Impeachment trial of President Trump
The Senate impeachment trial of President Trump — only the third impeachment trial in US history — kicked off in earnest today. While there were procedural moves in the trial last week, today marked the first serious day of trial.
If you're just reading in, here's what you need to know:
- McConnell's contentious plan: The Senate began debating the rules of the trial after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell unveiled his resolution last night. The draft from yesterday gave each side 24 hours — over the course of two days — to make opening arguments and said the House's evidence would not be admitted without a vote. Democrats slammed the rules, saying they were meant to "cover up" Trump's behavior, and there were even some concerns from Republicans.
- A last-minute rules change: McConnell quietly changed the resolution before it was read aloud in the Senate. The new resolution gives each side three days to make their 24 hours of arguments and says evidence will be admitted automatically unless there is a motion from the President's team to throw out evidence.
- Amendments to the resolution: The House managers and White House defense team each had time to argue their side of the resolution. After that, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer offered an amendment to it: One that requests to "subpoena certain documents and records from the White House." The two sides are now debating the amendment.
- What happens next: The Senate will vote on the amendment after debate. But this is only the first amendment — and Schumer has said he has a "series" of them to offer. The amendment process will repeat until Schumer is done offering amendments, at which point the chamber would move to a vote on McConnell's underlying resolution.
- So how long will today go? The length of today will be dictated by how many amendments Schumer chooses to propose.
Former Sen. Jeff Flake was in the gallery of the Senate chamber today watching a bit of the trial.
The former Arizona lawmaker was in town and said he thought he would come by and see history.
House manager Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat from California, laid out the need for documents from the White House during her argument on the Senate floor today.
She argued that some of the documents would shed light on the freeze on US military aid to Ukraine.
"Witness testimony and public reporting make clear that the White House has a significant body of documents that relate to these key aspects of the President's scheme. Some of the documents outline the planning of the President's freeze," Lofgren said.
As the proceedings in the Senate impeachment trial continue on, senators appear a bit more restless than they were last week during the ceremonially swearing in.
Many of the members have turned to writing notes as a way to keep busy during the trial. Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah who has worked closely with Leader Mitch McConnell and the President on preparations for the trial, wrote at a furious pace. A Constitutional lawyer, Lee seemed enthralled with the scene, scribbling notes and straining to ensure he could see all of the exhibits Rep. Adam Schiff referenced. There were a few video clips that played where most of the chamber almost seemed confused at first about where the videos coming from.
Sen. Cory Gardner, up for re-election in 2020, also scribbled down notes. Next to him, Sen. Chuck Grassley, the former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, glanced over repeatedly almost as if he was not quite sure what Gardner was jotting down so quickly.
McConnell, meanwhile, was stone faced. He looked forward at Schiff, listening intently with his hands folded in his lap.
The Democratic House managers have argued all day that President Trump obstructed Congress and is still engaged in a cover-up by preventing his senior aides from testifying in the House and blocking key documents.
During the House impeachment inquiry, the Trump administration ignored subpoenas that were sent to:
- The White House, asking for documents about Trump’s conversations with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and records about concerns raised by National Security Council officials
- The Pentagon, for documents and memos about the unexpected freeze, ordered by Trump last summer, of US military aid for Ukraine, portions of which were overseen by the Pentagon
- The Office of Management and Budget, which is part of the White House, for documents and emails about the internal scramble to implement and justify that freeze of US military aid for Ukraine
- The State Department, for text messages and emails exchanged by Trump appointees, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, about any efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government
- The Energy Department, for documents about then-Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s contacts with Ukrainian officials, and his communications with other Trump appointees about Ukraine
Check out CNN’s Impeachment Tracker for a full breakdown of the witnesses who did – and didn’t – testify in the House impeachment inquiry, and a list of all the subpoenas that were fulfilled and ignored.
Calling the House’s impeachment inquiry unfair to the President, White House counsel Pat Cipollone made a false claim about the closed-door House committee hearings at which witnesses were initially questioned.
The hearings were held in a secure room known as a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or “SCIF.”
“Not even Mr. Schiff's Republican colleagues were allowed into the SCIF,” Cipollone said, referring to House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, who is also the Democrats’ lead impeachment manager.
Facts First: As Schiff noted in his response to Cipollone, the 48 Republican members of the three committees holding the closed-door hearings — Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight — were indeed allowed into the SCIF, and they were given equal time to question witnesses.
Schiff said he would not suggest “Mr. Cipollone would deliberately make a false statement,” but he said, “I will tell you this: He's mistaken. He's mistaken." He added that Republicans were not only allowed in but “more than that: they got the same time we did."
Cipollone might have been referring to an October stunt in which Republicans who were not members of any of the three committees, along with some Republicans who were members, stormed the room to make a political point; the non-members were not allowed to be there, and they eventually left after causing a delay. But the members were allowed to be full participants in the proceedings.
Democrats were given an hour to argue for an amendment introduced by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
House manager Zoe Lofgren of California said they backed the amendment.
"The House managers strongly support Senator Schumer's amendment, which would ensure a fair legitimate trial based on a full evidentiary record," she said.
What we know: The amendment requests the Senate subpoena the White House for "certain documents and records."
Sen. Patrick Leahy told CNN that he did not view the changes Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made to the impeachment rules resolution as significant, saying there were still key breaks with President Clinton’s trial.
“I think the fact is that Mitch keeps telling you folks in the press that we’re doing it just like Clinton. Of course, he’s not,” Leahy said. “And I hope somebody will call him on it.”
After Mitch McConnell made two changes to his organizing resolution, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement the "real test" will be if other Republicans pressure McConnell to allow witnesses and documents.
Here's Schumer's statement:
“The public is understanding how unfair Senator McConnell’s trial rules are and Republican Senators are beginning to tell him to change them. The real test will be if they pressure Senator McConnell to allow witnesses and documents.
“For all of the name-calling and fingerprinting from the president’s counsel, we did not hear a single argument on the merits about why there should not be the documents and witnesses we requested in this trial.”