Senators kick off impeachment trial amid unfolding scandal
The third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history formally began on Thursday, as Chief Justice John Roberts swore in members of the Senate as jurors in the proceeding to consider President Donald Trump's removal, a rare and consequential collision of the three branches of government.
By swearing the oath administered by Roberts, the senators agreed to "do impartial justice" as they examine the allegations that President Trump abused his power by leveraging official acts to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political rival and then obstructed Congress by refusing to cooperate with the House impeachment investigation.
The Ukraine scandal continued to unfold even in the trial's opening hours, as Lev Parnas — an indicted associate of President Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani — gave multiple interviews alleging that Trump played a more important role in Giuliani's Ukraine pressure campaign than was previously known. "President Trump knew exactly what was going on," Parnas told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow of attempts by Giulaini to press Ukrainian officials to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.
Additionally, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) released an opinion on Thursday declaring that the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) violated the law when it withheld nearly $400 million in congressionally-mandated military aid to Ukraine in the summer of 2019. The aid holdup — which took place as Trump and his allies were pressuring Ukraine to pursue political investigations and was reportedly ordered by the president himself — is at the very center of the allegations in the articles of impeachment now before the Senate.
Official Senate Photo
The latest developments in the scandal could bolster the Democratic case to request witnesses at the outset of the Senate trial who didn't testify as part of the House inquiry. In particular, Senate Democrats are calling for testimony from acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, former national security adviser John Bolton, Mulvaney's senior adviser Robert Blair, and OMB associate director Michael Duffey. (Bolton, at least, has said he will testify if subpoenaed.)
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has signaled that he will force a vote on impeachment witnesses on Tuesday, when the Senate returns after the holiday weekend to set rules for the trial. Schumer will need the support of a simple majority of senators, which would include four Republicans. Most GOP senators have coalesced behind Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's position of waiting to consider new witness testimony until after the House prosecutors and the president's defense attorneys have both presented 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," Republican Sen. Susan Collins, a key swing vote, said in a statement on Thursday.
While Democratic leaders have said refusing to call witnesses would be akin to a "coverup," top Republicans have accused the House of leading a rushed investigation and said they will not request testimony from witnesses who were not subpoenaed as part of the initial impeachment investigation.
- "Ukraine police investigating possible surveillance of Yovanovitch, Russian hacking" (ABC News)
- "FBI visits Robert Hyde's home and office after he's swept into Ukraine scheme" (NBC News)
- "Trump hotel’s mix of GOP insiders and hangers-on helped give rise to impeachment episodes" (Washington Post)
- "An Impeachment Trial That Could Unfold Out of Public View" (New York Times)
- Watch a piece of history: Video of Chief Justice Roberts and members of the Senate swearing their oaths on Thursday (C-SPAN)
Senate approves North American trade deal: "Congress on Thursday gave final approval to President Trump’s revised North American Free Trade Agreement, handing the president his second trade victory of the week as the Senate prepared to try him for high crimes and misdemeanors."
"The 89 to 10 vote in the Senate on implementing legislation for the revised United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement will send the measure to Mr. Trump, who is expected to sign it next week. The vote came just one day after Mr. Trump signed a long-awaited trade deal with China, giving the president two trade wins in a single week."
"The unusual show of bipartisan support for the North American trade deal came just before the House impeachment managers formally presented the charges against Mr. Trump, offering a striking contrast." (New York Times)
Warren, Sanders try to move on from post-debate spat: "Warren and Sanders' presidential campaigns are publicly taking steps to move on from the feuding of the past week, after trading accusations of calling the other a 'liar' in a tense hot-mic conversation following Tuesday’s debate. But it’s proving more difficult than either would like, thanks to months of quietly escalating tensions that suddenly boiled over this week. Even as Sanders and Warren mostly laid off each other earlier this year, many in Warren's orbit privately seethed over escalating, thinly veiled criticism from Sanders' top aides and surrogates, while some Sanders supporters have viewed Warren with disdain since she declined to join their cause in 2016."
"Conflict between the progressive campaigns threatens to distract from their primary strategies at a critical time, less than three weeks before the Iowa caucuses. Sanders wants to spend the final weeks taking on former Vice President Joe Biden on policy, while Warren is intent on pitching herself as a unity candidate with appeal to both wings of the Democratic Party."
"And if one of them is to win the nomination, they will likely need significant backing from the other’s supporters eventually, which is why the back-and-forth has freaked out left-wing organizations and activists who see the conflict as a boon to Biden — and insist it’s all in the rearview mirror." (Politico)
U.S. troops were injured in Iranian missile attack: "Eleven U.S. service members were flown out of Al Assad Air Base in Iraq and treated for concussion symptoms after Iran's rocket attack targeting two Iraqi military bases earlier this month, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command revealed Thursday night."
"President Trump and U.S. officials had said earlier that no Americans were killed or injured in the Jan. 8 attack." (Fox News)
President Trump will welcome the 2019 College Football National Champions, the Lousiana State University Tigers, to the White House at 11 a.m. In the afternoon, he will travel to his Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, for the weekend. This evening, he will participate in a pair of fundraising events at 6:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.
The Senate will meet for a pro forma session at 2 p.m.
The House will meet for a pro forma session at 10:30 a.m.
The Supreme Court will hold its weekly conference.
Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, John Delaney, and Elizabeth Warren will campaign in Iowa. Tulsi Gabbard and Bill Weld will campaign in New Hampshire. Deval Patrick will campaign in Nevada. Tom Steyer will campaign in North Carolina.
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