Congress

Impeachment news roundup: Jan. 16

Collins said she may be leaning toward calling at least some witnesses for trial

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., lead the group of House impeachment managers to the Senate side of the Capitol on Thursday to read the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump to the Senate. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Democrats led by Minority Leader Sen. Charles E. Schumer reiterated they want to hear the testimony of four witnesses during the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

“We expect we will have votes on these witnesses on Tuesday,” Schumer said Thursday.

Schumer went on to describe how when Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. entered the Senate chamber, members could “feel the weight of the moment,” and that he “saw members on both sides of the aisle visibly gulp.”

Schumer was joined on stage by Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris of California, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, Chris Coons of Delaware and Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal.

Schumer said he was “actually filled with anger” regarding the charges against Trump.

Harris reinforced the need for witnesses in the Senate trial, saying that no witnesses “would be a dramatic break with precedent.”

“The very integrity of the United States Senate is on trial,” she said as Democrats continued to call for witnesses and additional documents for the Senate trial.

Harris, Coons and Schumer all used the word “solemn” to describe the coming trial. Democrats have said for months that impeachment and the trial are not politically charged but their solemn constitutional duty.

Republicans have consistently said Democrats are simply pursuing partisan politics.

Blumenthal said he had a “knot in my stomach” when Roberts entered the chamber. He cited the GAO report and said it highlights the importance of calling OMB Director Mick Mulvaney as a witness.

Schumer said the Senate trial is “a different world than the normal Senate world,” citing the solemn feeling of considering removing the president with the chief justice presiding.

Sen. Susan Collins said in a statement she could be leaning in favor of calling at least some witnesses as the impeachment trial proceeds.

“While I need to hear the case argued and the questions answered, I tend to believe having additional information would be helpful. It is likely that I would support a motion to call witnesses at that point in the trial just as I did in 1999,” the Maine Republican said.

Collins said that would be in line with her previously-stated support for using the Clinton trial as a template.

“There has been a lot of mischaracterization and misunderstanding about my position on the process the Senate should follow for the impeachment trial,” she said.

Collins signaled opposition to an effort by Senate Democrats to direct the calling of witnesses before the House managers and the Trump lawyers present their cases.

“Prior to hearing the statement of the case and the Senators asking questions, I will not support any attempts by either side to subpoena documents or witnesses,” Collins said. “Instead, that issue should be addressed at the same point that it was in the 1999 trial.”

Here is the latest on impeachment:

Leading the case: Sen. Ben Cardin said he envisions lead manager Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California serving a role much like a lead prosecutor in a court case who will assign duties to the six other House managers in the impeachment trial as he sees fit.

“Yes, I think he’ll allocate certain parts of the presentations to other managers, but I expect he’ll be the deciding factor as to who should respond to [what] when needed,” the Maryland Democrat said.

He also noted the tectonic nature of this historic proceeding was reinforced when he heard the articles read and when the chief justice arrived at the Senate to preside over the trial.

“Well, you know, it's something you never want to have to live through. It’s a solemn day, sad day for our country, and I think it really hit home as we were listening to the articles of impeachment and then saw the chief justice come in and taking the oath,” Cardin said. 

Headed to Davos:  Despite the start of the Senate impeachment trial, Trump signaled he won’t back out of the World Economic Forum next week in Switzerland.

“I will probably be going to Davos,” he told reporters, according to a pool report from an unrelated event.

Parnas pressure: House impeachment manager Val Demings said she doesn’t know yet how Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas’ interview on the pressure campaign on Ukraine to investigate Trump’s political rivals changes the case against the president, noting that Parnas is “somebody who’s had his issues.”

But the Florida Democrat said the prosecuting team is watching Parnas’ interviews and digging through the documents he submitted.

“As a former law enforcement officer I also know that we’ve been able to put some pretty strong cases together for people who have maybe ... started on the wrong side, but decided to try to right their wrongs by cooperating with our state attorney. And that could be the situation here, we just don't know yet,” said Demings, a former chief of the Orlando Police Department.

Parnas implicated the president in the effort to force Ukraine to launch an investigation into political rivals in interviews with several media outlets on Wednesday. House investigators on Tuesday released thousands of pages of documents provided by Parnas that show his role in efforts by Giuliani and his associates to try to force Ukraine to announce that it was launching an investigation into Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.

Trump denied knowing Lev Parnas Thursday afternoon at an unrelated event.

“I don’t know him,” Trump told reporters, but acknowledged again they once posed for a photograph together. Parnas was at a fundraiser where they snapped a picture. Trump defended that image, saying he takes “thousands and thousands” of pictures each year at such events.

Trump said of Parnas’ CNN interview: “He’s trying to probably make a deal for himself.”

House Intelligence Chairman and lead impeachment manager Adam B. Schiff said in a statement that documents Parnas provided to the House “corroborate much of what we already about the Ukraine matter and about the president’s scheme to coerce Ukraine,” and that his public interviews “shed additional insights into the origins of the scheme, the work he and Rudy Giuliani were doing on the president’s behalf, and other members of the administration who were knowledgeable.” 

“We are continuing to review his interviews and the materials he has provided to evaluate his potential testimony in the Senate trial,” Schiff said.

Pelosi on Parnas: The Parnas documents and his interviews speak “clearly for the need for the Senate to enter the documentation into their discussion,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in her weekly news conference Thursday morning.

“Every day new incriminating information comes forward,” she said.

Asked to respond to Senate Republicans who say they shouldn’t have to consider evidence that wasn’t part of the House investigation, she said: “They’re afraid of the truth. ... This is just another avoiding of the facts and the truth on their part. … They want to ignore anything new that comes. ... Any further evidence should not be avoided.”

“Public opinion will have a lot to do with this,” the speaker added, noting that since the House passed the articles “public opinion has grown enormously.”

Asked if Parnas would be a credible witness, Pelosi said, “Credible relates to the documents and the rest. It certainly raises questions.”

“There seems to be documents that would validate what Parnas is saying,” she said. Pressed on whether Parnas can be a credible witness since he’s under indictment, Pelosi said he’d be a credible witness if his testimony relates to the issue at hand.

Castro’s call: Rep. Joaquin Castro said, given the new revelations that emerged from Parnas’ interviews, he should be called as a witness in the Senate impeachment trial and that the House Intelligence Committee should hear from him, too.

“It was explosive,” the Texas Democrat said.

“It’s what I suspected it was. The president orchestrating what looks to be a crime with people inside and outside the government. And with the participation of people who work for the United States government. And then people that are outside the government,” Castro said. “And so, there's no reason why he shouldn't be called as a witness in the Senate trial.”

McCarthy unfazed: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy wasn’t phased by new evidence and interviews from Parnas.

“This man lacks all credibility,” McCarthy said, noting that Parnas said Intelligence Committee ranking member Devin Nunes was in Vienna when he was not.

McCarthy has been pictured with Parnas and received donations from him. He explained the former as Parnas having walked up to him “at the inaugural” and snapping a picture like hundreds of other people. The latter he said he gave to charity once he learned about the donations.

A reporter pressed McCarthy on his interactions with Parnas, accusing the minority leader of lying at his news conference the week before when he said he thought  he met Parnas once, and asked if his team would conduct an audit to reveal the truth about his interactions and donations with Parnas to the press and the public.

McCarthy laughed at the notion of an audit and said his answer to the report is going to be the same no matter how many times he tries to ask him the same questions about Parnas.

“I do not know the man. He came to a fundraiser and he provided me money … learning of that information we gave it to charity,” he said.

Underway: For the second day in a row, the House impeachment managers made their way from their side of the Capitol to the Senate, this time to read the articles of impeachment into the Senate record.

The Senate then went into recess and will reconvene at 2 p.m. when Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who will preside over the trial, swears them in as jurors.

Four senators were chosen as a committee to escort Roberts into the Senate: Republicans Roy Blunt and Lindsey Graham and Democrats Patrick J. Leahy and Dianne Feinstein.

Oklahoma Republican James M. Inhofe was the only senator not present for the reading of the articles and to be sworn in as jurors. He will be sworn in separately upon his return.

Parnas interviews: “President Trump knew exactly what was going on,” Parnas told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. “He was aware of all my movements. I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani, or the president.”

In an interview with The New York Times, Parnas, who was indicted last year on campaign finance violations and is cooperating with prosecutors, said he never spoke directly with Trump about Giuliani’s alleged pressure campaign on the Ukrainians, but he met with the president on several occasions and was told by Giuliani that Trump was aware of his efforts.

“I am betting my whole life that Trump knew exactly everything that was going on that Rudy Giuliani was doing in Ukraine,” Parnas said.

And in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Parnas said that Giuliani’s efforts were “all about 2020” and Trump’s reelection and not about fighting corruption in Ukraine as the White House has said.

“That was the most important thing — for him to stay on for four years and keep the fight going,” Parnas said. “I mean, there was no other reason for doing it.”

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham shot down Parnas’ allegations in a statement this morning.

“These allegations are being made by a man who is currently out on bail for federal crimes and is desperate to reduce his exposure to prison,” she said. “The facts haven’t changed — the President did nothing wrong and this impeachment, which was manufactured and carried out by the Democrats has been a sham from the start.”

Breaking the law: The Government Accountability Office said in an opinion Thursday that Trump violated federal budget law when he ordered White House officials to withhold most of the $250 million military aid package for Ukraine last summer.

In the opinion, requested by Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., GAO said the withholding was an illegal “deferral” of money appropriated by Congress and ran afoul of a Nixon-era law aimed at ensuring funds are spent according to lawmakers’ intent.

Pelosi also cited the GAO decision as new information that’s come forward since the House voted to impeach Trump.

“This reinforces again the need for document and eyewitnesses in the Senate,” she said.

McCarthy said “100 percent yes” when asked if he still thinks Trump’s impeachment is a sham in light of GAO’s findings. Republicans have criticized Democrats for charging Trump with abuse of power without citing any laws he broke.

The White House Office of Management and Budget disagreed with the GAO, McCarthy said.

“These are taxpayer dollars going to another country where people believed there was corruption with the new administration,” McCarthy said. “I think it was the right thing to do.”

Slow your roll: Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy urged the Senate to be deliberate during the trial since new evidence and information keeps flowing from House investigators, citing new documents from Parnas and the GAO report released Thursday.

“This is an ongoing, unfolding scandal, and that is so exceptional,” the Connecticut Democrat said. “In previous impeachments, you weren’t getting new news of the corruption scheme in the middle of the trial. It just stands to reason that we should take our time, that we should hear witnesses, that we should request documents because there’s more and more evidence coming out every single day.”

Murphy said he does not know whether Parnas would be a credible witness, but that criminals are usually the source of other criminals’ downfalls.

“Every criminal conspiracy is unwound by prosecutors by going after the implementers who then ultimately give you information to go after the person who ordered it,” Murphy said.

“Everything [Parnas] is saying has basically been confirmed by other witnesses,” he said, citing testimony from Trump’s Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and special envoy to Ukraine Bill Taylor.

“Parnas’ testimony fits neatly with what we’ve already heard,” Murphy said.

But Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, whose resolution to immediately dismiss the impeachment charges was defeated last week, pushed back on Murphy’s call to slow-walk the impeachment as more information and evidence trickles out.

“I’m not interested in having a trial that goes on indefinitely and being here for months and months on end,” Hawley said.

Management team: Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida spoke highly of the managers appointed for the impeachment trial.

“I have the utmost confidence in the managers,” Deutch said. “It’s a dedicated, bright, thoughtful group that’s committed to upholding the Constitution, and I'm thrilled with the selection.”

Regarding the Parnas allegations, Deutch said plans to go back and watch the interviews, but said from what he has read, “it raises a whole host of new questions, even as it confirms so many of the reasons that the president was impeached.”

Deutch hopes that Republican senators will take an impartial approach to their role as jurors.

“There's been a lot of posturing in advance of this trial,” Deutch said. “But, ultimately, they're going to have a solemn role to play as jurors with a requirement to both be impartial and uphold the Constitution, and I hope that they’ll live up to that role.”

State of the Union timing: Pelosi said it’s up to Trump whether he wants to deliver his State of the Union address as scheduled on Feb. 4 if the impeachment trial is continuing then.

“The president has some options,” she said. “He could come that day, and we’re prepared to welcome him that day. He could send a printed copy … or he could ask us to postpone it.

“Pelosi did not indicate a preference among the options she presented but she noted the timing of the trial “should not be hastened because of the speech he wants to make to the country.”

Like Pelosi, McCarthy said the decision on SOTU should be up to Trump.

“The trial could be completed by then, how weak the case is itself. But I’ll leave it up to the president,” the California Republican said in his weekly news conference. He added that he thinks Trump should have the opportunity to speak when the American people will be watching.

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