Impeachment news roundup: Jan. 21

Senate blocks every one of Schumer’s amendments on rules proposal

House impeachment managers address the media in the Capitol on the Senate trial of President Donald Trump on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
House impeachment managers address the media in the Capitol on the Senate trial of President Donald Trump on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted January 21, 2020 at 9:29am

The Senate voted 53-47 along party lines to approve Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s rules for the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, after a long night of debate that stretched to nearly 2 a.m. Wednesday morning.

Senators almost entirely along party lines to block every motion Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer put forward Tuesday in an attempt to subpoena testimony from Cabinet officials, State Department and White House documents, and communications regarding Ukraine.

The amendments were offered to the impeachment rules resolution and were the first of several attempts by the New York Democrat to alter the rules proposal during the first day of the impeachment trial. After Schumer offered his fourth amendment at about 9:30 p.m., McConnell offered a consent agreement to stack the amendment votes so they could be dispatched quickly.

Schumer, however, would not agree to the amendment votes but did offer to continue the proceeding Wednesday morning.

“We will not back off on getting votes on all these amendments,” Schumer said.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone was anxious to move past debate on the trial rules.

“Seriously. Can we please start?” the president’s attorney was heard saying.

The subpoenas Schumer offered attempted to summon information not provided to House investigators during its impeachment investigation. Some Democrats hoped moderate GOP senators would join them in voting to get evidence that was not disclosed to the House during its impeachment investigation.

Sen. Susan Collins said in a statement she will vote to table any attempts to subpoena documents or witnesses in the trial until after the House and White House present their cases and senators ask questions. At that point, senators “will be able to make an informed judgment about what is in dispute, what is important, and what remains relevant to the underlying issues.”

“As I said last week, while I need to hear the case argued and the questions answered, I anticipate that I would conclude that having additional information would be helpful,” the Maine Republican said. “It is likely that I would support a motion to subpoena witnesses at that point in the trial just as I did in 1999.”

Following input from senators, McConnell on Tuesday made two changes to his resolution setting the rules for the trial.

The updated resolution will allow for the House managers and the president’s lawyers to make arguments for up to 24 hours over three days, rather than the two session days in the draft released Monday night.

It also would provide for the automatic introduction of the House records into evidence, according to a senior Democratic aide. Under the Monday version of the rules, a vote would need to take place to admit the House records.

Schumer told reporters during a break that the changes McConnell made to his trial rules came after the public pressured Republican senators.

“I’m very glad they moved to three days instead of two so we won’t be hearing arguments at two in morning,” he said. “It’s good they admitted evidence, but the real test will be witnesses and documents. Will our Republican senators put pressure on McConnell, so that we really have witnesses and documents produced, either now or after the arguments are made?”

Schumer said Trump’s counsel has not made a single argument about why there shouldn’t be witnesses or documents. “That speaks volumes,” he said.

Here is the latest on impeachment:

Aisle crossed: Sen. Susan Collins of Maine broke with her fellow Republicans to vote in favor of a Schumer amendment to the impeachment resolution which would to allow additional time to file responses to motions. Senators voted 52-48 to table Schumer’s 10th amendment of the day, with the others rejected on 53-47 roll call votes.

Tempers: After nearly 12 hours of tame debate, the most fiery exchange of the day came close to 1 a.m. Wednesday when White House counsel Pat Cipollone unleashed on House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler.

That sparked a shouting match between Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow and Nadler about executive privilege.

Nadler led the Democrats’ argument for issuing a subpoena for testimony from Bolton. “The question here is whether the Senate wants to be complicit in the president’s crimes by covering them up?” Nadler asked.

“The only one who should be embarrassed is you, Mr. Nadler, for the way you addressed the United States Senate,” said Cipollone.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. formally admonished the House impeachment managers and Trump’s defense team for their language and personal characterizations.

“They are addressing the world’s greatest deliberative body,” Roberts said. “One reason it has earned that title is because its members avoid speaking in a manner and using language that is not conducive to civil discourse,” he added. 

“Those addressing the Senate should remember where they are,” Roberts said.

The Senate eventually voted 53-47 to table the Schumer amendment to the impeachment rules resolution that would have subpoenaed Bolton, who has said he would testify if subpoenaed.

OMB documents: Just before midnight, the White House Office of Management and Budget released 192 pages of Ukraine-related documents sought in a public records lawsuit by the American Oversight watchdog group. 

The clock strikes: The Senate continued to turn back amendments to the impeachment rules resolution from Schumer on 53-47 roll call votes as Tuesday gave way to Wednesday.  The seventh would have barred “selective admission of evidence and to provide for appropriate handling of classified and confidential materials.”

“It’s midnight,” House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff said, and it was.

Schumer submitted an eighth amendment that would subpoena former national security adviser John Bolton.

Notorious Jeff-Er-Ie(s): Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, one of the impeachment managers, gave his first argument before the Senate Tuesday, in favor of subpoenaing acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.

“Mr. Mulvaney is a highly relevant witness to the events at issue in this trial. Mr. Mulvaney was at the center of every stage of the president’s substantial pressure campaign against Ukraine,” Jeffries said.

According to the House’s evidence, Mulvaney played a “crucial” role in plotting and executing the Ukraine effort and carrying out the cover-up, Jeffries said.

“President Trump’s complete and total obstruction makes Richard Nixon look like a choir boy,” he added.

He ended his response to Trump’s legal team by saying, “and if you don’t know, now you know,” quoting the late Brooklyn rapper Christopher George Latore Wallace, better known as the Notorious B.I.G.

Lankford OK: Sen. James Lankford said he didn’t have an issue with the press restrictions imposed specifically for the impeachment trial.

“Our press folks have talked to lots of press. I talked to lots of press this morning. I’ve got meetings with press later on this afternoon,” Lankford said.

“But just in the access points around the different hearing time, yeah, that’s a little different just because of the magnitude of the number of people that are here,” Lankford said.

Lankford said the trial has been as “expected so far” and added that “today’s the first day, we’re just walking through rules — that’s really all we have.”

Advisers take questions: Reps. Mark Meadows and Lee Zeldin, two House Republicans helping to advise Trump’s impeachment defense team, made themselves available to the press off the Senate floor to provide live Republican commentary on the proceedings Tuesday since senators are confined to their seats while the impeachment trial is in session.

“I figure since the senators don’t have their devices and can’t talk other than 15-minute breaks, you’ll take the ‘B’ Team,” Meadows told reporters.

When notified that some senators have been wearing Apple Watches in the chamber, the two Republican congressmen laughed.

“I don’t think that’s a gray area. I think that’s breaking the rules,” Meadows said.

The North Carolina Republican said that while he wants an expedited trial so Congress can focus on addressing policy issues, he and other Republicans could tolerate McConnell’s last-minute update to the impeachment trial rules resolution stretching time for opening arguments over an extra day.

“Having 24 hours to debate oral arguments over a three day period versus a two day period, I don’t know that it’s fundamentally going to change the verdict and what we’ll see,” Meadows said.

Senate scenes: Sen. Mark Warner appeared to be falling asleep as he rested his head on his hand around 1:50 p.m., only to be stirred by Schiff playing a video of Trump’s remarks.

A few minutes past 2 p.m. Democratic staff passed out legislative text to senators on their side of the aisle — presumably the updated McConnell resolution.

Most senators did not take notes as Schiff spoke, but there were some exceptions, including Sens. Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Cory Gardner, John Thune, Rob Portman and Chuck Grassley. Collins, in particular, appeared to be taking copious notes, moving through multiple pages on her legal pad.

At about 2 p.m., a staffer brought Grassley a black binder and something in a plastic sandwich size bag, the latter of which he put in his open desk drawer. Senate pages roamed through the aisles filling senators’ empty water glasses. Among those needing refills by 2:15 p.m. were Collins, Sens. Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and Bill Cassidy.

Rule rage: McConnell’s proposed rules angered Democrats, who said the majority leader wasn’t following his pledge to follow the precedent set in the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton and amounted to a “cover-up.”

“Everything in these rules is rigged. … They are so afraid, so afraid of the facts coming out that they want things to be presented at two, three in the morning,” House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff, who is leading the team of House impeachment managers, told reporters Tuesday. “Give me a break.

“This is not a process for a fair trial. This is the process for a rigged trial,” Schiff said. “This is the process if you do not want the American people to see the evidence.”

The two provisions being changed were among the key concerns raised by Democrats, as well as some Republicans. Republican Sen. Susan Collins viewed the tweaked resolution as “a significant improvement,” according to spokeswoman Annie Clark.

“Senator Collins and others raised concerns about the 24 hours of opening statements in two days and the admission of the House transcript in the record. Her position has been that the trial should follow the Clinton model as much as possible,” Clark said.

Cipollone opened the trial by urging senators to adopt McConnell’s proposed resolution, saying it allows for a “fair process.”

“We are in favor of this,” Cipollone said. “The only conclusion will be that the president has done absolutely nothing wrong.”

But Schiff shot back, laying out the argument he has been making for months that Trump abused his power by pressuring the Ukrainian government for his own political gain.

“Let me be very blunt. Right now a great many, perhaps even most Americans, do not believe there will be a fair trial,” Schiff said. “They don’t believe the Senate will be impartial. They believe that the result is pre-cooked. The president will be acquitted, not because he is innocent — he is not — but because the senators will vote by party and he has the votes.”

Cipollone called out the presidential candidates on the Democratic side of the Senate chamber during his closing remarks in support of the rules resolution.

“Talk about the framer’s worst nightmare; it’s a partisan impeachment that they’ve delivered to your doorstep in an election year. Some of you are upset because you should be in Iowa right now.”

Amendment threat: Schumer said earlier Tuesday that he would offer amendments to the proposed rules to hear from witnesses and see more documents. And to put Republicans on record.

“Right off the bat, Republican senators will face a choice about getting the facts or joining Leader McConnell and President Trump in trying to cover them up.”

“The McConnell rule seems to be designed by President Trump for President Trump,” Schumer said with Sens. Richard J. Durbin, Patty Murray and Debbie Stabenow alongside him.

Schumer said his first amendment would be for the Senate to subpoena White House documents that could reveal why the Trump administration withheld nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine before ultimately releasing it in September.

Schumer argued that those documents could be as important in revealing the reasons for the Trump administration’s actions as testimony from congressional Democrats’ desired impeachment witnesses like former national security adviser John Bolton and Director of the Office of Management and Budget and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.

“[McConnell’s resolution] asks the Senate to sprint through the trial as fast as possible and makes getting evidence as hard as possible,” Schumer said. “Leader McConnell wants the process rushed with as little evidence as possible in the dark of night.”

But McConnell said he would table any amendment to the rules that would demand witnesses. He said that later in the trial, after hearing from House managers and the White House defense team, the Senate could decide whether to hear from additional witnesses.

Schumer speaking after McConnell, voiced his opposition to increased media restrictions for the trial, saying they could cause some journalists to miss key moments during the trial.

Earlier Tuesday, Schumer told reporters that he was not privy to the decision to restrict media access around the Senate side of the Capitol and said he would prefer for the media to be able to interact with senators like a “normal day” when the Senate is in session.

“Some may not want what happens here to be public,” he said in an apparent shot at McConnell.

The House’s case: The House managers presenting the articles of impeachment against Trump in the Senate framed their case on Tuesday as necessary to protect the integrity of future elections.

The president’s legal team raised eyebrows on Monday when it asserted that he could not be impeached and removed from office for an abuse of his executive power that fell short of a crime.

In a reply memo Tuesday, the House managers said the White House’s assertion is “wrong” and sets a “dangerous” precedent for future cases where a president might leverage his executive powers to influence elections.

“That argument would mean that, even accepting that the House’s recitation of the facts is correct — which it is — the House lacks authority to remove a President who sells out our democracy and national security in exchange for a personal political favor. The Framers of our Constitution took pains to ensure that such egregious abuses of power would be impeachable,” the managers wrote in their reply to Trump’s lawyers.

At stake in the impeachment trial is not holding a president accountable for past actions, but protecting future elections, the managers argued.

The House was compelled to take up impeachment late last year, even on the eve of an election year, because Trump’s alleged abuse of power was intended to sway the results of the 2020 election in his favor, the managers wrote.

“The Framers also knew that periodic democratic elections cannot serve as an effective check on a President who seeks to manipulate those elections,” they argued.

“Completely absurd”: White House spokesman Hogan Gidley dismissed as a “political stunt” Democrats’ challenge to White House counsel Pat Cipollone’s serving as an attorney in the impeachment case because he might have firsthand information about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.

“The idea that the counsel to the President has to turn over protected documents and confidential information is ludicrous, and to imply he can’t represent the president of the United States in an impeachment proceeding is completely absurd,” Gidley said.

He said that if anyone should be disqualified, it’s lead impeachment manager Rep. Adam B. Schiff, “who has been caught lying multiple times about Russia collusion evidence that didn’t exist, made up a totally phony phone conversation about Ukraine that never happened, and lied that his staff didn’t have contact with the whistleblower.”

Amendment update: Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris said no final decisions were made during Democrats’ luncheon about how many amendments they would offer to McConnell’s rules resolution. She suggested the concerns raised through amendments would be more about obtaining evidence than the schedule of the trial.

“I think most of the people around here hopefully are used to working sometimes without sleep, so I’m not concerned about the schedule as much as I am whether this is going to be a fair trial,” Harris said. “We need to have access to witnesses with direct information and evidence about the president’s conduct.”

The former presidential candidate said she would oppose any effort to close the Senate for deliberations, saying the American people have a right to know what’s happening.

So that’s a no?: Sen. Susan Collins, one of the Senate Republicans who has said she would consider voting to hear new evidence and witnesses after both sides present their case, shook her head when asked if she had any concerns about McConnell’s resolution but did not provide a verbal response.

Rerun: Republican Sen. Thom Tillis said that additional witnesses and evidence should be put to a vote after both sides present their case.

“I for one think that that should have been a discussion [the House] had before they ever wrapped up the investigation and sent it here,” he told CQ Roll Call.

When asked about emerging evidence like the allegations from Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, he said he expects to see a “Kavanaugh-like” reveal of additional evidence that people will argue to include in the record over the next few weeks, referring to confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

“I have seen that movie and I hope it ends the same way as this one,” Tillis said.

Irrelevant yet accurate:Romney, another Republican senator who is open to hearing more witnesses and considering more evidence, responded to Trump calling him a “pompous ass,” over his position, telling reporters, “That may be as accurate as it is irrelevant,” to the trial.

Romney said he is not concerned about the potential late nights of arguments and activity on impeachment and does not share concerns about the American public not seeing key exchanges.

“You guys are going to cover it, whether it’s at 2 a.m. or whether it’s 2 in the afternoon, so it’s going to be on the air, people are going to see it,” he told reporters.

He compared the late-night sessions to work on the Salt Late City Olympics, of which he was president and CEO of the organizing committee.

“When I was broadcasting the Olympics, you know, there was a time delay and people got to see it,” Romney said.

Alternate channel: Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, who has pledged to do a full readout of the trial and his experience and views on social media each day, said he’s also open to doing pen and pad sessions with reporters.

“Yes, I’m open to a variety of ways to keep in touch with all of you. I’m going to be trying to communicate directly with my constituents and the press via social media,” Murphy said Tuesday. “I want this to be a transparent process. I want people to be able to see what’s going on. The press is a vital conduit for that.”

Bring it on: Democratic Sen. Chris Coons had a bold response to questions about the possibility of former Vice President Joe Biden being called to testify during the Trump impeachment trial.

“If you want to give Joe Biden an opportunity to sit in the well of the Senate and answer the question: Do you think the president acted appropriately? Go right ahead,” Coons said.

“I can’t imagine a person more comfortable in the well of the Senate than a man who spent 36 years here as a United States senator, and I can’t imagine a current candidate for president more familiar with and comfortable with the details of how the previous administration worked tirelessly to fight corruption in Ukraine, and the current administration has failed to, than my predecessor,” said the Delaware Democrat, who won a special election in 2010 to take over Biden’s seat.

Coons said he has never been in Washington two weeks straight, but he told his wife this morning that he would be gone for that time. He said he is blessed to represent a state close enough to see his family while the Senate is in session.

Coons called the lack of phones on the Senate floor during the trial “a needed digital cleanse.”

“Many of my junior staff were concerned and alarmed, ‘How will you make it?’” Coons said. “I reminded them that I made it through all of law school without a cell phone, without an iPad. We may actually be able to focus more.”

Fair trial: House impeachment managers said Tuesday that they would press Republican senators to reject the proposed rules because that process would harm their ability to present their case fairly.

They compared supporting McConnell’s trial resolution to helping Trump commit obstruction of Congress, the behavior described in the second article of impeachment.

“It will not prove the president innocent, it will merely prove the Senate guilty of working with the president to obstruct the truth from coming out,” Schiff said at a news conference.

And House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, also a House manager, said the question facing Republican senators is whether they “want to be complicit in the cover up of the president?”

“Any senator who votes to deny a witness, who votes deny evidence, is voting to cover up the president’s crimes and subversion of the Constitution,” Nadler said. “There’s no other way about it.”

Schiff said the proposed rules were like a judge entering a courtroom and telling the jury that he has been talking to the defendant, and that he won’t allow the prosecution to call witnesses or enter documents. The judge also would only let the prosecution read from previous documents, but even those won’t necessarily be allowed as evidence in the trial.

“That makes it impossible to have a fair trial, not just difficult, but impossible to have a trial,” Schiff said. “And I think for senators who take their oath seriously — and I hope and pray that they do — this is not the fair trial that the American people want, this is not the fair trial that the American people deserve.”

Dark of night: Speaker Nancy Pelosi also described McConnell’s rules as a “cover-up.”

“Leader McConnell’s plan for a dark of night impeachment trial confirms what the American people have seen since Day One: the Senate GOP Leader has chosen a cover-up for the President, rather than honor his oath to the Constitution,” Pelosi said in a statement Tuesday morning.

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