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Schiff, Nadler impeachment tension spills out during trial

The committee chairmen's stylistic and rhetorical differences on display

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., speaks during a press conference with the other House impeachment managers before the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump resumes at the Capitol on Wednesday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., speaks during a press conference with the other House impeachment managers before the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump resumes at the Capitol on Wednesday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

The first question at Wednesday’s press conference with House impeachment managers was directed at Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the New York Democrat whose Senate presentation helped prompt a rebuke from Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and a flood of criticism from Republican senators.

Nadler appeared to take a half step toward the podium as Rep. Adam B. Schiff cut off the CNN reporter. “I’m going to respond to the questions,” the California Democrat and lead impeachment manager said, then turned to call on another reporter for a question on a different topic. Nadler was silent.

The exchange was one of a few moments that hint at some internal discord among House managers about the best way to present their case for impeaching President Donald Trump to the Senate as well as the American people — and how to stay on that message.

The rhetorical and stylistic differences, and at times tension, between Schiff and Nadler have been on display since September. Speaker Nancy Pelosi picked Schiff, the Intelligence Committee chairman, to lead the impeachment inquiry over Nadler, the chairman of the Judiciary panel that has sole jurisdiction over drafting impeachment articles.

She later picked the former federal prosecutor to lead the impeachment team.

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Now, Nadler’s misstep on the Senate floor in the wee hours Wednesday morning provided Republicans with a new line of attack, and allowed them to avoid questions about votes against witnesses and new evidence during the trial.

“I can tell you there was open gasping on the Senate floor when Nadler was saying those things,” Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley told the media. “If the goal was to persuade, they took a huge step back.”

The first sign of the chairmen’s different approaches to the impeachment trial emerged at the House team’s press conference Tuesday, just a few minutes before the trial started.

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Schiff spoke for about four minutes about the rules for the impeachment and then asked for questions from the reporters surrounding them.

But Nadler stepped in in what appeared to be an unplanned moment.

“Let me add something here,” Nadler began as he adjusted the microphone. He went on to repeat talking points Schiff and other Democrats have made, saying that “any senator who votes to deny a witness, who votes to deny evidence, is voting to cover up the president’s crimes and subversion of the Constitution.”

Nadler spoke for about two minutes before Schiff, seeming to want to regain control of the time, gently placed his hand on Nadler’s back and said, “Let’s go to questions.” Schiff readjusted the microphone as he began his answer.

Once the trial started, and the day dragged on as Senate Democrats offered amendment after amendment to change Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s rules for the trial, Nadler did not have a primetime role.

Schiff spoke for much of it, portraying an even-keeled and professional courtroom demeanor. Nadler made his first speaking appearance on the Senate floor after midnight, after all the other members of the impeachment team had already done so, including more junior members of the Judiciary Committee.

Nadler was always supposed to speak on an amendment to require former national security adviser John Bolton testify at the impeachment trial, and House managers did not control the order of the amendments, Nadler spokesman Daniel Schwarz said.

From a messaging standpoint, Nadler’s remarks did not go well. Nadler said a vote to deny subpoenas for witnesses at the beginning of the trial — which all Republican senators had done that day — is an “absolutely indefensible vote, obviously a treacherous vote.”

Roberts delivered a rebuke to both the impeachment managers and Trump’s defense team. And it opened up the impeachment team to attacks from Republican senators, some of whom have expressed an openness to bringing in witnesses later in the trial.

[Schumer says Democrats not looking to make deals over witnesses]

“I thought that it was really fine frankly up until Jerry Nadler, who did not disappoint,” North Dakota Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer said Wednesday. “He was chosen to go after midnight on purpose, I don’t think there’s any question about that… He’s pretty extreme for House guys even.”

Connecticut Democratic Sen. Christopher S. Murphy called it “BS” that Republicans were saying Nadler alienated those who would eventually vote whether to convict Trump. “This is a tried and true Republican tactic,” Murphy tweeted, adding it is “just a way to try to build cover for a reckless vote.”

Just before the start of the trial’s second day, Schiff addressed the media flanked by Nadler and the rest of the House impeachment team.

While Schiff cut off the first question about Nadler’s controversial argument — a moment that did not escape the notice of Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and other Republicans — he answered a later question on the topic and said tempers would flare when litigants go an entire day and into the dead of night.

“That happens in every courtroom in America as well,” Schiff said. “But we are going to try to keep focused on the facts. The president’s team would like nothing more than to provoke a bit of conflict. We’re not gonna let them.”

Schwarz said that there was a short window for press availability Wednesday morning before the trial and the impeachment team agreed to have only Schiff answer questions as lead manager.

[Impeachment managers all represent safe Democratic seats]

Once in the Senate chamber, Schiff began his remarks with a comment that only expressed support for Roberts.

“I want to begin by thanking you, Chief Justice, for the very long day and for the way you have presided over the proceedings,” Schiff said.

He then launched into the House case for impeachment, expected to last three days. Nadler was the second House manager to speak on Wednesday, and this time he stuck to the script.

Griffin Connolly contributed to this report.

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