraine get its meeting, no strings attached?
"The security assistance flowed on September 11 and a presidential meeting took place on September 25, without the Ukranian government announcing any investigations,” Trump attorney Purpura said on Saturday
Indeed, Ukraine’s foreign aid was ordered to be released on September 11, after public reporting about an intelligence community whistleblower complaint that detailed an apparent campaign by the president to strong-arm a foreign leader into announcing investigations that could be politically beneficial to Trump.
The September 25 meeting — on the sidelines of the United Nations, amid political upheaval over the whistleblower complaint that would go on to trigger an impeachment inquiry — was not the meeting Ukraine sought.
A White House meeting was enormously important to Ukraine, former and current diplomats testified to Congress, because it signaled the legitimacy of the new Zelenskiy administration and the crucial partnership between the two countries.
The meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations — where the president espoused conspiracy theories and sought to use Zelenskiy to clear himself of accusations of wrongdoing — was not the kind of meeting a president who feared being used as a pawn in American politics would want.
Asked during the White House meeting if he felt pressure to investigate the Bidens, Zelenskiy walked a careful line:
"I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be involved to democratic, open elections — elections of USA," he told reporters. "It was normal. We spoke about many things. And I — so I think, and you read it, that nobody pushed — pushed me."
Trump spun this as an absolution.
"In other words, no pressure," Trump said.
GOP senators seem more engaged Saturday
Perhaps it’s the prospect of a shorter day, or perhaps its hearing arguments they’re more inclined to agree with, but Republican senators are much more alert and attentive in the chamber today.
During the end of deputy White House counsel Purpura’s presentation and the start of Jay Sekulow’s, all seats in the chamber were full. Several Republicans laughed approvingly at the supercut of Amb. Sondland's various assumptions and presumptions. Tim Scott laughed loudly.
Richard Burr is once again sockless, but today neither he nor any other senator could be seen using a fidget spinner. Sekulow also got laughs from the GOP side of the room when he promised not to play the same clip seven or eight times. The managers sat unresponsive and taking notes throughout.
Meet Trump's legal team for the impeachment trial
The legal team for President Donald Trump's impeachment trial in the Senate includes some high-profile members, including Alan Dershowitz, Kenneth Starr and White House counsel Pat Cipollone.
Senators are busy taking notes
Every seat was full Saturday morning for the first day of Trump's defense. Nearly every Democratic senator was taking notes throughout except for Sanders, who later jotted a note or two, and Warner.
Republican Sens. Sasse, Scott, Cassidy and Perdue (all seated together) vigorously took notes and watched all the clips — a departure from their regular chatting and absence from their desks during the House managers' presentation.
Schumer, the minority leader, stared at Michael Purpura, the deputy White House counsel, but occasionally looked away to confer with his aides next to him, while Majority Leader McConnell focused intently on the presentation.
Senate pages were very busy with pen and pencil duty this morning, with one page bringing Sen. Reed, D-R.I., what looked to be about a dozen black pens at one point. Shortly after, the same page restocked Sen. Markey's pencil stash and then came back to bring Sen. Gillibrand five or six fresh pens.
Trump's lawyers deride Dems for leaving out testimony that played on live TV
Sekulow and Pupura have spent some time during their defense of the president by playing testimony from witnesses, such as diplomats Kurt Volker, George Kent and Gordon Sondland, and arguing that Democrats tried to hide it from Senators.
"Why didn't they show you this testimony? Why didn't didn't they tell you about this testimony?" Purpura said after playing Volker's testimony saying that, to his knowledge, Ukrainians did not know about the pause in military aid until Aug. 29. "They didn't they put Ambassador Sondland's testimony in its full and proper context.
Purpura claimed Democrats did this to support a "pre-determined outcome" in the trial.
But, as MSNBC contributor Joyce Vance pointed out, the hearings were televised live, and the full transcripts of their earlier depositions were publicly available.
Fact check: Trump lawyer says Ukraine didn't know about hold on aid
Two claims from Purpura on what and when Ukraine knew about the hold on Congress-approved security assistance — and the Trump administration's apparent reluctance set a date for a White House meeting — are inaccurate, according to publicly available evidence.
"The transcript shows that the president did not condition either security assistance or a meeting on anything. The paused security assistance funds aren't even mentioned on the call," Purpura said.
Though it was not explicit, Trump did appear to tie the award of aid to Ukraine to Zelenskiy's willingness to cooperating with Trump on investigations he desired into the Bidens and the 2016 election, according to the White House's five-page description of the call, which notes that it is not an exact transcript as Trump and his attorneys have claimed.
Additionally, text messages from former special U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker reveal that top aides to Ukraine's president were aware of those conditions before the call took place.
“heard from White House — assuming President Z convinces trump he will investigate / ‘get to the bottom of what happened’ in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington,” Volker texted an aide to the Ukrainian president hours before Trump and the Ukrainian president spoke via phone.
"President Zelenskiy and high-ranking Ukrainian officials did not even know — did not even know — the security assistance was paused until the end of August, over a month after the July 25 call," Purpura continued.
While some witnesses said they were not sure when Ukraine first knew of a hold on their military aid, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper testified that the Ukrainians knew of an issue with the assistance on July 25 and were asking questions about it to U.S. counterparts. A former foreign minister in Ukraine also told The New York Times that Ukraine knew of the aid freeze in July.
Sekulow: Trump didn't trust his intelligence officials
Trump had reason to doubt his intelligence officials, giving him good reason to enlist a shadow Ukraine operation to investigate alleged electoral interference in 2016, his attorney Jay Sekulow said in his opening arguments Saturday.
Sekulow began by highlighting the years-long Mueller investigation and report in addition to FBI FISA court mishaps detailed by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz in a report late last year. He added that Trump chose not to "blindly trust" the advice of his intelligence officials as a result of those matters.
"In his summation on Thursday night, Manager Schiff complained that the president chose not to go with the determinations of his intelligence agencies regarding foreign interference and instead decided he would listen to people that he trusted, and he would inquire about the Ukraine issue himself," Sekulow said. "Mr. Schiff did not like the fact that the president did not apparently blindly trust some of the advice he was being given by the intelligence agencies."
"They kept telling you it was Russia alone that interfered in the 2016 election, but there is evidence that Ukraine also interfered," Sekulow added.
One of the biggest instances of so-called Ukrainian interference Trump's allies have highlighted involved the publication of what was referred to as the "Black Ledger," a document showing that Trump's then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort was taking in millions in undisclosed payments from Ukraine's pro-Russia political party. The revelation led to Manafort's resignation from the Trump campaign and eventual prosecution and conviction in the Mueller probe. Manafort is now in prison.
Meanwhile, Trump had asked Zelenskiy to probe the "CrowdStrike" conspiracy, a theory even one former top Trump administration official called "debunked." It alleges that a Democratic National Committee server was placed somewhere in Ukraine and used to frame Russia for 2016 electoral interference. And Trump asked his counterpart to announce a probe into the Bidens in an investigation seemingly unrelated 2016.
Graham: Looking at Bidens, Burisma is 'better done outside impeachment'
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., spoke to reporters off camera before heading to the Senate trial Saturday morning. On witnesses, Graham said he doesn’t “want to call Hunter and Joe Biden at this forum.”
“But somebody needs to look at the Biden’s connection to Ukraine,” Graham continued. “I think it’s better done outside impeachment.”
Graham said he has not spoken to the president about an independent counsel to investigate the Biden connection to Ukraine.
“But somebody needs to think about this,” Graham said. “If you want me to do it, I’ll do it. I’d rather have somebody like Mueller do it because I think it’s important to look, but if my Democratic colleagues say looking at the Bidens has been done, there’s no reason to look, I find that offensive.”
Fact check: Cipollone adopts Trump's falsehoods on European aid to Ukraine
White House attorney Pat Cipollone kicked off the defense’s opening arguments on Saturday by adopting the president’s routine false claims that the U.S. is picking up the bulk of the tab for Ukraine's foreign aid.
The president addressed cost sharing in his July call with the Ukrainian president, Cipollone said, reading through the call transcript.
"Now what does President Zelenskiy say? Does he disagree? No, he agrees,” Cipollone continued, reading the Ukrainian president’s effusive thanks for the aid.
But while the Ukrainian president chose to give effusive thanks and agree with Trump's claim, Europe's aid dwarfs American financial assistance to Ukraine.
The European Union put up $16.5 billion in financial aid, according to a fact sheet from the E.U.'s diplomatic arm. The International Monetary Fund said it would put forward at least $14 billion in a bailout as well. The U.S. has given $1.5 billion in security assistance since 2014 and $1 billion in loan guarantees.
Purpura goes after Schiff's parody of Trump's July 25 phone call
In his opening, White House deputy counsel Mike Purpura went directly after Rep. Adam Schiff, the lead House impeachment manager and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, by playing the video of Schiff reading the record of Trump's July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Purpura derided Schiff for his mocking interpretation of the call during a House Intelligence Committee hearing last September, which Schiff said was "in essence" and “in sum and character” of what the president was asking the Ukrainian president.
The White House's five-page description of the call shows that Trump asked Zelenskiy to "look into" the family of possible 2020 rival Joe Biden. Trump also said the words, "I would like you to do us a favor, though" — which appears to involve discovering whether Ukraine might possess a server that contained some of former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails. Though it was not explicit, Trump also appears to tie the award of aid to Ukraine to Zelenskiy's willingness to cooperate with Trump.
But Purpura told the chamber that Schiff’s retelling was “fake” and that Senators should focus on the actual reading of the transcript in which Purpura said there was no link between investigations and withholding security assistance.
“That’s fake, that's not the real call,” he said. “That’s not the evidence here, that's not the transcript Mr. Cipollone just referenced.”
He added, “We can shrug it off and say we were making light and making a joke...Let’s stick with the evidence, let’s talk about the facts in this case.”
During his closing on Friday, Schiff said he expected this line of attack from Trump's team.
"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!'"
Cipollone: Democrats trying to 'interfere' in the election
Cipollone opened Trump's defense Saturday arguing that House managers are asking senators to "remove" Trump from the general election ballot.
"As House managers, their goal should be to give you all of the facts, because they’re asking you to do something very, very consequential and I would submit to you, to use a word Schiff used a lot, very, very dangerous," Cipollone said, adding, "They’re asking you to remove President Trump from the ballot in an election that's occurring in approximately nine months, they’re asking you to tear up all of the ballots across the country on your own initiative — take that decision away from the American people and I don’t think they spent one minute of their 24 hours talking about the consequences of that for this country."
"They didn’t tell you what that would mean for our country, today, this year, and forever into our future," he continued, saying that the managers are asking senators to "tear up all the ballots" with Trump's name on them.
Cipollone said Saturday's presentation will take between two and three hours and that Trump's defense does not plan to use all of their allotted 24 hours.
"You will find the president did absolutely nothing wrong," Cipollone said, echoing the Trump's frequent defense.
What to expect from Trump's defense
Here's what to expect from Trump's defense team:
What you'll hear Saturday
A “coming attractions” preview of the president’s defense case. As we've reported, sources close to the president want to make sure they get at least some of their messaging out there, but they’re also cognizant of the weekend’s lower ratings. It’s why you’ll see a fair amount of repetition Monday. White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow will likely handle much of the presentation, though you could see others. But a source on the team says the bulk of the arguments will occur Monday. That’s when we expect Dershowitz, Starr, and others to make their presentations.
Will they go to Tuesday?
It’s possible, but at this point we are not betting big on it. A senior administration official and Republican leadership source tell NBC News that arguments are likely to last roughly 10 hours (a few Saturday and the rest Monday). Caveat: things could still change, as the defense team is reserving the right to go longer if they feel it’s needed.
How will Parnas recording affect arguments?
A source on the president’s legal team said he doesn’t believe this new reporting of Trump apparently talking to Lev Parnas in an audio recording would have “any impact” on their team’s case. Note: NBC News has not heard the entire audio recording and is working to obtain it; it's also unclear whether the audio published by ABC News has been edited.
POTUS call 'perfect'?
Asked if the defense would include Trump's assertions that his call with the president of Ukraine was “perfect,” the source on the legal team said part of the defense would be that the president “didn’t do anything wrong, and that is clear from the transcript of the call.” The source clarified that the defense won’t be “limited just to the transcript of the call,” but it will be a “key” piece of evidence because that’s the “primary” thing Democrats have “based their case on.”
Asked how much the Trump team is planning to talk about Joe Biden and specifically why it was relevant for the president to bring up Biden to the Ukrainians, a source on the president’s legal team said they wouldn’t get into details of their strategy but added that it “became quite apparent” in the House managers’ presentation that they’ve “made it very relevant to the case” and “spent a lot of time bringing the Bidens into this case,” and the Trump legal will address that.
Trump hints his defense team will begin by attacking Democrats
Moments ahead of the start of his impeachment trial defense, Trump tweeted: "Our case against lyin’, cheatin’, liddle’ Adam “Shifty” Schiff, Cryin’ Chuck Schumer, Nervous Nancy Pelosi, their leader, dumb as a rock AOC, & the entire Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrat Party, starts today at 10:00 A.M. on @FoxNews, @OANN or Fake News @CNN or Fake News MSDNC!"
It's a clear sign that the president's defense will rely heavily on criticizing prominent Democrats.
The tweet comes after House managers spent three days pressing their case that Trump should be found guilty and removed from office over his efforts to push Ukraine to probe the Bidens and Democrats as he withheld nearly $400 million in military aid and an official White House visit for Ukraine's president, as well as his obstruction of Congress' investigation into the matter.
Democrats tweeted ahead of Saturday's proceedings, too.
"As we head into today’s arguments, I implore the White House counsel to present a substantive argument as to why the President shouldn’t be impeached," Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., tweeted. "Don’t continue to insult the country by saying he did nothing wrong."
"Conducting this impeachment trial is one of our biggest responsibilities as senators," Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., posted. "Let’s focus on the facts. Let’s focus on the law. Let’s ensure this is a fair trial—and that we deliver fair and impartial justice."
Who is Dmytro Firtash? The man linked to $1 million loan to Giuliani ally has a shadowy past
In September, one month before Lev Parnas was indicted on campaign finance charges, his wife received wire transfers from a bank account in Russia.
The sum was $1 million, and the source was a lawyer for Dmytro Firtash, according to a court filing by U.S. prosecutors.
Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch who made a fortune in the natural gas trade, is perhaps the most enigmatic figure in the scandal that has played a key role in President Donald Trump’s impeachment.
A billionaire with alleged ties to the Russian mob, Firtash is facing bribery-related charges in the U.S. and fighting extradition from Vienna. He once attempted to buy and redevelop the famous Drake Hotel in New York with the now-incarcerated Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman. And he’s seen by Ukrainian anti-corruption activists and Western governments as a corrupt instrument of Russia.
House Dems to deliver 28,000 pages of their trial record to Senate
The managers plan to deliver their trial record for the official senate record this morning around 9:30.
It's more than 28,000 pages.
GOP senators incensed by Schiff 'head on a pike' remark at impeachment trial
Senate Republicans said lead impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff insulted them during the trial on Friday night by repeating an anonymously sourced report that the White House had threatened to punish Republicans who voted against President Donald Trump.
Schiff, who delivered closing arguments for the prosecution, was holding Republican senators rapt as he called for removing Trump from office for abusing his power and obstructing Congress. Doing anything else, he argued, would be to let the president bully Senate Republicans into ignoring his pressure on Ukraine for political help.
"CBS News reported last night that a Trump confidant said that key senators were warned, 'Vote against the president and your head will be on a pike.' I don't know if that's true," Schiff said.
After that remark, the generally respectful mood in the Senate immediately changed. Republicans across their side of the chamber groaned, gasped and said, "That's not true." One of those key moderate Republicans, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, looked directly at Schiff, shook her head and said, "Not true."
Trump's team plans to kick off arguments with discussion of Biden, Burisma and Steele dossier
President Donald Trump's defense team on Saturday morning will begin the first of up to three days — 24 hours maximum — to make their case against the articles of impeachment.
The session begins at 10 a.m., and Trump's lawyer Jay Sekulow told reporters said it will only go for three hours, saying it will be a “a trailer, kind of a coming attractions” ahead of the trial resuming on Monday.
We do not expect Ken Starr or Alan Dershowitz to speak during Saturday's session, but Sekulow said Friday that the defense plans to discuss Biden, Burisma and the origins of the Steele dossier during their arguments.
OPINION: Not surprisingly, Trump's impeachment defense team has a woman problem
There's been a lot of talk about President Donald Trump's choice of Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr as lawyers participating in his Senate impeachment trial defense. Most of this has rightly focused on the arguments both men presented at President Bill Clinton's impeachment in 1999, which stand in almost laughable contradiction to the arguments they now seek to present.
But when these two hired guns are examined alongside their latest famous client, another more troubling thread emerges, one that has been all too common for those in Trump's orbit. These guys really don't like women.
While the president still stands accused of sexual misconduct, including rape, by more than 20 women, both of these lawyers are deeply embroiled in their own sexual misconduct and assault scandals.
Democrats hope they persuaded these Republicans to back impeachment witnesses
The House managers have finished 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 said Thursday. "I am more hopeful than ever that four conscientious brave Republicans will come forward and tell (Senate Majority Leader) 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 in order to be able to call witnesses or subpoena documents in the third presidential impeachment trial in American history.
Just catching up? Here's what you missed
House impeachment managers presented their case against the president over three days this week, and Trump's legal team launched its defense in a short session on Saturday. If you're just catching up, here's what you missed:
Article II - Making History
Today on Article II, Steve Kornacki talks to Kasie Hunt, Capitol Hill correspondent and host of Kasie DC, about the conclusion of opening arguments from House managers, and her exclusive interview with the first women to hold this role.
The two discuss:
- How Representatives Zoe Lofgren, Val Demmings and Sylvia Garcia approached their position as House managers
- How Senate politics have changed since the last Presidential impeachment trial
- How the House managers are reflecting on this moment in American political history