Closed Impeachment trial: Democrats take aim at Trump defence on Day 3 – as it happened

APTOPIX Trump Impeachment

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


Day 3: Welcome to the FT’s live coverage

Kiran Stacey writes:

Good morning from Washington, DC, where the third day of the Senate impeachment trial against Donald Trump will begin this afternoon. During the opening arguments on Wednesday, House Democrats outlined their case that Donald Trump pressured his Ukrainian counterpart to open an investigation into his political rival Joe Biden and his son.

Mr Trump returned from Davos on Wednesday night and is already awake and tweeting about the proceedings this morning. Before the day’s hearings were due to begin, Mr Trump tweeted:

The Democrats & Shifty Schiff, whose presentation to the Senate was loaded with lies and misrepresentations, are refusing to state that the Obama Administration withheld aid from many countries including Ukraine, Pakistan, Philippines, Egypt, Honduras, & Mexico. Witch Hunt!


Day 2 recap: Democrats make their case against Donald Trump

House Democrats on Wednesday launched their opening arguments, making the case that Donald Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine had undermined US democracy.

Adam Schiff, the California congressman leading the prosecution, accused Mr Trump of placing pressure on Kyiv to announce an investigation into Joe Biden, a key rival of the president, through a variety of means.

Mr Schiff claimed the president’s actions endangered the US by emboldening dictators and autocrats, such as Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Demetri Sevastopulo and Courtney Weaver explain the key facts in this article.

Democrats are expected to build on this case in the third day of the trial, which is set to begin at around 1pm Washington time and which may extend deep into the evening.

We’ll bring you live coverage and analysis on this page and on FT.com throughout the proceedings.


Nadler comments jeopardise cooperation between Democrats and Republicans

Kiran Stacey, Washington correspondent

One of the big early fights in this Senate trial is whether senators should be allowed to call witnesses – something Democrats want, but senior Republicans are resisting.

Democrats need a handful of Republicans to break rank to succeed in their bid, and so are courting moderates like Mitt Romney and Susan Collins.

As part of this effort, Democrats are trying to be careful about the language they use about their Republican counterparts in these early stages – something that was undermined when Jerrold Nadler, one of the representatives serving as a House “manager” of the case, accused Senate Republicans of being part of a “cover up”. That sparked controversy, with Lisa Murkowski, the moderate Republican senator from Alaska, saying she was “offended” by the remarks.

This morning, Michael Bennet, the Democratic senator from Colorado and presidential candidate, issued a veiled attack on Nadler, telling CNN there had been some early comments that were “more partisan and didn’t help the case”. He added: “That was very much an outlier though.”


What you missed: Lev Parnas’ media blitz

The south Florida businessman fighting criminal charges stemming from donations he made to Trump-aligned campaign groups has delivered a pair of blockbuster interviews in which he decided to turn on the president.

In legal terms, his media blitz amounted to an unorthodox and high-stakes gamble, New York correspondent Josh Chaffin writes in this article.


Democrats urge Republicans to vote for admission of new evidence and witnesses

Kiran Stacey, Washington correspondent

Two hours before Thursday’s trial session starts, Senate Democrats held a press conference urging their Republican colleagues to vote with them to allow witnesses to be heard and new documents to be presented.

Chuck Schumer, the leading Senate Democrat, said his party wanted to be able to call Mick Mulvaney, the president’s acting chief of staff; Robert Blair, one of Mulvaney’s aides; Michael Duffey, another White House official; and John Bolton, the president’s former national security adviser.

Schumer said: “If my Republican colleagues are interested in some new evidence, there is a very simple answer: vote with Democrats to call relevant witnesses and documents.”

Democrats would need four Republicans to vote with them to succeed.


Trump knocks Obama amid debate over foreign aid

Kiran Stacey, Washington correspondent

Early this morning, Donald Trump began tweeting about the impeachment trial, accusing Barack Obama of withholding aid to various countries while he was president – including Pakistan, Egypt and Ukraine itself.

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1220329778810687489

On Ukraine, it seems the president is referring to the Obama administration’s decision in 2014 not to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine as it was being invaded by Russia in 2014. Democrats point out this was not aid.

On other cases, the Obama administration did withhold aid, such as to Egypt after the military takeover in 2017.

But the cases are not parallel – on none of these occasions has Obama been accused of withholding aid to another country to help his own domestic political chances, which is the central accusation at Trump’s Senate trial.


Democrats kick off second day of opening arguments

The Senate has reconvened and Chaplain Barry Black has said a prayer.

Chief Justice John Roberts and the senators have pledged their allegiance to the American flag.

The House impeachment managers have resumed their opening arguments, having used roughly eight of the 24 hours on Wednesday.


Nadler makes case and Trump attacks opponents

Lauren Fedor, Washington correspondent

Jerry Nadler, the chair of the House judiciary committee, is now making the case for the House Democrats.

Meanwhile, the president is back on Twitter, attacking his opponents: “The Democrats don’t want a Witness Trade because Shifty Schiff, the Biden’s, the fake Whistleblower (& his lawyer), the second Whistleblower (who vanished after I released the Transcripts), the so-called “informer”, & many other Democrat disasters, would be a BIG problem for them!”

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1220410391668371457?s=20

Democratic lawmakers are reportedly weighing a witness “trade”, with Joe or Hunter Biden agreeing to testify in exchange for the testimony of White House officials like John Bolton or Mick Mulvaney. But Joe Biden said on the campaign trail on Wednesday that he would not be open to such a deal, accusing the Republicans of trying to turn the impeachment trial into a “farce” and “political theater”.

Trump has also called for Adam Schiff — who he calls Shifty Schiff — to testify in the impeachment trial, despite the insistence of Mitch McConnell and other Republicans that the best outcome for the president would be the absence of witnesses altogether.

As for the anonymous whistleblower, whose complaint triggered the impeachment probe, Trump and other Republicans have sought to have the individual named, despite laws protecting the privacy of government workers who raise red flags.


Family and celebrities keep campaigns for Democratic candidates ticking over

Lauren Fedor, Washington correspondent

Four of the 100 senators acting as jurors in the impeachment trial are also competing for their party’s nomination to take on Trump in November’s general election: Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bennet.

Before this afternoon’s proceedings kicked off, Warren took questions from a gaggle of reporters on Capitol Hill, and talked about the grassroots efforts her campaign is making in early-voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire while she is stuck in DC.

“I have to be in Washington but we have a lot of folks in Iowa who are out there helping me make this happen and I’m grateful for it,” she said.

Warren and the other candidates are relying on high-level campaign supporters, often called “surrogates”, to hold events for them during the trial. In Warren’s case, surrogates include Massachusetts congresswoman Ayanna Pressley and Queer Eye star Jonathan Van Ness.

Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, is relying on supporters like New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and filmmaker Michael Moore.

Amy Klobuchar’s daughter and husband are holding many events in Iowa on her behalf.


Nadler uses Trump supporters’ words against them

Lauren Fedor, Washington correspondent

Jerry Nadler is using his time this afternoon for a constitutional law lesson of sorts.

The US Constitution has just a few sentences on impeachment, with Article I giving the House the power to impeach and the Senate the power to hold an impeachment trial, and Article II saying the president can be removed from office “on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanours”. And there is little precedent — this is just the third presidential impeachment trial in US history.

Nadler is running through legal arguments that were made in the House investigation in favour of removing the president for abuse of power — something Trump’s lawyers have argued is unconstitutional.

Nadler is also using the president’s supporters’ words against him, playing clips of Alan Dershowitz and Lindsey Graham speaking during the Clinton impeachment saga in the late 1990s.

Dershowitz — a Harvard professor who defended OJ Simpson and has been in the spotlight more recently for his associations with Jeffrey Epstein — is now part of Trump’s defence team. Graham, a senator from South Carolina, is one of the president’s fiercest defenders on Capitol Hill.


Garcia says Trump’s Ukraine actions politically motivated

Lauren Fedor, Washington correspondent

Sylvia Garcia, a first-term congresswoman from Texas, just made the case that Trump’s actions in Ukraine were done for purely political reasons.

She said: “Even President Trump knew there was no basis for this investigation…It wasn’t until Biden began beating him in the polls that he called for the investigation. The president asked Ukraine for this investigation for one reason and one reason only: because he knew it would be damaging to an opponent who was consistently beating him in the polls, and therefore, it could get him re-elected in 2020.”

Former vice-president Joe Biden entered the presidential contest last April, and since then he has led his Democratic rivals in many national opinion polls — and outpolled Trump, including in many of the Midwestern swing states that were so crucial to Trump’s 2016 victory.

With less than two weeks to go until the Iowa caucuses, the first major voting event of the presidential primary season, Biden is facing stiff competition from three other front runners — Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg — all of whom have significant levels of support in Iowa and New Hampshire, where the first presidential primary will be held next month.


‘We will be putting on a vigorous defence”, Sekulow says

Lauren Fedor, Washington correspondent

The Senate is taking a break, and Jay Sekulow, a member of the president’s defence team, just spoke to reporters.

We expect House managers to continue their arguments today and possibly into tomorrow, with Sekulow and the rest of the White House team starting their arguments tomorrow or Saturday.

When asked about the House Democrats’ arguments so far, Sekulow told reporters:

We are hearing the same things over and over. That’s the way they are going to do their case. I will asure you this: We will be putting on a vigorous defence of both fact and rebutting what they have said. Our job here is to defend both the president, the office of the presidency and the constitution. We are going to do that. I see nothing that has changed in the last now day and a half of the two and a half days we have been going here.

Meanwhile, many senators are also using the break to speak to cameras. Josh Hawley of Missouri, said during the break: “I think it’s now clear we absolutely must call Hunter Biden and we probably need to call Joe Biden. Based on the House managers’ presentation today, I think we probably are going to need to hear from the former vice president if indeed we call witnesses.”


Republican senators not taking impeachment seriously

A few Republican senators, or at least the team members who have been given the job of controlling their social media accounts, don’t seem to be taking the opening arguments by the House impeachment managers very seriously.

Case in point.

Ted Cruz, Texas senator, has proposed a drinking game, but with milk — one of only two things senators are allowed to consume on the Senate floor, besides water.

https://twitter.com/tedcruz/status/1220389110487097344

Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy’s dietary updates

https://twitter.com/SenBillCassidy/status/1220405785106231302

Senator Richard Burr from North Carolina, who appears to be considering a new profile picture

And Kelly Loeffler, Senator from Georgia


Schiff lays out argument Trump acted for his own personal gain

Lauren Fedor, Washington correspondent

Schiff is back, making a 10-part argument President Trump was acting in his own interests, and for his own personal gain, rather than the interests of US national security or the American people.

Among his arguments: that Trump was more concerned about the investigations being announced, rather than carried out, and that Trump solicited the help of Rudy Giuliani, his personal attorney, rather than traditional US foreign policy channels.


Giuliani’s role comes into focus

Kadhim Shubber, US legal and enforcement correspondent

The House impeachment managers are heading into Thursday evening with a focus on the role of Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, in peddling what they called “false Ukraine theories” and ousting Marie Yovanovitch, the former US ambassador to Ukraine.

Zoe Lofgren, Democrat from California, quoted a text from an advisor to Ukraine’s president that said “the key for many things is Rudi [sic]“. She noted testimony from several witnesses in the impeachment that pointed to the central role that Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, played in Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.

Val Demings, Democrat from Florida, took up the baton, showing the Senate several clips of Giuliani on Fox News pushing “false” claims that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 US presidential election.

She said the “scheme grew” over time from those efforts, using information from “disgruntled” and “corrupt” former Ukrainian prosecutors, to a broader pressure campaign targeted at forcing Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, into announcing investigations that would benefit Trump politically in the US.


Democrats use Giuliani’s TV appearances and tweets as evidence

Kadhim Shubber, US legal and enforcement correspondent

Much of the evidence of the House impeachment managers have used to show Rudy Giuliani’s activities has not been secret emails. Instead, they have pointed to clips of Giuliani on Fox News; they have flashed up his tweets, showing that the efforts to push theories about Ukrainian election meddling and the Bidens unfolded in plain sight.

But, Val Demings said, those tactics could only go so far. When they failed, Giuliani turned to the official US government machinery “as directed by President Trump”, she told the Senate. “President Trump acted corruptly. He abused the power of his office by ordering his diplomats to work with his political agent,” she said.

Hakeem Jeffries, Democrat from New York, followed to take the case further, taking the Senate through the abuse of power claims surrounding the withholding of an official White House meeting from Ukraine’s president. He referenced a video of Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, testifying that there was indeed a “quid pro quo” with regards to a White House meeting, which Zelensky still has not received. “The president used his awesome power to help himself and not the American people. He must be held accountable,” said Jeffries.


Jeffries argues importance of White House invite to Zelensky

Kadhim Shubber, US legal and enforcement correspondent

The impeachment trial has broken for 30 minutes. Hakeem Jeffries, Democrat from New York, has been laying out the importance of a meeting at the White House to the Ukrainian president. With the country still effectively at war with Russia, a meeting with Trump in the Oval Office would be a vital show of support from Ukraine’s most important ally.

“President Trump was not just withholding a small thing. The Oval Office meeting was a big deal. Ukraine remains at war with Russia. It desperately needs our support. And, as a result, the pressure on Ukraine not to upset President Trump, who still refuses to meet with President Zelensky in the Oval Office to this day, continues,” said Jeffries.


Republican senators criticise lack of new information

Kadhim Shubber, US legal and enforcement correspondent

Republican senators are hitting one particular note again and again as they brief the press in the intermission: they’re not hearing anything new.

John Barrasso, Republican from Wyoming, said the House impeachment managers are “repeating themselves”. Tim Scott of South Carolina said: “We’ve heard the same story: rinse it, recycle it and repeat it.” And James Lankford of Oklahoma, said: “Same story, same videos, all over again.”

Republicans have thus far voted against calling witnesses and demanding new documents from the administration, and have given every indication of sticking to that position throughout the trial.


Trial interrupted by baseball talk

Before the recess, Jeffries began his remarks with a story about a concerned resident of New York, though his concerns had nothing to do with impeachment:

This morning, I was on my way to the office, and I ran into a fellow New Yorker…He said to me, “Congressman, have you heard the latest outrage?” I wasn’t really sure what he was talking about. To be honest, I thought to myself, well, the president is now back in town. What has Donald Trump done now? So I said to him, “What outrage are you talking about?” He paused for a moment, and then he said to me, “Someone voted against Derek Jeter on his Hall of Fame ballot”. Life is all about perspective.

The quip elicited some laughter from those seated in the chamber.

Jeter, the former New York Yankees shortstop, fell one vote shy of a unanimous selection to the Baseball Hall of Fame. (He received a vote from 396 of 397 voters.) His ex-teammate, pitcher Mariano Rivera, is the only player in history to be sent to the Hall unanimously.

Jeter and Larry Walker will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer. Both received at least 75 per cent support from voters, the required threshold.


Democrats resume arguments after recess

Kadhim Shubber, US legal and enforcement correspondent

The trial is restarting with Hakeem Jeffries speaking again to lay out the case against President Trump. Mitch McConnell, Senate majority leader, said the proceedings are likely to go on until 10:30pm eastern time.


Jeffries: Ukraine call transcript is ‘damning evidence’ of quid-pro-quo

Kadhim Shubber, US legal and enforcement correspondent

One of President Trump’s responses to the impeachment has been a singular phrase: “Read the transcript!” The defense is a reference to the July 25 phone call between the US and Ukrainian presidents, which Trump has called “perfect”.

“Read the transcript President Trump says. We have read the transcript and it is damning evidence of a corrupt quid pro quo,” said Hakeem Jeffries, one of the Democratic House impeachment managers. “The evidence against President Trump is hiding in plain sight,” he added.

In a record of the call released by the White House, Trump told his counterpart: “I would like you to do us a favor though”. The comment came immediately after Volodymyr Zelensky mentioned military assistance.

Jeffries told the Senate the call came after weeks where President Trump’s appointees were making clear to President Zelensky that he would have to announce the investigations the US president wanted. “Now you can see the entire context of how this corrupt parade of horribles unfolded,” said Jeffries.


Garcia argues risks of not holding Trump accountable

Sylvia Garcia’s arguments on Thursday were aimed at explaining Trump’s motivations regarding Ukraine. She used her time to remind senators that “an abuse of power occurs when the president corruptly exercises power to obtain a personal benefit that ignores or injures the national interest”.

She said: “That is exactly what happened here,” when Trump used official power to pressure Ukraine to benefit his re-election campaign by hurting rival Joe Biden. Garcia added that it is clear how corrupt this was “because Ukraine resisted it”.

Garcia urged senators to hold President Trump accountable or risk telling the world it is okay for future presidents to use the Oval Office for their personal interests.

“I ask you to make sure this does not happen because in this country no one is above the law,” she said.


That’s all for now

The third day of proceedings in President Trump’s Senate impeachment trial is drawing to a close and House impeachment managers have one more day before the American public get to hear from Trump’s legal team.

Kadhim Shubber, our US legal and enforcement correspondent, has the highlights from Thursday, when Democrats tackled the Biden question head on.

Your bloggers will be back in action tomorrow. Thank you for reading and goodnight.