Congress

Impeachment news roundup: Jan. 24

Democrats start their final eight hours to present their case, Republicans so far not convinced

House impeachment managers, from left, Reps. Sylvia R. Garcia, D-Texas, Jason Crow, D-Colo., Val B. Demings, D-Fla., and Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., walk through the Ohio Clock Corridor Friday on their way to hold a news conference before the start of their third and final day to make their impeachment case against President Donald Trump. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

File updated 5:45 p.m.

President Donald Trump’s attorney, Jay Sekulow, previewed what Saturday’s defense presentation would look like, noting it would begin at 10 a.m. and include time to lay out an overarching view of the president’s rebuttal with the main arguments taking place early next week.

“I guess I would call it a trailer—coming attractions would be the best way to say it, but obviously we have three hours to put it out. So we'll take whatever time is appropriate during that three hours, kind of lay out what the case would look like,” he said. “But no, next week is when you’ll see the full presentation.”

He called the three-hour Saturday session, “the Senate decision, we respect the Senate’s process.” 

“Trust me, there will be plenty to cover,” Sekulow said.

Trump’s lawyers plan to address Hunter Biden’s tenure on the board of Burisma, a Ukranian gas company.

“Why they opened up the door, as wide as a double door, on the Hunter Biden, Joe Biden, Burisma issue. I guess they figured that was their way of getting ahead of it. We will address it,” Sekulow said of Trump’s defense plans.

“We’re going to rebut and refute and we’re going to put on an affirmative case tomorrow,” Sekulow said.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., told reporters that he hopes the president’s lawyers do not advance the “kooky” theory that the Ukrainian government interfered in the 2016 election.

He also argued that Republican arguments against calling witnesses, including that the House should have done so, or a court case would delay the trial, will start to run thin.

“When you are talking about impeaching a president, with Americans following this, if you somehow call a process foul at this point, particularly with John Bolton who has said he's willing to testify, to me I don't think that will hold muster,” Warner said.

 

Here’s the latest on impeachment:

4:30 p.m. | Risky Bidens: In a scrum with reporters, Sens. John Barrasso and Joni Ernst downplayed the House managers’ presentation and chances of voting for more evidence at the close of the case.

“You know, they keep proclaiming they have overwhelming evidence,” Ernst said. “Well then likely wouldn't need additional evidence or witnesses.”

Barrasso said the House case took a “risky” turn by invoking the Bidens so frequently.

Ernst also analogized the actions taken by Trump in the House case to actions under the Obama administration on Ukraine policy, including the decision not to provide lethal aid and the 2012 hot mic moment when Obama said he would have more “flexibility” after his reelection.

Also those two senators, along with Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., knocked down questions about whether the Senate would consider censuring Trump, if there were not a vote to remove him. The three said censure has only been brought up by reporters, not their colleagues. 

4:45 p.m. | Write-ins: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand indicated Democrats are looking forward to the write-in question phase of the impeachment trial. She expressed particular interest in the recording reported by ABC News this week that allegedly shows Trump telling Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas to “get rid of” former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

“It just proves another lie by President Trump,” the New York Democrat said. “I want to specifically ask about the [recording] ... because President Trump said that he didn’t know Lev Parnas, and obviously he’s in a conversation with him about taking out one of his ambassadors,” Gillibrand said.

When asked why Democrats want to introduce extra documents and witnesses despite asserting there is already overwhelming evidence to convict Trump on the impeachment articles, Gillibrand responded that the additional evidence isn’t for Democrats — it’s for skeptical Republicans.

“Obviously they’re not persuaded yet,” she said. “If you ask for corroborating evidence from people in President Trump’s inner circle, then it will be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and I won’t understand how they could possibly not believe the testimony of these people who had direct conversations with President Trump. It forces them to review more evidence, more facts to corroborate what's already in the record.”

4:30 p.m. | Moral dead zone: Sen. Mazie Hirono applauded the House impeachment managers for showing a video of Trump’s remarks at a 2018 press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki to bolster their case that the president’s policy in Eastern Europe often appears to align with Russian interests over U.S. foreign policy goals.

At that press conference in July 2018, the president suggested that he took Putin at his word that Russia did not meddle in the 2016 U.S. elections, despite the widely accepted conclusion of top U.S. intelligence agencies that the Kremlin was responsible.

“We needed to be reminded of the visuals of that Helsinki meeting where you watch the president and Putin looking pleased as punch as you have our president mocking their talking points. I think it’s one of the lowest points,” Hirono said.

“I was watching some of my Republican colleagues. I tell ya, If there’s anything that should make them squirm, it’s that.” Hirono indicated that she did not notice any discomfort among her GOP colleagues.

“They are in a moral dead zone,” she said.

1:55 p.m. | Final day: House impeachment managers on Friday launched their third and final day of arguments to remove President Donald Trump from office by focusing on a delayed military aid package to Ukraine, which House members say Trump withheld in hopes of receiving political favors from Kyiv.

Lead impeachment manager Adam B. Schiff opened the presentation before quickly ceding the podium to Colorado Rep. Jason Crow, an Army veteran who has focused his arguments before the Senate on the national security importance of the aid package and its delay.

“The delay wasn’t meaningless,” Crow told the Senate early Friday afternoon, rebutting Republicans’ claim that since the aid was ultimately released, no harm was done.

“Real people, real lives are at stake. Every day, every hour matters. So, no, the delay wasn’t meaningless, just ask the Ukrainians sitting in trenches right now.”

First Crow and later Hakeem Jeffries of New York argued that if not for a White House whistleblower exposing the scheme, Trump might have gone forward with his plan to hold the aid package hostage in exchange for Kyiv announcing an investigation into Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.

Democrats are focusing on the second of the two articles of impeachment — obstruction of Congress — this afternoon.

House impeachment managers focused much of their arguments Thursday on the abuse of power article, using the president’s words and messages related to Ukraine between people who reported to him to poke holes in the defense’s arguments before they make them.

House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff, the lead House manager, closed Thursday’s presentation with an impassioned argument for why Trump should be removed from office.

“You know you can’t trust this president to do what’s right for this country. You can trust he’ll do what’s right for Donald Trump,” Schiff said. “If you find him guilty, you must find that he be removed. Because right matters. And the truth matters. Otherwise we are lost.”

1:40 p.m. | Saturday preview: There are two critical issues in the impeachment trial — aside from the legal question of executive privilege — that Louisiana Republican Sen. John Kennedy took away fromThursday’s session.

“The first question is why did the president ask for an investigation? Did he ask for an investigation of a political rival, or did he ask for an investigation of possible corruption by someone who happens to be a political rival? And there’s a big difference,” the Louisiana Republican said.

“Inextricably linked to the first issue, as raised by my House manager friends yesterday, the second question is what did Hunter Biden do for the money?”

Kennedy went on to preview what could take place on Saturday when Trump’s lawyers take the floor to present their case against impeachment.

“I'd be very surprised if the president’s counsel doesn't address those two questions,” he said. “Number one why did the president ask for an investigation and number two what did Hunter Biden do for the money?”

“The only other observation I would make, not a criticism, it’s directed to both sides, old expression: Very few souls are saved after the first 20 minutes of a sermon,” Kennedy said.

1:20 p.m. |Saturday schedule: Before House impeachment managers began their presentation, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that the Senate will convene at 10 a.m. Saturday for the first of three days for Trump’s counsel to present its defense.

McConnell said the session is expected to run for “several hours.”

1 p.m. | Not an option: Schiff shot down Republicans’ arguments about Trump invoking executive privilege to block more witnesses, saying “unlike in the House where the president could play rope-a-dope in the courts for years, that is not an option for the president’s team here.”

“We have a very capable justice, sitting in that Senate chamber, empowered by the Senate rules to decide issues of evidence and privilege,” Schiff said.

While the Senate can override any ruling from the justice, Trump and Republicans fear Roberts “will in fact apply executive privilege to that very narrow category where it may apply,” Schiff said. He argued it might not apply at all in this case “because you cannot use executive privilege to hide wrongdoing or criminality or impeachable misconduct.”

12:45 p.m. | “Totally ineffective”: GOP Sen. Jim Risch said Schiff has been ineffective in his ability to persuade a jury.

“Look, I've tried a lot of cases,” he said. “That method of presentation, if you’re trying to persuade a jury, is totally ineffective. People can’t stay focused for that long on the same thing over and over again.”

Risch, who at one point fell asleep during the trial, pointed out that journalists weren’t in the chamber with senators late Thursday night.

“I look up at you guys—you’re all gone,” Risch said. “By the time we went home last night, there was nobody up there in the gallery.”

When a reporter noted that Republicans had control over the structure of the trial, Risch avoided addressing the topic.

12:40 p.m. | Burisma-gate: Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he doesn’t want to call witnesses like former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden for the trial, but he does believe their involvement in Ukraine should be investigated more.

“I don’t want to call Hunter Biden. I don’t want to call Joe Biden. I want somebody to look at that when this is done,” he said.

Graham said he’d prefer someone outside of politics — like a special counsel similar to Robert S. Mueller III who investigated Russian meddling in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign, look at the Bidens’ involvement with Burisma rather than his committee pursue an investigation but that he’s committed to ensuring someone does investigate the matter.

“I am going to look at this if nobody else does, and that doesn’t make me a Russian agent,” he said.

12:30 p.m. | Not needed: Sen. John Barrasso during the Republican news conference rejected the notion that the Senate needs to consider new evidence that emerges as the trial unfolds, noting, “There will be new evidence every day … and the House has said they are going to continue to investigate these things.”

He said the House is welcome to consider that and bring forward additional articles of impeachment if they like but since the impeachment managers claim the evidence is overwhelming, they shouldn’t need to introduce additional evidence.

“I don’t believe there are any Democrats that need additional information to make a decision on how they’re going to vote and I can’t imagine there are many Republicans in the same situation,” Barrasso said.

12:20 p.m. | “Underwhelmed”: Republican Sen. Thom Tillis said the case made by House impeachment managers has not convinced him that Trump should be removed from office.

“Well we’ve heard all the evidence that they said was overwhelming and I’m underwhelmed,” Tillis said of the House managers’ case.

The North Carolina Republican didn’t answer a question on whether the president committed an improper act, saying his job is to decide if Trump did something that warrants his removal.

“I’m not going to get into the details of that,” Tillis said. “I think at the end of the day, I’m here to judge whether or not there’s something that rises to the level of removing a sitting president. I haven't seen the weight of the evidence for me to agree with that, or to think that that's something that the Senate should vote for.”

“It's about whether or not there’s enough weight to remove a sitting president,” Tillis said. “I don't see it.”

12 p.m. | Trust issues: Though he had praised Schiff’s presentation a day earlier, Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham told reporters Friday he found the assertion in Schiff’s closing presentation Thursday that Trump is self-centered and running the country solely based on his personal interests to ring hollow.

“I trust Donald Trump to do what’s best for the country,” he said. “I think you saw in there some animosity that needs to be resolved at the ballot box, not in the court of impeachment,” Graham said.

11:20 a.m. | Laying the blame: House managers also increased the case for witnesses and documents, Schumer said. 

After they presented their case on Thursday, “It was clear who was the chief cook and bottlewasher in this whole scheme, this whole evil scheme: Mick Mulvaney,” Schumer said Friday.

"We know we’ll never get Trump. We know we’ll never get McConnell. We know they’ll pressure Republican senators,” Schumer said. He noted they only need four Republicans to join Democrats in voting for subpoenas and 13 have never said a bad word about witnesses and documents.

11:15 a.m. | Executive decision: Schumer said Republicans’ “diversion of the day” as to why they don’t want to call witnesses is “flimsy” arguments that it will take too long and that Trump will likely invoke executive privilege.

The New York Democrat said arguments about time come after they voted to delay consideration of witnesses until after the question and answer portion of the trial.

“Talk about talking out of both sides of your mouth. Holy moly,” Schumer said.

On executive privilege, Schumer argued that since former national security adviser John Bolton is no longer in the executive branch and is willing to testify that “executive privilege cannot be used against him.”

As for the other witnesses like Mulvaney that Democrats want to call, Schumer predicted that if Trump wants to claim executive privilege that could be quickly quashed in the courts.

“They would be given very prompt judicial review given the urgency and the stakes of an impeachment trial,” he said. If hearing from witnesses were important to Republicans, they could also go to the president and say they don’t want him to invoke executive privilege, Schumer added.

Asked if Democrats would be willing to narrow some of their subpoenas to try to skirt any claims of executive privilege, Schumer said that’s “jumping the gun” when Republicans haven’t yet said yes to the question of subpoenaing witnesses and documents.

“We believe we need to get a full and fair trial at such a solemn and serious trial — at minimum the four witnesses we asked for and the four sets of documents we’ve asked for,” he said.

Will Democrats compile their questions together during the question and answer portion of the trial? “No, I expect they are going to be a whole lot of questions from a whole lot of senators,” Schumer said.

9:30 a.m. | What happens next?: Democrats have about eight hours left of their allotted 24 hours to present their case.

The president’s team is expected to begin its presentation Saturday, but two Republican senators said Thursday night that they had heard ‘soft” estimates that they would start at 9 a.m. and finish by noon before resuming on Monday.

Trump’s defense team has indicated that it will likely use all of its allotted 24 hours.

Senators will have the opportunity to ask questions of both sides for 16 hours following the defense’s presentation before taking a vote on whether to hear from more witnesses late next week.

9:25 a.m. | Bad time slot: Trump tweeted Friday that he’s had “to endure hour after hour of lies, fraud & deception by Shifty Schiff, Cryin’ Chuck Schumer & their crew” so far in the Senate trial.

He also complained that lawyers will have to start presenting their case Saturday, which “is called Death Valley in T.V.’”

He also repeated a frequent charge that impeachment is interfering with the 2020 election, but that’s what Democrats had planned all along.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.