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Impeachment news roundup: Jan. 23

Democrats say calling Bolton would not lead to a protracted court battle over executive privilege

Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio arrives for the weekly Senate Republican lunch on Thursday before the start of the second day of House Democrats laying out their impeachment case against President Donald Trump. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio arrives for the weekly Senate Republican lunch on Thursday before the start of the second day of House Democrats laying out their impeachment case against President Donald Trump. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

File updated 7:45 p.m.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, one of the Democrats running for president, said in response to a question about the possibility of a court battle about executive privilege claims by the Trump White House that the Senate should do what’s needed, even if it prolongs the chamber’s impeachment trial.

“We have to have a fair trial. That’s what the Constitution requires,” Warren told CQ Roll Call. “And if the president of the United States can throw up roadblocks, including roadblocks that may have no basis in law, and as a result, the Senate just backs off and says ‘well I guess that’s hard so we’re going to pack our bags and go home,’ then the whole notion of how impeachment works as a check on the president is completely lost.”

If a longer trial in the Senate was required to get all the information from the appropriate witnesses, “then so be it,” Warren said. “There’s no exception for someone needs to get home on the weekend.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal dismissed the idea that there could be a long battle in federal court over potential testimony of former national security adviser John Bolton.

“There should be no protracted legal battle. The issue of executive privilege has already been decided in the [former White House Counsel Don] McGahn case. The president is not a king or a monarch. He can’t just assert broad executive privilege of blanket immunity,” the Connecticut Democrat told reporters. “The president can do a lot more illegality, but I think the courts will reject that position very quickly.”

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said executive privilege is not a “get out of testifying for free card.”

“You can’t use executive privilege to shield evidence of misconduct, and frankly, if President Trump wants to have a real defense in front of the Senate, he should consent to Bolton testifying,” Coons said. 

Asked whether the Senate should be prepared to go to court to try to secure testimony, Coons told CQ Roll Call, “that’s a judgment call for the House managers.”

Here is the latest on impeachment:

7:15 p.m. | First article: House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler started to outline the abuse of power charge and the case against President Donald Trump on Thursday, saying that the president’s defense team cannot and will not be able to refute the evidence presented.

Nadler asked the senators to listen to the White House’s defense, with specific attention to if it includes “a refutation of the evidence.”

Nadler predicted that the Trump defense lawyers will center their message on complaints about process and the House managers’ motives and keep a distance from the facts of the testimony.

“If the president had any exculpatory witnesses, even a single one, he would be demanding their appearance here instead of urging you not to permit additional witnesses,” Nadler said.

Nadler pointed to Trump’s asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Trump rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden as explicit evidence of the abuse of power charge.

“Not that the active solicitation itself, just the ask, constitutes an abuse of power,” Nadler said. “But President Trump went further in order to secure his favor from Ukraine. He withheld two official acts of immense value.”

6:15 p.m. | One vote shy: Impeachment manager Hakeem Jeffries lightened the mood in the Senate chamber Thursday with a joke about former New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter falling one vote short of a unanimous hall-of-fame selection.

The New York Democrat said someone had asked him earlier in the day if he had heard about “the latest outrage.” 

“I wasn’t really sure what he was talking about. … To be honest, I thought to myself, well, the president is back in town — what has Donald Trump done now?” Jeffries said. “So I said to him, ‘What outrage are you talking about?’ And he paused for a moment, and then he said to me, ‘Someone voted against Derek Jeter on his Hall of Fame ballot.’” 

The chamber, somber through the first three days of impeachment proceedings this week, erupted in laughter. 

“Life is all about perspective,” Jeffries said. “I understand that as House managers we certainly hope we can subpoena John Bolton, subpoena Mick Mulvaney. But perhaps we can all agree to subpoena the baseball Hall of Fame to try to figure out who out of 397 individuals, [the] one person voted against Derek Jeter.”

2:10 p.m. | Work in progress: Republican senators indicated Thursday that they have not yet turned their attention toward a strategy for how to approach the written question phase of the trial.

Senators will have 16 hours once opening presentations are complete to ask both the White House counsel and House managers questions via written submissions to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

GOP senators have not received any guidance from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on a coherent strategy, though most are scrawling their own potential questions.

“We’re not that organized,” Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said. “There’s been no attempt to coordinate that yet,” he said. “Everybody I think is trying to think of, ‘OK, what am I going to ask?’ But that hasn’t really jelled yet.”

Sen. James Lankford said each senator is “doing their own notes on it,” and suggested he does not anticipate McConnell will put firm limits on his conference’s queries.

“We haven’t had a plan to say we’re going to do this many or [for] this long,” the Oklahoma Republican said. “There may be some conversation that we’ll have at some point,” he said.

2 p.m. | From the vault: Nadler played a 1999 clip of then-Rep. Lindsey Graham in the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton as part of his argument.

“What is a high crime? How about if an important person hurts somebody of low means? … doesn’t have to be a crime. It’s when you act in a way that hurts people,” Graham was shown saying in  the clip.

Graham, now chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was a House impeachment manager for Clinton’s trial. He was not in the chamber when the clip was played.


1:20 p.m. | No place for new witnesses: Graham reiterated the general GOP stance that the place for new witnesses would have been in the House inquiry, not the Senate trial.

“I’m not going to grant witness requests by the defense. They could have called all of these people if they’d wanted them in the House. They denied the president his day in court, and I’m not going to legitimize that,” Graham said.

The South Carolina senator, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he’s not interested in hearing from Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who Trump pushed the Ukrainians to announce a corruption investigation into.

“There are a bunch of people on my side, who want to call Joe Biden and Hunter Biden. I want to end this thing sooner rather than later. I don’t want to turn it into a circus,” Graham said.

A reliable Trump ally on most issues, Graham aired his distance from the president on foreign aid, saying that the Ukraine holdup aligns with the president’s goals and worldview that the U.S. is being taken advantage of by other governments.

“I think the president would have held up aid if [Republican Sen.] Rob Portman and I had not intervened. I think he’d hold up aid tomorrow to almost anywhere,” Graham said.

“He thinks we’re chumps and being taken for a ride and that Ukraine is sort of a hopeless endeavor. I don’t,” he said.

1:10 p.m.: “Rock solid”: Members of the House Republican defense team called Trump’s impeachment defense “rock solid” in advance of Democrats continuing to present their case against the president on Thursday.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Mike Johnson, R-La., said they were confident Trump’s team would win the debate despite the lack of multimedia presentation used frequently by the House impeachment managers.

“When the facts and the law are on your side, you don’t need gimmicks and so I’m sure we’ll have a multimedia presentation on our side but that’s not what we’re relying on. We’re relying on the real record here,” Johnson said.

Jordan argued the House has not been able to provide any evidence of a quid pro quo in Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and emphasized that both Trump and Zelenskiy said they found nothing wrong with the call.

Jordan and Johnson both downplayed criticism from Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., about the quality of the rebuttal presented by the president’s attorneys in the first day of arguments.

Jordan called Gaetz a “friend” and Johnson attributed the criticism to frustration in the Republican caucus.

“Every member of the House Republican team would love to jump on that floor and give it a chance because we’re so confident in the case,” he said.

1:05 p.m. | Day 2: The House managers will use their second day of putting on their case against Trump by detailing evidence of the first article of impeachment — abuse of power — and move on to the second article — obstruction of Congress — on Friday, a Democratic official working on the impeachment trial said.

12:40 p.m. | No love lost: While Graham shook hands with lead House impeachment manager Adam B. Schiff Wednesday night and complimented him on his opening argument, other Republicans senators had a different reaction to being forced to listen to Schiff for more than two hours on Wednesday.

“He’s smooth, he’s slick. … He’s a known liar — a public liar,” Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said. “Anybody can sit up there and talk, drone on for two and a half hours not even with a slip of the tongue. Hats off to him. He’s pretty good with rhetoric.”

Johnson was called out by impeachment manager Rep. Sylvia R. Garcia on Wednesday about his ties to the Ukraine controversy, pointing to his attendance at the Ukrainian president’s inauguration in May. Johnson and also met in 2019 with a former Ukrainian diplomat who is known to have circulated claims that Ukrainian officials assisted Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, despite no evidence of that.

Graham again Thursday praised Schiff’s presentation and opening arguments.

“He’s well spoken, did a good job of creating a tapestry, taking bits and pieces of evidence and emails, and giving a rhetorical flourish, making the email come alive — sometimes effectively, sometimes a little over the top,” Graham said of Schiff. “But, quite frankly, I thought they did a good job of taking bits and pieces of the evidence and creating a quilt out of it.”

12:10 p.m. | “Bring it on”: Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst, didn’t rule out considering witnesses in the trial, but told reporters, “All in all I would love to see this [trial] wrapped up.”

“This is a political exercise,” she said.

Ernst said she isn’t concerned about the positions she takes in the trial being brought into her reelection campaign, which is being targeted by Democrats as a possible pickup opportunity.

“Bring it on,” she said.

12 p.m. | Fidgety: North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr provided some of his colleagues with an assortment of fidget spinners and other gizmos at this week’s Thursday GOP lunch.

Senators have been restless in the hours and hours they’re spending at their desks on the Senate floor during the trial.

11:30 a.m. | Backlash: Schumer said he’s not concerned about Democrats facing electoral backlash related to impeachment and likely voting to convict the president.

“The political chips will fall where they may,” he said, but he cited polling showing the American people support Democrats’ efforts to have witnesses and documents introduced in the trial.

Schumer also claimed that Democrats have been more willing to speak to the media than Republicans because of the “faith in arguments” they’re making.

10:40 a.m. | High bar: Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, in what has become a regular morning pretrial news conference, said Thursday the House managers in their first day of arguments the day before laid out the facts in “precise and devastating detail.”

The managers also anticipated the counterarguments the president’s lawyers will make, “knocking those arguments down before they got there,” the New York Democrat said.

“It has been only one day but House managers are setting the bar very high for the president’s counsel,” Schumer said, noting he doubts Trump’s team will reach it.

Schumer said Republicans’ rebuttal that they heard nothing new “rings hollow,” because those same Republicans voted nine times on Tuesday to reject efforts to introduce new evidence.

“If they want something new, there’s plenty of it,” he said.

Sen. Bob Casey noted that none of the Republicans defending Trump have had to do so under oath and that’s among the reasons why Democrats want top White House aides to testify, because they would have to tell the truth under oath.

8:10 a.m. | Timeline: House impeachment managers are about a third of the way through presenting their case against President Donald Trump and will continue today in the second of their allotted three days.

Trump attorney Jay Sekulow said Wednesday he expects to begin the president’s case on Saturday and will take “a day or two” after that to finish its presentation.

UNITED STATES - JANUARY 22: Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., takes a photograph of the reporters in the Senate Subway during a break in the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., takes a photo reporters in the Senate Subway during a break in the trial on Wednesday. Leahy once told CQ Roll Call that he started taking photos as a child and has kept a camera with him ever since. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

7:55 a.m. | Trump’s take: The president reacted to the proceedings Thursday morning, quote-tweeting Fox News’ coverage and taking issue Democrats want to call more witnesses but that the House wouldn’t allow Republicans “lawyers, or not one witness” in its impeachment inquiry before declaring it the “Most unfair & corrupt hearing in Congressional history!”

House Democrats did allow Republicans to call witnesses in the Intelligence and Judiciary hearings.

7:45 a.m. | Schiff-Nadler tensions: House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff, the lead House impeachment manager, made clear he was answering questions from reporters on Wednesday when one was raised about the dust-up early Wednesday morning between House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler and Trump’s lawyers, which drew an admonishment from Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

Differences — and at times tensions — between the two Democrats, who lead the committees that investigated Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, have been on display since September when Speaker Nancy Pelosi picked Schiff over Nadler to lead the impeachment inquiry and later as lead impeachment manager.

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7:20 a.m. | Attaboy: Graham, one of Trump’s staunchest defenders, congratulated Schiff on his presentation, shaking the Democrat’s hand and saying, “Good job. You’re very well spoken.”

The tone was a different one than Graham has taken in criticizing Schiff on Twitter.

Explaining one of his absences to reporters as a bathroom break, Graham joked, “If there’s a bladder contest, I’m entering Schiff.”

UNITED STATES - JANUARY 22: Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, center, talks to the press with Reps. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., left, Mark Meadows R-N.C, and John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, during a break in the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump in the Senate Reception Room on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, speaks to the media during a break in the trial on Wednesday while, from left, Reps. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, listen. The four are serving on Trump’s legal team for the impeachment trial. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

7:10 a.m. | First day reviews: Schiff made clear that the House’s presentation was going to be a comprehensive airing of the evidence it had gathered in its investigation for senators and a bigger audience outside the Senate.

“We will go into extensive detail about what happened and when and how we know that it happened,” he said. “We do not assume that everyone in the Senate was able to watch all of the House testimony … let alone that the American people were able to do so.”

Republicans said they didn’t hear anything new in what Schiff and Democrats presented but Democrats raved about his performance. Delaware Sen. Chris Coons said Schiff’s closing 30 minutes was “compelling” and that he showed a “mastery” of the material. 

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer called Schiff a “tour de force.”

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