What happened Wednesday?
Democratic impeachment managers spent nine hours (including breaks) offering their opening arguments — laying out what they said was clear-cut evidence that President Donald Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate his political rivals and then obstructed Congress’ investigation.
Rep. Adam Schiff and the other prosecutors deployed screenshots of deposition transcripts, emails, text messages and about 50 video clips to make their case. Democrats also cited evidence obtained after Trump was impeached last month from Lev Parnas, a key figure in the alleged scheme.
Rep. Jerry Nadler also continued to face a backlash from the GOP for accusing Republicans on the Senate floor of engaging in a "cover-up" to protect Trump, with GOP senators saying the House Judiciary chairman was "out of line."
Whether the Senate will agree to call witnesses next week — the biggest question of the trial — remains unclear. Republicans appeared to show no movement toward Democrats’ demand for new witnesses, and top Democrats ruled out any possible trade to bring in John Bolton in exchange for Hunter Biden.
What’s happening Thursday?
House Democrats get three days for opening arguments, and they’ll use their second day to put forth the constitutional framework for why Trump’s alleged abuse of power merits removal from office.
Senators are also sure to maneuver behind the scenes, as Democrats try to find four Republicans who will back their calls for witnesses and the GOP looks to stand firm.
Democrats use dozens of video clips
During the 1999 impeachment trial of Bill Clinton, the House Republican managers used video presentations just 16 times during their opening arguments. But on Wednesday alone, House Democrats had aired at least 50 video clips.
The clips included public testimony from the dozen witnesses who appeared before House impeachment investigators last year, in addition to Trump's own words in media interviews and impromptu press conferences at the White House. Most frequently aired was William Taylor, the former top American diplomat in Kyiv, who was featured on-screen more than 10 times.
Last week, Democrats were worried that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell might decline to permit video displays during Trump’s trial — it required a special Senate resolution to allow video equipment on the Senate floor. But McConnell ultimately offered a resolution governing the trial that included the language used in the 1999 trial of Bill Clinton.
Some Republicans even sounded envious of the Democrats’ use of multimedia during the trial and wished Trump’s defense team would follow suit. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), one of Trump’s top defenders, said Democrats have been presenting their case to the public like it's "cable news" — but lamented that the defense team’s case presented more like “an 8th grade book report.”
“Actually, no, I take that back,” he added, because an 8th grader would actually know how to use PowerPoint and iPads. — Andrew Desiderio and Melanie Zanona
Sekulow says White House team hasn’t made decision on witnesses
President Donald Trump’s legal defender, Jay Sekulow, said Wednesday night that the White House legal team has not made any determinations on witnesses that they might call because they still don’t know enough about the Democratic House managers’ case.
“This will be a decision that the Senate makes, but we’re prepared for any way it goes. We’re ready to go,” he said.
The managers began their opening arguments on Wednesday afternoon and set to lay out their case for removing Trump from office over three days.
Democrats have pushed for weeks to allow witnesses to testify in Trump’s impeachment trial, including former national security adviser John Bolton. — Jesse Naranjo
Protester briefly stops impeachment trial
A protester disrupted President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial Wednesday night after yelling "Jesus Christ" inside the Senate chamber.
House impeachment manager Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), who was presenting opening arguments, briefly stopped speaking while the protester was shouting.
The protester appeared to have pushed past the officers who were watching the doors. After being pinned down by Capitol police outside the chamber on the third floor, he yelled “abortion” and “dismiss the charges” while crowds of people looked on.
The unidentified demonstrator also yelled “Schumer!”
Capitol Police took him into custody. — Marianne LeVine and Jesse Naranjo
Managers present Parnas evidence in trial
The House impeachment managers introduced evidence to senators on Wednesday that was not available to lawmakers when President Donald Trump was impeached last month.
Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas), one of the seven House prosecutors, presented a letter from Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. In that letter, Giuliani asked for a meeting with Zelensky — a request the former New York City mayor said was being made with Trump’s explicit “knowledge and consent.”
The House impeached Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in connection with the president’s attempt to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rivals. Giuliani played a key role in the effort by back-channeling with Ukrainian officials.
House investigators obtained the letter from Lev Parnas, an indicted former Giuliani associate who turned over some of his devices to the House Intelligence Committee less than two weeks ago.
The letter was released publicly last week, and House Democrats have pointed to the new evidence as justification for Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to delay the formal transmission of the impeachment articles to the Senate, arguing that it allowed for new evidence to emerge to back up their case. – Andrew Desiderio
Empty seats in the trial
It was only day two, but the restlessness was palpable on the Senate floor on Wednesday as Democrats made their opening arguments against President Donald Trump.
Senators were expecting their first recess at 3:08 p.m., roughly two hours after the trial got underway. But House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff declared around 3:15 p.m. that he still had 10 minutes left, and several Republicans — including a half-dozen who had been waiting near the door — bolted to the exits.
As Schiff finished up his roughly three-hour presentation, there were as many as two dozen Republican senators out of their seats at once — a clear violation of the rules that bar senators from leaving their seats during the trial.
“The end is in sight,” Schiff quipped on the floor, as senators began shuffling out of the chamber en masse.
Even before that scheduled recess break, a half dozen Republicans had decided to stand in the back — like Sens. Tim Scott of South Carolina and Ben Sasse of Nebraska — rather than remain in their seats.
A half-dozen Democrats, too, were in and out of the chamber. That includes Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who left the room three times — including once for more than 10 minutes. But nearly all Democrats remained in the chamber to listen to Schiff, even as some, like Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), stood near the back of the room to lean against a railing or wall.
The longer Schiff spoke, the more flagrant the rule violations on the floor. There were several whispered conversations, with several senators going in and out of the chamber every minute or so. The Senate eventually recessed around 3:30 p.m. — Sarah Ferris
Schumer says Hunter Biden-John Bolton witness trade is ‘off the table’
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) nixed any talk of Democrats trading "Hunter Biden for John Bolton" when the Senate takes up the issue of allowing additional witnesses for President Donald Trump' impeachment trial, which will likely take place next week.
"No, I think that's off the table," Schumer told reporters during a break in the trail Wednesday afternoon. "First of all, the Republicans have the right to bring in any witness they want, and they haven't wanted to. That trade is not on the table."
The Senate will debate the issue of additional witnesses after the "first phase" of the trial is completed. The House managers are presenting their case for removing Trump, which will be followed by the president's defense team. Then senators will have up 16 hours of floor time to ask questions of both sides.
Following that question period, the Senate will take up the witness question, the most controversial procedural issue of these proceedings.
Joe Biden also shut down the possibility that he or his son would agree to testify when asked at an Iowa town hall why he wouldn’t just “call Republicans’ bluff.”
"This is a constitutional issue,” he told attendees. “And we're not going to turn it into a farce, into some kind of political theater." — John Bresnahan and Caitlin Oprysko
Alyssa Milano attends opening arguments
Opening arguments in Trump’s impeachment trial kicked off with some familiar faces watching from the sidelines, as several notable spectators returned to the chamber to witness Wednesday’s proceedings.
Actress and activist Alyssa Milano was once again spotted sitting in the front row of the public gallery’s balcony, where she watched with intense focus as House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) laid out the Democrats’ case against Trump. She previously attended Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings, among others.
And for the second day in a row, Rep. Louie Gohmert was camped out on the Senate floor on a chair near the back of the chamber, although he occasionally shuffled in and out of the Senate cloakroom. The Texas Republican was a frequent onlooker during the House’s impeachment hearings, and he would often snap selfies from the room and post them to Twitter. — Melanie Zanona
Schiff gives roadmap for opening arguments
Opening arguments in the Senate impeachment trial kicked off Wednesday with Rep. Adam Schiff, the lead House impeachment manager, outlining Democrats’ roadmap for the next few days.
Schiff (D-Calif.) said he and the other six managers plan to detail the case against Trump “in narrative form,” and he suggested earlier that the House managers intend to use several video clips — including Trump’s own comments and testimony from several witnesses who testified before House investigators.
The House will then outline the “constitutional framework” for impeachment, Schiff said, arguing that Trump’s alleged conduct rises to the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors” as described in the Constitution. House managers have 24 hours spread out over three days to make their case for Trump’s removal. — Andrew Desiderio
Senators get a lesson in executive privilege
Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey explained the ins and outs of executive privilege to Senate Republicans on Wednesday before the Senate's trial session.
Mukasey told senators how the executive branch could use privilege in the Senate trial and how it would be litigated during the Senate trial at a lunch hosted by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), according to congressional aides.
Trump has said he may use executive privilege to block the testimony of people like former national security adviser John Bolton if he is called before the Senate as a witness.
It would be controversial for the president to attempt to exert executive privilege to block testimony from a former staffer — especially one like Bolton who indicated that he would testify if subpoenaed. — Burgess Everett
Schiff rips Trump’s documents quip
Rep. Adam Schiff, the lead impeachment manager, said President Donald Trump’s comments in Switzerland about withholding documents from Congress “is nothing to brag about.”
Schiff (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that Trump’s remarks — in which the president said “we have all the material” and “they don’t have the material” — further confirmed the basis for the House charging Trump with obstruction of Congress.
“Indeed they do have the material — hidden from the American people,” Schiff said ahead of the trial’s opening arguments. “That is nothing to brag about.” — Andrew Desiderio
Dems will keep pushing for witnesses
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Democrats will continue to push for additional votes on witnesses and documents later on in the impeachment trial.
"That spotlight will continue," Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday. "We will certainly try to find ways whether it's the House managers who I imagine would want to do it themselves or us to get direct votes on each witness and document once again after the arguments are made."
The Democrat's push for witnesses — including former national security adviser John Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney — shows the party will continue to impose pressure on Senate Republicans throughout the trial, despite the GOP's resistance to calling witnesses in at the outset of the trial. — Marianne LeVine
Senators decry Trump’s ‘grip’ on GOP
The Senate’s longest serving lawmaker, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), said he has little faith his Republican counterparts will break with Trump over the issue of witnesses. It’s sentiment other Democrats also expressed.
“I think that's unfortunate,” Leahy said. “I think that the Senate's supposed to be the conscience of the nation.”Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) also told reporters that “the most saddening and angering [aspect] for me has been how strongly Trump has these senators in his grip.”
Their comments offer a window into how polarized the impeachment process is in the Trump era.
Yet Leahy sounded an optimistic note, saying that as the dean of the Senate, he’s hopeful he’ll see some Republicans join Democrats “before we finish.” – Jesse Naranjo
Brad Parscale says trial fires up Trump’s supporters
Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said the Senate impeachment trial "excites" the president's supporters as he embarks on re-election.
“They are fired up,” Parscale told Fox and Friends Wednesday morning. “And I think this is going to add up to our volunteers. Going to add up to our ground game.”
Parscale said the campaign has been conducting focus groups across the country that show Americans aren’t paying attention to the Ukraine saga. “It's just boring," he said. "I can choose 9,000 TV channels, Netflix or Amazon or I can watch the impeachment. Which is like watching paint dry. I couldn't even watch it last night, and I'm paid to do it."
Parscale’s comments indicate the Trump campaign will continue to use impeachment as a campaign tool in the run-up to the 2020 election. — Anita Kumar
Durbin defends John Roberts
Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said that it was “appropriate” for Chief Justice John Roberts to admonish House impeachment managers and the White House counsel for their terse exchange early Wednesday morning.
“Emotions were running high on both sides and I’m glad that the chief justice addressed both sides,” Durbin said. “We were tired and frustrated with the vote results and I think it showed.”
But lawmakers also used Roberts’ comments to attack their opponents. GOP Sen. Mike Lee of Utah praised Roberts but said it was “unfair” of the chief justice to reprove both sides because it was the “fault of the House management prosecution team. They were rude.” — Marianne LeVine and Myah Ward
21 Republican state AGs back Trump’s defense
Twenty-one Republican attorneys general are delivering a letter to the U.S. Senate on Wednesday backing up the president's legal defense in the impeachment trial.
The letter, which they're billing as the first ever "friend of the Senate" brief in an impeachment trial, largely mirrors the Trump team's arguments: that Democrats' impeachment case is weak because it alleges no violation of criminal law.
The brief acknowledges that no such allegation of a crime is necessary in impeachment but suggests the Senate should view the case skeptically without one. The AGs also appear to inaccurately suggest Trump invoked executive privilege during the course of the House's impeachment investigation. In fact, though he ordered subordinates not to testify and suggested some have "absolute immunity" from congressional inquiries, he never invoked the privilege.
The attorneys general from South Carolina, Louisiana, Arkansas and Indiana later in the day joined GOP Reps. Mark Meadows of North Carolina and Lee Zeldin of New York outside the Capitol,
Asked if the Government Accountability Office finding last week that the White House budget office broke the law in withholding aid from Ukraine went against the basis of their argument, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said the remedy for the violation was a lawsuit rather than impeachment. — Kyle Cheney and Jesse Naranjo
Opening arguments to start without delays
The Senate’s impeachment trial should launch right into opening arguments at 1 p.m. after a lengthy and contentious procedural debate that started Tuesday and went into early Wednesday morning.
Neither the House impeachment managers nor the White House counsel filed any motions before the 9 a.m. deadline on Wednesday morning, according to a Democratic aide. That means the House managers will start making their case when the trial comes into session. — Burgess Everett
Emails show confusion over Ukraine aid freeze
New emails released early Wednesday morning highlight the widespread confusion across the federal government as word of the initial hold on military aid to Ukraine made its way to Capitol Hill.
The emails from OMB, which were made public by watchdog group American Oversight as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, show staffers for several top Republican lawmakers — including Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Mac Thornberry of Texas, and Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio — inquiring with senior White House budget officials about the hold on critical military assistance.
The documents also included a letter from Rep. Paul Cook (R-Calif.), who sought an explanation for the freeze. The material shows again how unusual the aid freeze, and how even Republicans were caught unaware by the administration's move. — Andrew Desiderio
Trump basks in impeachment battle in Davos
President Donald Trump described his resistance to Democratic lawmakers' efforts to remove him from office and his vilification of allegedly rogue federal law enforcement officers as “one of the greatest things” he has accomplished since being elected.
Trump made his comments in Davos, Switzerland, where he huddled with international business executives and foreign leaders at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.
The president also insisted that he would prefer for his Senate trial to “go the long way,” and for several current and former senior administration officials to be called as witnesses. That would conflict with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s plans. But Trump may also have been bluffing; he claimed testimony from those individuals could imperil national security. — Quint Forgey
Click here for highlights from yesterday's trial.