So, Rep. Adam Schiff ended the third day of Trump’s impeachment trial by following the President’s advice.
Trump has lambasted Schiff for previous inaccurately paraphrasing the call last year. But on Thursday Schiff went line-by-line through the real thing. Democrats say the pressure Trump exerts on Zelensky in the call — it’s not an exact transcript, but close — justifies removing Trump from office. Trump says it was “perfect.”
Regardless, Republican senators sat through Schiff reading Trump’s words — where the President asks a foreign leader to get in touch with the Bill Barr, the US attorney general, and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, about two different investigations he wants Ukraine to undertake.
Rather than gloss over the fact that Trump was pushing Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, Democrats went on offense Thursday, repeatedly mentioning Hunter Biden’s position on the Burisma board. Impeachment managers argued that Biden went after the Ukrainian prosecutor for ignoring corruption, the opposite of the storyline Trump and his allies have pushed.
But Trump attorney Jay Sekulow said the focus on Biden “opened the door” for the President’s defense team to discuss Joe Biden and Burisma: “For the last five hours, it’s been a lot about Joe Biden and Burisma, they kind of opened the door for that response so we’ll determine as a defense team the appropriate way to do it.”
We’ll see when the defense opens on Saturday how this plays out.
They are using Trump’s allies against him
Democrats played 21-year-old video of South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham arguing during the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton, back when he felt impeachment can move ahead even if there hasn’t been a criminal offense.
“Acting in a way that hurts people, you’ve committed a high crime,” Graham said then. He had just left the Senate chamber when that clip was played on Thursday.
Democrats, who are in the role of prosecutors, played similar video of lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who is a member of Trump’s legal team today. Later, making the case that Trump pushed Russian propaganda that Ukraine opposed him in 2016, they played devastating video of a former top security aide, Tom Bossert, appearing on ABC News and of FBI director Christopher Wray making a similar point.
They portrayed ‘America’s Mayor’ Rudy Giuliani as ‘the President’s political bag man’
They brought up evidence that came out after the House vote — and made fresh allegations
Later, Demings made clear that Democrats have learned that a mysterious “-1” phone number that contacted Giuliani originated at the White House. Much of this is designed to whet the public’s appetite for evidence the White House has been successful in blocking from investigators.
They accused Trump of working for himself, not the country
Democrats worked hard to draw a distinction between the national interest and Trump’s, and they repeatedly came back to the idea that Trump abused power because he and Giuliani were working for him and not for the public.
“The only person who stood to benefit from the abuse of office and solicitation of these investigations was Donald Trump. The 45th President of the United States. A violation of public trust. A failure to take care that the laws be faithfully executed. But when it came down to choosing between the national interest of the country and his own personal interests, his reelection, President Trump chose himself,” said Demings.
Republicans are finding new reasons to oppose trial witnesses
While Trump tweeted to the public about the idea of a witness trade — a Democratic witness, say, for a Republican one, like Hunter Biden — it is his threat to block testimony by John Bolton that has some Republicans leaning against witnesses.
Threat of court battle as a reason to oppose subpoenas
Plus, many say there’s little appetite for such a time-consuming fight, given that legal battles may ultimately not be successful and could force the courts to rule on hugely consequential constitutional issues about the separation of powers between the branches of government.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska moderate in the caucus, questioned the House Democrats’ decision to skip the courts because they wanted to avoid a drawn-out legal battle.
“The House made a decision that they didn’t want to slow things down by having to go through the courts,” Murkowski told CNN. “And yet now they’re basically saying you guys gotta go through the courts. We didn’t, but we need you to.”
Chief CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin called out this line of thinking, saying it was absurd and outrageous.
“In other words, the Republican position is you can’t investigate the President for obstruction of justice because he is still obstructing justice. The whole point of the second article of impeachment is that he is using his powers to stop an investigation. And what they are saying, well, he is still doing it so I guess we better throw in the towel.”
John Bolton and executive privilege
Meanwhile, there is an open question about Bolton, who has offered to testify if subpoenaed. If Trump tries to exert privilege over Bolton, will he rescind the offer? Bolton is writing a book, by the way, so he’s prepared to publish what he knows. Shouldn’t he be able to tell Congress?
Trump could test that idea.
The Democratic view is that Bolton is now a private citizen.
“Executive privilege cannot be used to prevent a witness who is willing to testify from appearing, and certainly not one who no longer works in government. It’s not a gag order. And witnesses testify on national security all the time. Bolton has a right to testify if he wants to,” Lofgren said on Twitter.
And Republicans are holding the line
“It’s not really changing our opinion,” Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst said after the party lunch Thursday, referring to how Republicans feel about the House managers’ case so far.
Ernst also added, “I think we’re still waiting to see the overwhelming evidence and once we see that maybe it will convince us that more information is needed, or not. We don’t know, because I haven’t had that presented yet.”
One Republican questioned Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s patriotism
“That a member of the Senate — at a moment when the Senate is undertaking its most solemn responsibility — would choose to take to Twitter to spread slander about a member of the military is a testament to cowardice,” said Vindman’s lawyer, Amb. David Pressman, in a tweet of his own. “While Senator Blackburn fires off defamatory tweets, Lieutenant Colonel Vindman will continue to do what he has always done: serve our country dutifully and with honor.”
We’re all in something of a Catch-22
The issue of new witnesses and evidence has become circular and maddening.
Democrats argue there must be new subpoenas for new evidence the White House has withheld and witnesses that have been blocked in order for the trial to be fair. They dismiss the idea that this would lead to a protracted legal fight since, with John Roberts in the chamber and able to offer guidance, they would sail through the courts.
Republicans say the Senate shouldn’t have to be dealing with this issue. The House didn’t deal with it either. They just impeached Trump. Regardless of whether they had the goods to impeach when they did — clearly Democrats felt they had a solid case — it is beyond dispute that there is unknown information that could be gotten by subpoena. Republicans, however, have no interest in getting it.
Steve Scalise, the House minority whip, summed it up pretty well on Twitter: “So let’s get this straight… First Dems claimed they proved their case beyond any doubt in the House. Then Dems wrote in their impeachment brief that they have ‘overwhelming’ evidence. But now they say they need more witnesses to make their case?? America isn’t buying this.”
How exactly America feels will be known next November, when voters weigh in on Democrats, who said they had no choice but to impeach a President that Republicans were always going to be able to acquit.
Trump broke his own Twitter record
“Now, maybe he isn’t worried about being removed from office. (There is little evidence that there are 67 senators willing to vote to do so.) But Trump’s Twitter frenzy does suggest that he is concerned about the the narrative of the impeachment trial turning against him — and what it might mean for his reelection chances.”
Other key things to know
What are we doing here?
The President has invited foreign powers to interfere in the US presidential election. Democrats impeached him for it. A Senate trial is happening now. It is a crossroads for the American system of government as the President tries to change what’s acceptable for US politicians. This newsletter will focus on this consequential moment in US history.