Republicans decline to respond to videos of past statements
Republicans generally declined to respond to videos Democrats showed of past statements from members of the president’s legal defense team and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., about impeachable offenses and abuses of power.
Trump’s attorney Jay Sekulow said his team was composed of lawyers from many different schools of thought on the level of conduct constituting an impeachable offenses, and “the actions alleged and the actions of the president, do not reach that level regardless of your school of thought”
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., quipped, “I thought Lindsey looked a lot younger,” when asked about the video of Graham.
Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., said the consequence of being in politics for a long time was sometimes contradictory positions.
“That’s the irony of being here a long time, and all the different dynamics you might be part of,” Braun said. “I don’t think you can hold that against Lindsey, since I think you can hold that against almost every Democrat that is currently here today that was there over 20 years ago.”
Garcia disputes Trump allegations against Biden
One of the managers, Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, spent her presentation outlining allegations of potential corruption by former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, were false. Garcia argued that President Donald Trump urged Ukraine to investigate Biden based on a debunked theory and at a time in 2019 when Biden was leading polls as the Democratic contender to challenge Trump.
“The entire premise of the investigation that the president wanted Ukraine to pursue was false,” Garcia said. “There is simply no evidence – nothing, nada – in the record to support this baseless allegation.”
Garcia recited the history that Hunter Biden joined the board of Burisma Holdings in 2014, at a time when the Ukraine gas company was under investigation because of its oligarch owner. Viktor Shokin became Ukraine’s prosecutor general in 2015 and he allowed the investigation to go dormant, Garcia said.
In late 2015, Joe Biden called for the removal of Shokin because he was widely perceived as ineffective and corrupt, Garcia said. Shokin’s removal was also sought by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, Garcia said. A bipartisan group of U.S. senators sent a letter Feb. 12, 2016, urging Shokin’s removal. Shokin was fired a month later. George Kent, who was the second-in-command at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine, testified that Shokin routinely lived more lavishly than his government salary would allow and covered up crimes.
“Biden called for removal of prosecutor at the direction of U.S. policy because the prosecutor was widely perceived as corrupt,” Garcia said.
But in a phone call July 25, 2019, Trump urged Ukraine’s new President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the Bidens and Burisma because he had heard “horrible” things about potential corruption in Ukraine. The call came after Trump hadn’t pursued anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine in 2017 and 2018, but at a time when Biden was leading in polls to challenge Trump, Garcia said.
“He pushed for an investigation in 2019 because that is when it would be valuable to him, President Trump,” Garcia said. “He had good reason to be concerned.”
Garcia played videos of testimony from several government officials who testified during the House impeachment inquiry that they were not aware of Biden being corrupt and that Shokin wasn’t investigating Burisma at the time he was fired. The officials included former National Security Council aide Fiona Hill; David Holmes, the political officer at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine, and Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
“My understanding is the prosecutor general at the time, Shokin, was not at that time pursuing investigations of Burisma or the Bidens,” Holmes said.
Garcia also played videos of other U.S. officials who dismissed allegations against Ukraine.
“We at the FBI have no information that would indicate that Ukraine tried to interfere in the 2016 presidential election,” FBI Director Christopher Wray told ABC News.
Hill, the Russia expert at the National Security Council, disputed allegations that Ukraine interfered with the 2016 election, citing the conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community, and calling the accusation Russian propaganda.
“This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves,” Hill testified in the House inquiry. “It is beyond dispute.”
Republicans eager to hear Trump's side as Democrats argue for conviction
Republicans who have watched for hours as House managers present their impeachment case against President Donald Trump are eager to hear from Trump's defense team, something they say could shed new light on the chain of events that led to Trump’s impeachment.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., noted it would be the first time Americans have really heard the full story from the president.
“Well, I think we want to hear their version of events,” he said. “There’s all kinds of allegations that have been thrown up in the air and so they'll have a chance to lay out their timeline, their version of events.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he wanted Americans to hear more about Ukraine’s corruption, how the president viewed this and more about the Biden family.
“I love Joe Biden but I can tell you if the name was Trump, there would be a lot of questions asked,” he said.
“All I can tell you is from the president’s point of view, he did nothing wrong in his mind," Graham added.
House Republicans who were tapped by the president as part of his defense, stressed that Trump’s counsel is prepared.
“They're well prepared and they've been prepared,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who explained that he and other House Republicans have been meeting with Trump’s legal team at the White House on multiple occasions. “They've been following the case all the way through.”
Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., pushed back on criticism that Trump’s counsel did not look as prepared as house managers, who have offered a multimedia presentation and videos.
“These are members of the U.S. Senate. This is not an elementary school. You don't need visual aids,” he argued.
Lindsey Graham's Clinton impeachment speech is played
House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., challenged the argument from Trump’s defenders that impeachment must allege a violation of statutory law.
To make his point, Nadler played a 1999 video of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who was a manager 20 years ago in the impeachment trial of former President Bill Clinton. The Constitution allows impeachment for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” a term that has been debated during the Trump investigation.
“What’s a high crime?” Graham asked in the well of the Senate in 1999. “How about an important person hurting somebody of low means? It’s not very scholarly, but I think it’s the truth. I think that’s what they meant by high crimes. Doesn’t even 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’ve committed a high crime.”
Republicans have challenged the accusations of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress as vague and not grounded in established law.
“This view is completely wrong,” Nadler said of the Republican argument. “It has no support in constitutional text and structure, original meaning, congressional precedents, common sense or the consensus of credible experts. In other words, it conflicts with every relevant consideration.”
Nadler quoted two constitutional scholars who testified at a Dec. 4 hearing in the impeachment inquiry.
Michael Gerhardt, a law professor at the University of North Carolina, said the Constitution “plainly does not” require a violation of law for impeachment.
'It puts even President Nixon to shame': Schiff, Nadler open trial
House Democrats will describe the constitutional underpinnings of the article of impeachment accusing President Donald Trump of abuse of power in their arguments Thursday in the Senate.
House impeachment managers prosecuting the case will attempt to show how the law and Constitution are applied to the president’s dealings with Ukraine, according to the lead manager, Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff.
The prosecutors will do the same Friday for the second article of impeachment, which accuses Trump of obstruction of justice, Schiff said. The arguments Thursday on abuse of power and Friday on obstruction of Congress might sound repetitious, but that is because the evidence will be interwoven with new context, said Schiff.
“There is some method to our madness,” he added.
Shortly after 1 p.m. EST, House impeachment managers began their second day of arguments in the case.
Another manager, Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said the abuse of power could have been charged just for Trump asking Ukraine to investigate his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. But Nadler said Trump went further, withholding $391 million in vital military aid and a White House meeting.
"Since President George Washington took office in 1789, no president has abused his power in this way," Nadler said. "No president has ever used his office to compel a foreign nation to help him cheat in our elections."
Nadler said the accusation of obstruction stems from Trump directing his administration to defy all subpoenas for testimony and documents during the investigation.
“The articles are overwhelmingly supported by the evidence amassed by the House, notwithstanding the president’s complete stonewalling, his attempt to block all witnesses and all documents from the United States Congress,” Nadler said. “It puts even President Nixon to shame.”
Trump tweets as arguments begin
Minutes after Thursday's session opened, Trump tweeted out a warning to Democrats: His legal team will call witnesses of their own if the House Democratic managers get the opportunity to question witnesses.
"The Democrats don’t want a Witness Trade because Shifty Schiff, the Biden’s, the fake Whistleblower(& his lawyer), the second Whistleblower (who vanished after I released the Transcripts), the so-called “informer”, & many other Democrat disasters, would be a BIG problem for them!"
Fidget spinners in the chamber
Three senators were spotted with fidget spinners as impeachment trial proceedings began on Thursday.
Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., were spotted with spinners on their desks.
As House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler started presenting and played video from the House impeachment inquiry about the constitutional basis for impeachment, Burr picked up his blue fidget spinner and started twirling it. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., who sits next to Burr, looked over and smiled.
White House addresses 'ridiculous' criticism over evidence
White House aides sought to clarify President Donald Trump's comment this week that he and aides "have all the material" in the impeachment case – a suggestion critics took to mean that Trump is hiding evidence from investigators.
"That's a ridiculous allegation," Trump spokesman Hogan Gidley said, adding that Trump was saying "the evidence is all on our side."
During an economic conference in Davos, Switzerland, Trump condemned House impeachment managers and praised his attorneys by saying: "I thought our team did a very good job. But honestly, we have all the material. They don't have the material."
‘What a whopper’
So what exactly are senators doing at their desks while the hours-long cases for and against impeachment are being made?
Some are nodding off. Some are drinking tall glasses of milk. And some are scribbling down thoughts.
Late during Tuesday’s session, when Trump's lawyer Pat Cipollone described the president as someone who "is a man of his word,” Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, wrote in her notebook:
“What a whopper.”
She relayed the story during a news conference Thursday, adding: “That's not the only time.”
“She didn’t mean a hamburger,” chimed in Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. standing next to her.
Hirono chuckled. “Definitely not.”
Schumer: GOP can't have it both ways on 'new' testimony
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday that GOP senators’ dismissive claim that they’re hearing no new material during President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial “rings very, very hollow” – considering they’re blocking Democratic efforts to call more witnesses and request more documents.
“The same Republicans saying they heard nothing new just voted nine times on Tuesday to hear nothing new,” Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters during a pretrial news conference. “If they want new stuff, there’s plenty of it.”
Schumer was referring to the amendments Democrats offered during the first day of the trial to allow certain witnesses and records pertaining to the impeachment investigation that are not part of the House’s case. All of the amendments were defeated on a strict partly-line vote in the Republican-controlled chamber, though they could be taken up again at a later time.
Democrats have pointed to Trump’s remarks Wednesday that "we have all the material. They don't have all the material.”
Hogan Gidley, a White House spokesman, said Trump wasn't bragging about withholding documents from Democrats, as some lawmakers have said. “What the president was clearly saying was that the evidence was all on our side," Gidley said.
Several GOP senators, including Ted Cruz, R-Texas; John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, on Wednesday bemoaned the repetitive nature of the Democrat’s case during nearly eight hours of oral arguments. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., called it “a rehashing of (Tuesday’s) charade.”
Schumer and other Democrats already shot down a rumored proposal to allow Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton to testify if Joe Biden's son Hunter could as well.
Democrats see Bolton as someone who could help make the case that Trump engaged in a “quid pro quo” with Ukraine. Republicans say Hunter Biden would be forced to answer pointed questions about his role on the board of a Ukrainian energy company key to the impeachment inquiry.
Schiff gets applause from an unlikely colleague: Graham
Rep. Adam Schiff, who’s leading the impeachment arguments during the Senate trial, got kudos from an unlikely source: Sen. Lindsey Graham.
"Good job today. Very well-spoken,” Graham, the South Carolina Republican, told Schiff, the California Democrat, late Wednesday during an impromptu meeting between the two near the elevators outside the Senate chamber.
Schiff and his fellow House managers had just wrapped up nearly eight hours of oral arguments when the exchange happened and the two shook hands.
It seemed an unlikely moment give how fiercely both have been regarding impeachment.
Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, had just been on the floor calling President Donald Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine a “gross abuse of power.” Graham, a tenacious Trump defender, had encouraged the president earlier in the day not to cooperate with Schiff, saying: “I wouldn’t give them the time of day.”
Senators can view classified testimony from Pence aide
When they’re not stuck in their seats at the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, senators will have the chance to review classified testimony from an assistant to Vice President Mike Pence that Democrats have unsuccessfully tried to make public.
After Senate Republicans rejected an attempt Tuesday to allow the Senate to receive classified information into evidence, Chief Justice John Roberts late Wednesday announced an agreement to allow classified information into the record. Senators will have to review it in a secure setting.
The information is part of a description of Pence’s Sept. 18 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky given to the committee by Jennifer Williams, a foreign policy adviser to Pence.
Democrats argue the testimony is corroborating evidence and there’s no reason it should be classified.
“Jennifer Williams has classified information to share with you that I hope you'll take a look at because it is relevant to these issues,” House impeachment manager Adam Schiff said.
Pence's office previously refused Democrats’ request to declassifying the information, saying in a Dec. 11 letter that it would serve no purpose.
“This call was classified when it occurred,” Pence spokeswoman Katie Waldman tweeted Wednesday night. “House Democrats knew the call was classified when they allowed and asked Jennifer Williams to discuss a classified call in an unclassified setting. They are now trying to cover their tracks.”
Pence had previously said he had no problem with the White House releasing transcripts of his conversations with Zelensky.
Trump attacks Democrats in morning tweet storm
Back at the White House after an overseas trip, President Donald Trump didn't waste much time before attacking Democratic prosecutors at the Senate impeachment trial.
"The Democrats are trying hard to damage Republicans prior to the Election!" Trump said during an early morning tweet storm aimed at opponents who have accused him of abuse of power.
Trump also cited pundits who attacked the process, including conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, and singled out Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the lead House impeachment manager, as "Shifty Schiff."
The president, who spent the past two days at an international economic conference in Davos, Switzerland, has no public events on his schedule Thursday.
After a series of private meetings the White House, Trump leaves at mid-day for a trip to Miami; he is scheduled to give a closed-door speech to the Republican National Committee, which is holding its winter meeting at the Trump National Doral golf resort.
Trump is also expected to watch parts of the impeachment trial on television.
Constitution, legal grounds for removal will be the focus
House Democrats will continue detailing their case against President Donald Trump as the Senate impeachment trial resumes Thursday and are expected to focus on the Constitution and the legal grounds for the president's removal.
The seven prosecutors, who are called managers, spoke for eight hours Wednesday mostly about the article accusing Trump of abuse of power. They chronicled their evidence about Trump pressuring Ukraine to investigate his political rival, former vice president Joe Biden, while withholding $391 million in military aid.
“I think it's a gross abuse of power,” said the lead manager, Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif. “And I don't think that the impeachment power is a relic. If it is a relic, I wonder how much longer our Republic can succeed."
On Thursday, the group is expected to focus on the Constitution and lay out the legal framework that they say merits Trump's removal from office. Schiff said the group would "apply the facts to the law as it relates to the president’s abuse of power."
The seven managers will have up to 24 hours spread over three sessions to make their arguments. Then Trump’s defense team, which is led by White House counsel Pat Cipollone and private lawyer Jay Sekulow, will have up to 24 hours over three sessions to rebut the charges or make their own arguments.
Sekulow told reporters that the defense lawyers, during their turn, would first respond to the House charges and then “we are going to make an affirmative case defending the president.”
After hearing the opening arguments, senators will have up to 16 hours to pose written questions to both sides through Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding.
As the arguments got underway, Trump spent Tuesday and Wednesday at an economic conference in Davos, Switzerland. But he will be in Washington Thursday as the trial continues.
Trump criticized the trial and called two of the managers – Schiff and Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y. – "major sleazebags" during a news conference Wednesday.
“It’s total hoax. It’s a disgrace. They talked about their tremendous case. They have no case,” Trump said.
Schiff summarized the case over about two hours Wednesday by offering a chronology of the events, documents and testimony that the inquiry collected.
Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., described how Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, smeared Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, before the president removed her. Democrats argued that her removal opened the door to pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who worked for a Ukraine gas company.
"It is beyond argument that President Trump mounted a sustained pressure campaign to get Ukraine to announce investigations that would benefit him politically, and then tried to cover it up,” Nadler said.
Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, highlighted how Giuliani's push for investigations benefited Trump personally rather than the national interest.
“Giuliani admitted that he was asking Ukraine to work on investigations that could be ‘very, very helpful’ to the president,” Garcia said.
Rep. Jason Crow, a former Army Ranger, focused on the suspension of military aid for Ukraine while at war with Russia.
"Ukrainian soldiers were manning the front lines against Russian-backed forces illegally occupying their country," said Crow, D-Colo.
Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., described how White House officials dangled the opportunity for Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to visit the White House – if he announced investigations against the Bidens.
But former national adviser John Bolton opposed the exchange, deriding it was a "drug deal" cooked up by Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Demings said.
"Mr. Giuliani became an inescapable presence to both Ukrainian officials and American diplomats," Demings said.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., went line by line through the summary of Trump's July 25 call with Zelensky, when the president asked his counterpart to investigate the Bidens.
"These words will live in infamy," Jeffries said of Trump asking for "a favor."
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., walked through the lack of public explanation for why the administration suspended military aid for Ukraine or for why it was released Sept. 11.
“Nothing to justify the president’s change in decision – except he got caught," Lofgren said.