Closed Impeachment trial: Trump accused of undermining democracy – Day 2 as it happened

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Live coverage of the second day of impeachment proceedings in the US Senate.


Welcome to day two of the FT’s live coverage of the impeachment trial of Donald Trump

Yesterday, the president’s defence team and Democratic impeachment managers from the House debated a series of proposals from Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, to subpoena additional documents and witness testimony. Each amendment was rejected in a party-line vote.

Be sure to read this story by Demetri Sevastopulo and Lauren Fedor, who write that Senate Republicans remained unified on the road to ultimately approving the rules for the trial.

Stay tuned for more news and analysis from our team of reporters in Washington today, as impeachment managers and Mr Trump’s defence team begin oral arguments.


Schumer blasts White House counsel for ‘factual errors’

Courtney Weaver, US political correspondent

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer teed off ahead of today’s impeachment hearing, lambasting the White House defense lawyers for “demonstrable factual errors” in their opening statements on Tuesday.

Schumer alleged that the White House defense — which includes Jay Sekulow, a member of President Trump’s personal legal team, and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone — were “unprepared, confused and totally unconvincing”, resorting instead “to the kind of histrionics you see on Fox News evening broadcasts…”

Schumer also accused the lawyers of making “inflammatory and factual errors” against the House impeachment managers – the seven Democratic lawmakers who are charged with making the case against the president. Cipollone, for instance, incorrectly accused Adam Schiff, the lead House manager, of refusing to allow Republicans to access closed-door depositions during the impeachment inquiry.

Separately, Schumer also laid into his Republican Senate colleagues for refusing to back amendments to subpoena additional witnesses, before the opening arguments are concluded, as well as seek additional documents. Republicans “don’t want a fair trial that considers all the evidence,” Schumer alleged.

He added: “The impeachment trial of President Trump begins with a cloud hanging over it – a cloud of unfairness.”


Trump slams Democrats’ impeachment effort: ‘They can’t beat me in the election’

Philip Georgiadis

The question of impeachment was never far from Donald Trump in Davos, even as he used his appearance at the gathering of political and business leaders to tout his country’s economic strength at the start of election year in America.

Speaking to reporters at the World Economic Forum earlier on Wednesday, the president said he had managed to watch “enough” of the marathon session in the Senate, and that he thought his legal team had done “a very good job”.

Trump said the impeachment proceedings were a “hoax” cooked up by Democrats who are scared they will be unable to beat him at the ballot box.

“They are looking at this tremendous success, the likes of which they have never seen before in this country, and it has driven the Democrats crazy … They can’t beat me in the election,” he said.

He also repeated his urge for people to read the transcripts of his July 2019 telephone call with Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, which sparked the impeachment inquiry.

“Everyone would say: ‘you mean that’s an impeachable event?’ If that’s impeachable Lyndon Johnson would have had to leave office on his first day.”

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1219874467540799488


Chief justice issued rebuke after heated exchange during debate

A heated exchange yesterday between congressman Jerry Nadler of New York and Donald Trump’s defence team prompted a warning from Supreme Court chief justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial.

“It is appropriate at this point for me to admonish both the House managers and the president’s counsel in equal terms to remember that they are addressing the world’s greatest deliberative body,” Roberts said. “One reason it has earned that title is because its members avoid speaking in a manner, and using language, that is not conducive to civil discourse.”

The rebuke came after Nadler, in arguing for a proposal to subpoena John Bolton, claimed it would amount to a “cover-up” if Republicans voted against the amendment.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone gave a sharp retort, telling the senators that Nadler had made false allegations against them and the president. “The only one who should be embarrassed, Nadler, is you, for the way you’ve addressed the United States Senate.”

Jay Sekulow, an attorney for Trump, also criticised Nadler for referring to the president’s use of executive privilege as “nonsense”.

“These are privileges recognized by the Supreme Court of the United States,” Sekulow said. He added: “The Constitution doesn’t allow what just took place. Look what we’ve dealt with for the last, now 13 hours. And we hopefully are closing the proceedings, but not on a very high note.”


Trump’s Davos comments draws fire from House impeachment manager Demings

Courtney Weaver, US political correspondent

Donald Trump’s remarks in Davos on Wednesday generated a strong response from one of the House lawmakers leading the impeachment charges.

Val Demings, one of the seven Democratic lawmakers serving as the House’s impeachment managers in the trial, quickly seized on a comment Trump made at the World Economic Forum, alleging that it indicated the White House was deliberately stonewalling and preventing evidence from getting out.

“The second article of impeachment was for obstruction of Congress: covering up witnesses and documents from the American people. This morning the President not only confessed to it, he bragged about it,” Demings tweeted.

She posted a video of Trump saying he had been pleased with his defence team’s performance on the first day of the trial and suggesting his lawyers had the upper hand in the trial.

“I thought our team did a very good job. But honestly we have all the material –they don’t have the material,” Trump said.

We are expecting to hear more from the other House managers shortly.


Senate back in session as impeachment trial continues

House impeachment managers have begun their opening arguments.


Schiff quashes talk of Hunter Biden witness swap

Courtney Weaver, US political correspondent

Adam Schiff, the Democratic House manager, poured cold water on the idea Joe Biden’s son could be deposed in the impeachment trial in exchange for Republicans allowing additional witnesses to testify.

Schiff dismissed the idea Democrats would agree to depose Hunter Biden – the son of former vice president Joe Biden – as part of the impeachment trial, if Republicans agreed to allow witnesses, such as former national security adviser John Bolton, to testify.

“This isn’t like some fantasy football trade…Trials aren’t trades for witnesses,” Schiff said.

He asserted that Donald Trump’s legal team wanted “to use this trial to smear the Bidens. That’s not the purpose of the trial”.

Schiff noted that Democrats had made the case for additional witnesses to be deposed and documents to be made available during the trial. On Wednesday, the House managers would go through the “factual chronology” of their case against Trump, going to “extensive detail” about the actions of the US president and his associates in the Ukraine case.


Schiff delivers opening remarks

Courtney Weaver, US political correspondent

The clock has started on the 24 hours allotted to Democratic lawmakers to make their case against President Donald Trump.

Adam Schiff, the Democratic lawmaker and lead House manager, began his remarks by thanking Chief Justice Roberts and the Senate for enduring a long day and late night on Tuesday, before going on to quote Alexander Hamilton, one of the US founding fathers.

“When a man unprincipled in private life, desperate in his fortune, bold his temper … despotic in his ordinary demeanour – known to have scoffed in private the principles of liberty”.

The founding fathers put the power of impeachment “in the constitution for a reason”, Schiff argued.

In broad brushstrokes, Schiff outlined the thrust of Democrats’ case: that Trump used the power of the presidency to unfairly try to influence the 2020 election, and get Ukraine to produce information that would be damaging to Joe Biden, his potential Democratic opponent.


Read up on Adam Schiff and his role in impeachment push

You can read more about Schiff’s role in Democrats’ impeachment push here. The FT’s Lauren Fedor writes about how Schiff became the de facto leader of the investigation:

For Democrats, the former prosecutor represents a safe pair of hands to steer the politically precarious proceedings. For Republicans, Schiff is now public enemy number one, having even earned the dubious distinction of his own Twitter nickname from the president: “Shifty Schiff.”

And in this piece, Edward Luce looks back at Schiff’s career in politics.


Schiff, Nadler interaction dissected on trial’s sidelines

Courtney Weaver, US political correspondent

One hour into the trial, Adam Schiff is continuing to give a history lesson in the origins of impeachment as well as a careful summary of House Democrats’ findings during last year’s impeachment inquiry.

Yet outside the Senate, many are focused on dissecting an earlier interaction between Schiff and Jerrold Nadler, Schiff’s Democratic colleague in the House and a fellow House manager in the impeachment trial.

Earlier on Tuesday, a CNN reporter attempted to ask Nadler about some of the criticism he had been receiving from Republicans. However, Schiff prevented Nadler from answering, stating that he — not Nadler — would be responding to questions.

Nadler, along with White House counsel, were chided by Chief Justice John Roberts on Tuesday night for using language that was “not conductive to civil discourse”. Nadler had accused Republican senators of “voting for a coverup” by not supporting an amendment to allow additional witnesses to testify. Nadler also called Republicans’ vote “treacherous”.

Republican lawmakers on Wednesday rebuked Nadler for the remark. Meanwhile, Trump, speaking in Davos, called Nadler “a sleazebag”.


Schiff takes aim at Mulvaney comments

Demetri Sevastopulo, Washington bureau chief

In the first two hours of opening arguments, Schiff has focused on the underlying facts of the Ukraine scandal and claims that Trump abused his office in pressuring a foreign leader to interfere in the US presidential election.

He took aim at Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, who last year told reporters in a damaging press conference to “get over it” when pressed on claims that Trump had withheld $391m in congressionally mandated aid to Ukraine to pressure the government in Kyiv to investigate Joe Biden and also a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine — and not Russia as US intelligence concluded – had meddled in the 2016 election.

“Should the American people just come to expect that our presidents will corruptly abuse their office to seek the help of a foreign power to cheat in our election? Should we just get over it?” Schiff told the senators.

In making an argument about the broader global ramifications to what Trump had done, he asked if it would embolden autocrats to advance their causes with “disinformation, propaganda and state-sanctioned lies.”


Trump took actions that undermined US democracy, Schiff says

Demetri Sevastopulo, Washington bureau chief

Schiff said Trump emboldened President Vladimir Putin of Russia by taking actions that undermined US democracy. He called on senators to act to ensure that the US remained a reliable ally around the world.

“If we allow the president of the United States to pursue his political and personal interests rather than the national interest, we send a message to our European allies that our commitment to a European that is free … is for sale to the highest bidder. The strength of our global alliances relies on a shared understanding of what that alliance stands for. It was built on the rule of law, on free and fair elections, on a shared struggle against aggression from autocratic regimes.”

Schiff said the US and its allies were democracies that did not offer “unyielding loyalty to a president who would be king”.


51% of Americans say Trump should be removed from office – Pew survey

By a slim margin Americans say the outcome of the Senate impeachment trial should be Donald Trump’s removal from office according to the latest Pew Research Center poll, though the public is clearly divided along partisan lines.

51% of US adults said Trump should be removed while 46 per cent say he should remain in office. However, the survey showed 86% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents thought Mr Trump should remain, while roughly the same share of Democrats and Democrat-leaning Americans say he should be removed.

Here are a few other takeaways from the poll:

• Opinions were also divided among age groups. 56% of Americans ages 65 and older say Trump should remain in office, while 63% of those under the age of 30 say the trial should lead to Trump’s ejection.

• 82% of African Americans and 66% of Hispanic Americans think the trial should result in Trump’s removal, compared with 58% of white Americans who said the Senate should not remove the President from office.

• About six in 10 Americans think Trump has “probably or definitely done things that are illegal” during his presidential campaign or his time in the White House.

• The public doesn’t believe either party could be fair during the impeachment trial. 48% are somewhat confident that Senate Democrats will be “fair and reasonable”, while 43% say the same about the Senate Republicans.

Much of the survey was conducted before the beginning of the trial and the release of Mitch McConnell’s rules.


Trump tweets: ‘No pressure’

The president is tweeting during the Senate trial, pushing back against claims he tried to pressure Ukraine into investigating the Bidens.

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1220073313768099840


Schiff turns focus to second article of impeachment

Demetri Sevastopulo, Washington bureau chief

Schiff shifted focus to the second article of impeachment and the charge that Trump obstructed Congress by refusing to provide documents and blocking his officials from testifying before the Ukraine inquiry that conducted several months of investigations that led to the impeachment of the president in the House.

“His actions destabilise the separation of powers that defines our democracy and preserves our freedom and establishes an exceedingly dangerous precedent,” Schiff said.

“And he proves that he is willing to destroy a vital safeguard against tyranny, a safeguard meant to protect the American people, just to advance his own personal interest in covering up evidence.”


Voters should decide Trump’s political fate, Lindsay Graham says

Demetri Sevastopulo, Washington bureau chief

As Democrats continued their prosecution of Trump, allies of the president repeated their view that American voters should decide whether Trump remains in office – when they go to the polls on November 3.

“When it comes to replacing [President Trump] nine months plus from the election, you’ve got an uphill battle with me,” Lindsay Graham, a South Carolina Republican senator and big ally of the president said. “I really do believe that the best group of people to pick a president are the voters – not a bunch of partisan politicians.”


Schiff quotes founding father Benjamin Franklin

Demetri Sevastopulo, Washington bureau chief

Schiff ended his 2.5 hour presentation by citing Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers and signatories to the Constitution, which came into force in 1789 – or 231 years before the impeachment trial of Trump.

“As Benjamin Franklin departed the Constitutional Convention he was asked, ‘What have we got, a republic or a monarchy?’. He responded simply, ‘A republic if you can keep it’,” Schiff told the senators, before adding: “A fair trial, an impartial consideration of all of the evidence against the president is how we keep our republic.”

Following his presentation, McConnell, the Republican Senate majority leader, called for a short recess.


Sekulow says Democrats can’t back up ‘quid pro quo’ claims

Demetri Sevastopulo, Washington bureau chief

During the recess, Jay Sekulow, one of the defence lawyers, told reporters that while Democrats had alleged that Mr Trump engaged in a “quid pro quo”, they had not included that particular charge in the articles of impeachment.

Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota senator who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, stressed to CNN that Democrats wanted to make sure witnesses were called to provide for a full and fair trial.

“You cannot have a trial without witnesses and without evidence. Zero witnesses plus zero documents equals zero justice,” Klobuchar said.


Schumer: Schiff argument bolsters case for more witnesses

Demetri Sevastopulo, Washington bureau chief

Speaking before the senators returned to the chamber for the next part of opening arguments, Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, said Mr Schiff had given an “amazing” presentation that would bolster the Democrats’ case for Republicans to agree to demands to subpoena documents and require testimony from witnesses.

“We have seen that the public pressure for a fair trial is having some effect,” Mr Schumer told reporters. “If there is not a fair trial … any acquittal of President Trump will have little value.”


Nadler explores removal of ambassador as oral arguments resume

Demetri Sevastopulo, Washington bureau chief

We have moved to the next part of opening arguments.

Jerry Nadler, a New York congressman and one of the seven House impeachment managers, has started by examining the circumstances surrounding the recalling of Marie Yovanovitch, a senior career diplomat who was abruptly removed as US ambassador to Ukraine.

Nadler said Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor and now personal lawyer to Donald Trump, was instrumental in a campaign to smear Yovanovitch and remove her from office over her aggressive stance on corruption in Ukraine, which was proving problematic for some Ukrainian officials who wanted Washington to take a less assertive approach.

“The truth is Ambassador Yovanovitch was the victim of a smear campaign organized by Rudy Giuliani [and] amplified by President Trump’s allies and designed to get President Trump the pretext he needed to recall her without warning,” Nadler said. “Mr Giuliani has admitted as much to the press.”


Democrats argue Trump comments in Davos help their cause

Demetri Sevastopulo, Washington bureau chief

While the focus of the trial remains in Washington, Democrats have also pointed out that Trump said in Davos earlier on Wednesday that the White House has “all the material” and the Democrats “don’t have the material”. They argued that it was an admission by Trump that underscored the need to subpoena documents and call witnesses.

“This is even more reason for Republicans who want a fair trial to support Senator Schumer’s request for documents and witnesses,” said Dianne Feinstein, a California Democratic senator. “I truly hope my Republican colleagues join with Democrats next week and demand access to all the information we need to conduct a fair trial. It’s the least we can do for the American people, who are watching these proceedings closely.”


Sylvia Garcia looks at relationship between Trump and Zelensky

Demetri Sevastopulo, Washington bureau chief

Sylvia Garcia, a Texas lawmaker and one of the seven prosecutors, has taken over from Mr Nadler.

She is looking at the relationship between Trump and Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine who allegedly came under pressure from Trump in the infamous July 25, 2019 phone call that led to the impeachment of the US president.

A number of the current and former Trump administration officials who testified before Congress during the impeachment inquiry outlined the various ways that the White House tried to put pressure on Zelensky, a former comedian who had recently been elected as the new Ukrainian president.

Trump has been accused of withholding $391m in military aid to Ukraine to increase the pressure on Kyiv. Congress had approved the money to help Ukraine defend itself from any Russian aggression. A number of US officials, including Gordon Sondland, the American ambassador to the EU, carried out a campaign to pressure Zelensky to announce a probe into the Bidens as a condition for securing a White House meeting with Trump, according to the allegations.

John Bolton, the former national security adviser, referred to that element of the pressure campaign as a “drug deal” that was being “cooked up” by Sondland and Mick Mulvaney, the White House chief of staff.

Garcia outlined many of the details that emerged in congressional testimony about the pressure campaign that she said was orchestrated by Giuliani.


Democrats flash back to Fiona Hill

Demetri Sevastopulo, Washington bureau chief

In one of the many video recordings used by Democrats to make their case, Sylvia Garcia showed a clip of earlier congressional testimony from Fiona Hill, who served as the top national security official for Russia and Europe in the first two years of the administration.

In dramatic testimony last year, Hill told Congress that John Bolton, the national security adviser who was her boss, had said that Giuliani was a “hand grenade” because of his role orchestrating the Ukrainian pressure campaign.

Read the FT’s coverage of why Fiona Hill’s testimony made such a splash when she appeared before the House intelligence committee last year.


Jason Crow draws attention to Trump’s request for ‘a favour’

Demetri Sevastopulo, Washington bureau chief

Jason Crow, a Colorado Democrat, has taken over from Garcia. He has started with a dramatic account of how Ukrainian troops were defending their country against Russia on the day that Trump spoke to Zelensky.

“Where were you on July 25th, 2019?” Crow asked the senators. “While our friends were at war with Russia, wearing sneakers, some without helmets, something else was happening. On July 25, President Trump made a phone call. He spoke with Ukrainian President Zelensky and asked for “a favour”.

The request for “a favour” is one of the key elements of the case against Mr Trump.

The president has denied that he did anything wrong, and has repeatedly said the call was “perfect” and that he had been transparent in releasing the official notes of the call. But Democrats have hit back and said he only released the notes after learning that a CIA whistleblower had raised concerns about the call.


Democrats defend against allegations targeting Bidens

Demetri Sevastopulo, Washington bureau chief

One of the other ways that the White House allegedly put pressure on Ukraine was to cancel a trip by Mike Pence, the vice-president, to attend the Zelensky’s inauguration.

At the core of the pressure campaign was the demand that Zelensky at least announce that he was launching a probe of Biden and his son Hunter, who had served on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company.

One of the tactics Republicans have used to push back against Democrats is to claim that Trump was simply trying to root out corruption in Ukraine and that he was concerned about allegations that Biden had led a campaign to oust the Ukrainian prosecutor-general who had been involved in investigating Burisma.

Democrats argue those claims have been widely debunked. A member of the Biden presidential campaign this week released a video that went viral, in which he outlined the circumstances from the perspective of Biden. Watch the video here:


Crow argues Ukraine knew aid was delayed to increase pressure on Zelensky

Demetri Sevastopulo, Washington bureau chief

Crow has also honed in on the White House decision to withhold the military aid to Ukraine. The White House has argued that Trump had the authority to delay providing Ukraine with the congressionally-approved funds. But the Government Accountability Office, a congressional watchdog, last week said the decision broke the law.

One of the reasons that the Democrats want to subpoena Mick Mulvaney is that the White House chief of staff was instrumental in passing the instructions from Trump to withhold the money to other senior officials.

Crow outlined a series of events which he said showed that Ukraine was also aware that Trump was holding back the money in an effort to intensify pressure on Zelensky.

Democrats also want to hear from Rob Blair, a top aide to Mulvaney, who emailed the White House budget office to tell them that “we need to hold it up”, in a reference to the military aid that Trump wanted held back.


Former VP rejects Biden-for-Bolton witness swap

Lauren Fedor, FT Washington correspondent

With less than two weeks to go until the Iowa caucuses — the first major voting event of the US presidential primary calendar — Joe Biden is on the campaign trail in the Midwest, where a voter asked him this afternoon about whether he or his son, Hunter Biden, would be willing to testify in the impeachment trial.

Many Democratic lawmakers have reportedly been mulling a “swap”, where the Bidens would testify in exchange for the testimony of key White House witnesses like Mick Mulvaney or John Bolton.

Biden told the voter that he would not agree to such a deal because “we are not going to turn it into a farce, into some kind of political theatre”.

He added: “[Republicans] are trying to turn it into political theatre. But I want no part of being any part of that. And I have no problem, as you will find out the rest of this campaign, debating Trump, debating the majority leader [Mitch McConnell], debating Lindsey Graham, debating any of these guys…But I don’t want it to turn it into a farce.”

Biden is the current front runner in the polls in Iowa, claiming the support of 21% of Iowans, according to an average calculated by Real Clear Politics, followed by Bernie Sanders on 17.3%, Elizabeth Warren on 16.7% and Pete Buttigieg on 16.3%.


Trump retweets messages of support

Lauren Fedor, Washington correspondent

It’s been a busy day for Trump, who started his morning at breakfast with US business chiefs in Davos, and will go to sleep tonight at the White House here in Washington. In the interim, he has managed to set a record for his presidency, sending more than 125 tweets in a given day — and counting. Most of the president’s messages have been retweets of supporters, including vocal Republican senators like Ted Cruz and John Barrasso.

On the flight back to Washington, Fox News was airing on Air Force One’s television system for much of the trip, including the start of Wednesday’s Senate proceedings, according to a pool report.

https://twitter.com/SenJohnBarrasso/status/1220097191555014656?s=20

https://twitter.com/seanhannity/status/1220067372436008960?s=20


Hakeem Jeffries takes his turn as opening arguments continue

Lauren Fedor, Washington correspondent

Back in the Senate chamber, Hakeem Jeffries is now making the case against Donald Trump, taking a forensic look at the US president’s now-infamous July 25 phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymr Zelensky, in which Trump asked Zelensky to “do him a favour” and investigate the Bidens and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 US election.

If you think back to last autumn, a whistleblower complaint about the July 25 phone call triggered the entire impeachment scandal. The White House has published a memo based on the conversation but never published a full transcript. Some of the witnesses who testified in the House impeachment probe, including Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, listened in on the call in real time, and relayed what they heard to House investigators.


Protester bursts into Senate chamber

Lauren Fedor, Washington correspondent

A bit of excitement in the Senate chamber, where a shouting protester burst into the room, interrupting Jeffries’ arguments.

Chief Justice John Roberts interjected — “The Sergeant at Arms will restore order in the gallery” — and the protester was quickly removed. The interjection will nevertheless raise questions over the security of the Senate chamber.

Capitol police have tightened the rules for access to the Capitol building and surrounding areas in recent days, often to the chagrin of journalists. Many credentialed reporters have been prevented from freely roaming the halls of the Capitol complex, or approaching lawmakers with questions, as they are usually allowed to do.

After Jeffries wrapped up his arguments, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell called a half-hour break for dinner. The trial is set to resume just after 7pm local time.


Thank you and goodnight

Adam Schiff has said he and fellow manager Zoe Lofgren will continue to make arguments for about another 2 hours, before picking up again on Thursday.

However, that is it from the FT live bloggers this evening.

Our DC bureau has curated the key takeaways from Wednesday’s opening arguments here.

See you all tomorrow.