Impeachment trial of President Trump
Eric Ueland, legislative director for the White House, said the defense will be ready to go when it’s their turn Saturday in the impeachment trial.
“We’ll be fully engaged, ready to go, on Saturday,” Ueland said.
Asked what his preferences were for structuring the defense, Ueland said, “I’ll leave that to Pat and Jay, but we’re very prepared.”
About Trump's defense team: The team is made of longtime Trump attorney Jay Sekulow and Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel expected to lead the defense.
The Democratic House managers accused President Trump of parroting Kremlin talking points, by accusing Ukraine of interfering in the 2016 election.
The Kremlin has pushed this conspiracy theory to deflect attention from Russia’s own meddling in the 2016 election, according to witnesses who testified in the House impeachment inquiry and classified intelligence briefings given to senators.
At today's hearing, Rep. Adam Schiff said Trump was "pushing Kremlin talking points" on Ukraine.
This isn’t the only topic where Trump has aligned his public comments with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Since he entered the political arena, Trump has often broken from Republican orthodoxy and embraced Kremlin-friendly talking points, especially on foreign policy.
Here are two examples:
- Fighting ISIS: After announcing the Syria withdrawal last year, Trump repeated Kremlin talking points about ISIS. He said, "Russia hates ISIS as much as the United States does" and that they are equal partners in the fight. But Trump's comments don't reflect the reality on the ground: Since intervening in Syria in 2015, the Russian military has focused its airstrikes on anti-government rebels, not ISIS.
- Annexation of Crimea: Trump once said Putin did "an amazing job of taking the mantle" when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump broke with US policy and suggested he was OK if Russia kept the Ukrainian territory. He repeated a Kremlin talking point, saying, "The people of Crimea, from what I've heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were."
At one point during today's proceeding, House manager Jerry Nadler played a video clip of Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham's remarks during the Clinton impeachment in which he talked about his interpretation of what the framers of the Constitution meant by "high crimes."
"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," Graham said in 1999 when he served as a House manager in the Clinton trial.
Why did he do this: According to CNN's Phil Mattingly, Nadler is "trying to make the point to rebut" the Trump team argument "that because a crime was not committed he cannot be impeached."
Mattingly reported that Graham was actually not in the chamber when Nadler played the recording, but a couple of Republican senators cracked some smiles. Sen. John Barrasso who sits next to Graham was seen patting the empty chair. When Graham returned "a couple senators were seen whispering to him about what had occurred."
The broader point is that it appears the Democrats' strategy is to, at times, cites Republican senators themselves. Mattingly points out these are "he same senators that are going to have to decide ... whether or not to vote to remove the president."
"They are playing to the audience, they are playing to the jury," he adds.
Watch the moment:
Sen. Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee, was spotted reading a book during the trial today.
She revealed on Twitter this afternoon what the book it is: Kimberley Strassel’s latest, "Resistance (At All Costs): How Trump Haters Are Breaking America."
"It provides good insights into today’s proceedings. Second – busy mamas are the best at multi-tasking. Try it," Blackburn tweeted.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said today that Democrats were going to hold firm and demand the four witnesses they want to testify and the four sets of documents.
He went on to say that they were “not whittling down” the list or “trading” witnesses.
Rep. Sylvia Garcia, one of the House impeachment managers, raised and then debunked the theory that President Trump says is at the heart of his efforts in Ukraine.
On the July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump asked Zelensky to do him a favor and look into, among other things, potential interference in the 2016 election and Vice President Joe Biden.
“As the theory goes,” said Garcia, “Vice President Biden tried to remove Ukraine's prosecutor all to make sure the prosecutor wouldn't investigate that specific company Burisma because, again, his son was on the board. Then senators, if that doesn't sound far-fetched and complicated to you, it should.”
In breaking down the theory, Garcia noted that when Hunter Biden joined the board of Burisma in 2014, its owner was under investigation. The following year, Victor Shokin became Ukraine’s prosecutor general.
Later in 2015, Biden publicly called for Shokin’s removal. But as Garcia noted on Thursday, Biden was not alone in trying to get Shokin fired at the time.
“Let’s be very, very clear,” Garcia said. “Vice President Biden called for the removal of this prosecutor at the official direction of US policy because the prosecutor was widely perceived as corrupt and with the support of all of our international allies, his actions were therefore supported by the executive branch, Congress, and the international community.”
Furthermore, when Biden called for Shokin’s removal, the case against Burisma was no longer active, Garcia noted.
“Although Shokin vowed to keep investigating Burisma amid an international push to root out corruption in Ukraine, he allowed the Burisma investigation to go dormant,” Garcia said. “That is when he was removed. He was not actively investigating Burisma.”
Garcia’s assertions are supported by Shokin’s deputy prosecutor, Vitaliy Kaso, who resigned in February 2016, a month before Shokin himself was fired. Kasko told Bloomberg that the case against Burisma was dormant by the time Shokin was removed, saying “There was no pressure from anyone from the US to close cases against Zlochevsky. It was shelved by Ukrainian prosecutors in 2014 and through 2015."
You can read more about this here.
Republican Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, said "there's been no attempt to coordinate" how the question and answer portion of the Senate impeachment trial will work.
“But everybody, I think, is trying to think of, okay what, what am I going to ask," he added.
Sen. James Lankford also said they haven’t had a conversation about it yet – but will soon.
But, both Cornyn and Lankford explained how the portion went during President Bill Clinton's trial and as of now assume that’ll be the case for President Trump’s trial. Senators submitted written questions and the Chief Justice sifted through them and grouped the questions.
Ahead of the upcoming witness vote, Cornyn said he thinks maybe it’s starting to dawn on Republicans that if witnesses are requested and it goes to the court, “while this case is pending, we can't do anything else.”
“One of the things that weighs in my mind is because the House didn’t go through all these questions about privilege and litigating that issue, essentially what they’ve done is they push that responsibility off on the Senate and so that means rather than a few weeks this could last for months like those privilege claims are getting litigated in the courts," he said. "That's another good reason I think for holding the House managers feet to the fire. Saying, you know, this was your job to develop the case and not our job. That's something that I think that’s beginning to dawn on us that, that could be a consequence of them having not done their job in the House and foisting that on us. And as you know while this case is pending, we can't do anything else," Cornyn said.
The Senate impeachment trial has resumed.
During the break, CNN's Jake Tapper discussed Rep. Sylvia Garcia's presentation that just concluded, asking a panel of analysts if they thought it "would it have made her case stronger" if in her remarks about the Bidens she had acknowledged that Hunter Biden has said it wasn't a smart idea to take the job with Ukrainian energy company Burisma.
CNN analyst Gloria Borger pointed out that what Hunter Biden did, while wrong, is "not relevant to the case."
"I think she was trying to stick to the case at hand," Borger said on Garcia's presentation.
CNN's John King said that Garcia made it clear "they wanted to spend some time defending Joe Biden before the President's team prosecutes Joe Biden."
King said that "the President's team's argument is that he had every right to ask for this investigation because he believed" the conspiracy theory that Ukraine meddled in the US election.