Capitol Police investigate suspicious substance near Schiff’s office

U.S. Capitol Police briefly shut down the hallway outside Rep. Adam Schiff’s office on Thursday while officers investigated a “suspicious substance.”

The area was cleared approximately one hour after officers set up a yellow tarp in front of the area outside the California Democrat’s office on the second floor of the Rayburn House office building.

Capitol Police spokeswoman Eva Malecki said officials “conducted a thorough investigation and found no hazards.”

Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman and the lead impeachment manager, has received several threats in recent months, and he has been accompanied by a security detail since the beginning of the House’s impeachment inquiry in September. An Arizona man was recently indicted for threatening to kill Schiff.

Shortly after the Senate acquitted President Donald Trump on Wednesday, the White House issued a statement suggesting Schiff should face consequences for leading the impeachment drive. “Will there be no retribution?” press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement. Grisham also indicated Trump would raise the prospect of “payback” for those who crossed him during remarks Thursday.

During her weekly news conference Thursday morning, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she does not believe the suspicious substance threat against Schiff has anything to do with the White House calling for “retribution.” But she said Trump’s words carry a “ton” of weight and that saying anything threatening is “wrong.”

Melanie Zanona contributed to this report.

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‘Midnight in Washington’: House Dems make final plea with Senate poised to acquit Trump

House Democrats and Donald Trump’s legal team made their final pitches on Monday to a Republican-controlled Senate that has all but decided the president will be acquitted later this week.

Monday’s closing arguments in the nearly three-week impeachment trial are little more than a formality, given the Senate’s party-line decision Friday to shut down the pursuit of new witnesses or evidence to bolster the House’s case that Trump abused his power and obstructed the impeachment inquiry.

The Senate’s decision to not hear from new witnesses came in the face of newly emerging evidence that Trump conditioned $391 million in military aid to Ukraine as he pressed that country’s president to launch investigations of his political rivals.

Some Republicans, such as Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, justified their decision to ignore the new claims by declaring that they believed the House’s charges to be true but that they simply lacked the gravity to warrant removing Trump from office — especially in an election year.

Trump’s defense lawyers reiterated their view that the House impeachment managers did not meet their burden of proof — and that Trump’s impeachment was an effort to overturn the results of the 2016 election and to interfere in the 2020 campaign. They also played a montage of Democrats seeking Trump's impeachment prior to the Ukraine scandal, arguing that the current impeachment effort was really the playing out of a long-held desire of congressional Democrats.

“The only appropriate result here is to acquit the president and to leave it to the voters to choose their president,” White House Counsel Pat Cipollone said.

“This was a purely partisan impeachment from the start,” added White House Deputy Counsel Patrick Philbin.

That left Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the House’s lead impeachment prosecutor, with the task of making a final plea to a Senate that has essentially turned its back on the House’s case. And Schiff did so primarily with a warning: acquit Trump at your own peril, because a deluge of new evidence is poised to emerge.

"It is midnight in Washington," Schiff said, a refrain he repeatedly returned to as he argued that the Senate ignored new evidence at its own peril. "How did we get here?"

Schiff argued that a Senate acquittal — a decision to leave the matter to the 2020 election — would risk endangering that election to a president who has solicited foreign interference in 2016 and 2020. Schiff summed up the GOP rebuttal as "He’s guilty as sin but can’t we just let the voters decide? He’s guilty as sin but why not let the voters clean up this mess?"

"Can we be confident that Americans and not foreign powers will get to decide?" Schiff said, calling the odds that Trump would "one hundred percent" continue such efforts.

Senate Republicans defeated several Democrat-led motions throughout the trial to subpoena additional witnesses and documents. And on Friday, the Senate passed a resolution that formally closes the evidentiary record in the case and prevents Democrats from forcing more votes on witnesses and documents. The resolution also states that the Senate will vote on Wednesday at 4 p.m. on the impeachment articles, when the Senate is all but certain to reject both charges.

Schiff made the case for witnesses throughout the trial, and he was given a boost when The New York Times reported on a forthcoming book manuscript from former national security adviser John Bolton, who intends to allege that Trump told him directly about the link between Ukraine’s military aid and his desire for investigations into his political adversaries, including former Vice President Joe Biden.

Bolton has indicated he is willing to testify if the Senate subpoenas him. Now that the Senate has officially shut the door to hearing from witnesses, it is unclear whether Bolton would similarly honor a House subpoena — or if the House would even move to seek his testimony. Bolton previously warned House leaders that he would fight a subpoena attempt during their impeachment inquiry last year, raising the specter of months of legal battles that Democrats opted against pursuing.

Aides to Schiff, Bolton and Speaker Nancy Pelosi all declined to comment on whether a House subpoena is in the offing, and whether Bolton would be more amenable to it this time — especially with his book slated for publication in March.

Senate Republicans spent the weekend defending their decision to shut off the evidence spigot ahead of their likely acquittal vote. Alexander said Trump should simply have asked his attorney general, William Barr, to pursue a Biden probe, rather than the leader of a foreign nation. And Sen. Joni Ernst said she was confident, despite no public contrition from Trump, that the president would never use his power to pressure a foreign leader again.

“I think that he knows now that, if he is trying to do certain things, whether it’s ferreting out corruption there, in Afghanistan, whatever it is, he needs to go through the proper channels,” the Iowa Republican said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

The House impeached Trump in December on charges that he pressured Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate Biden and other Democrats on spurious charges, a move Democrats said undermined U.S. national security in favor of Trump’s political interests. Ukraine, they noted, is dependent on the U.S. as it fends off Russian aggression to its east.

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Senators launch last chance to sway swing votes

Senators are taking their last shot Thursday to extract new information from the House prosecutors calling for President Donald Trump's removal from office, as well as the team of attorneys defending him.

The two-day, 16-hour process — at times illuminating, at times monotonous — represents the senators' only chance to have a voice in the Trump impeachment trial, at least until potential final deliberations.

Here are some of they key moments from Day 2 of the questions and answers offered in the Senate:

Can a president ask a foreign country to investigate a U.S. citizen?

The question

Are there legitimate circumstances under which a president can request that a foreign country investigate a U.S. citizen, including a political rival, who is not already under investigation by the U.S. government?

Who asked

Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) asked the question to both sides.

The answer

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the lead House impeachment manager, said “it would be hard for me to contemplate” a circumstance in which such a request to a foreign government would be appropriate.

Trump lawyer Patrick Philbin said the question “assumes” that Trump requested an investigation of a political rival, adding that he believes the July 25 phone call memorandum between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky shows that Trump did not specifically ask for an investigation. Philbin said Trump was asking Zelensky to instead look into “the situation in which the prosecutor had been fired.”

He said there would, in fact, be circumstances under which such a request to a foreign government would be legitimate if there was a “national interest in having some information about that and understanding what went on.”

Why it matters

The fact that Collins asked this question shows again that she is keeping an open mind on the question of whether to vote to convict or acquit the president. The premise of the question presumes that Collins believes that Trump did, in fact, ask for an investigation of his rival — and therefore she wanted to know whether it’s ever appropriate to request such a probe.

Who's paying for Rudy's work?

The question

Who pays for Rudy Giuliani’s travel and work on President Donald Trump’s behalf?

Who asked

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) asked the question to the House managers and the president’s counsel.

The answer

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) replied, “I don’t know who’s paying Rudy Giuliani’s fees.” He then noted that Giuliani has said several times that his work was on behalf of Trump not in his capacity as president, but as a private citizen.

“The whole country is paying the freight for it,” Schiff added.

Trump attorney Jay Sekulow responded, assailing Schiff for raising the issue and pivoting to claims about former Vice President Joe Biden. He also attacked three Democratic senators, whom he said had asked Ukraine to cooperate with former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation amid reports that the government might be pulling back its support.

Why it matters

There have long been questions about how Giuliani has been paid for his work on Trump’s behalf — especially because he is not a U.S. government employee. Reed’s question underscored Giuliani’s unusual role as the president’s personal attorney, who also happened to be involving himself in U.S. foreign policy at Trump’s direction.

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Eliot Engel says Bolton implied Yovanovitch ouster was improper

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) revealed on Wednesday that former national security adviser John Bolton “strongly implied” during a Sept. 23 phone call that President Donald Trump’s ouster of the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine was improper.

“On that call, Ambassador Bolton suggested to me — unprompted — that the committee look into the recall of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch,” Engel said in a statement, referring to the ambassador whom Trump recalled amid a campaign by his allies to tarnish her.

“He strongly implied that something improper had occurred around her removal as our top diplomat in Kyiv,” Engel continued, adding that the phone call took place after Bolton left the White House.

Engel’s disclosure of the phone call — which he says he described to the House’s investigative committees last year — appears timed to ramp up pressure on Senate Republicans debating whether to vote in favor of calling additional witnesses as part of the impeachment trial.

Trump wrote on Twitter earlier Wednesday that Bolton said “nothing” about his apparent concerns over Trump’s dealings with Ukraine — including, as was reported earlier this week, Bolton’s contention in his unpublished book that Trump told him that military aid to Ukraine was conditioned on the country’s willingness to announce investigations into Trump’s political opponents.

“Ambassador Bolton has made clear over the last few months that he has more to say on this issue,” Engel said. “And now that the president has called his credibility into question, it’s important to set the record straight.”

The call between Engel and Bolton occurred about two weeks after Engel’s committee, along with the House Intelligence and Oversight committees, had begun investigating matters related to Ukraine as part of a formal impeachment inquiry.

The investigation was meant to explore “President Trump’s and [Rudy] Giuliani’s attempts to manipulate the Ukrainian justice system to benefit the president’s re-election campaign” — allegations that later formed the core of the House’s charge that Trump abused his power and should be removed from office.

Investigators had been inquiring about the matter for months before the formal launch of the probe, which also came on a day before the Intelligence Committee revealed the existence of a whistleblower complaint that supercharged the House’s march toward impeachment.

Trump’s Republican allies questioned the timing of Engel’s revelation.

“Hardly groundbreaking or relevant,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) wrote on Twitter. “The more noteworthy item is that this is magically coming out 127 days into this impeachment process — on the eve of President Trump being acquitted, as Democrats rapidly lose momentum. You can smell their desperation.”

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Trump gets the impeachment payback he wanted

President Donald Trump’s impeachment defense team knew they were likely to win — and they proceeded accordingly.

With a virtually negligible threat of conviction and removal by a Republican-controlled Senate, Trump’s legal team spent just a sliver of their 11-hour arguments rebutting the House’s charge that Trump abused his power by pressuring Ukraine to investigate his rivals.

Instead, they tailored a defense that often mirrored the president’s pre-trial demands: to exact pain and revenge against his political nemeses, all on the Senate floor.

What ensued was a Who’s Who of the president’s frequent Twitter targets: Obama, Comey, Mueller, Strzok, Page, Ohr — names that had little to no connection to the impeachment charges, but occupy a lot of space on Trump’s list of political enemies and whom Trump perceives as at least a part of the reason he will bear the stain of impeachment.

“That’s what the president’s been living with. And then we’re here today arguing about what — a phone call to Ukraine or Ukraine aid being held? Or a question about corruption?” Trump’s lead personal attorney Jay Sekulow said during Tuesday’s session. “I mean, is that what this is? Is that where we are?”

Of the 15 presentations made by Trump’s lawyers over three days, just two were entirely focused on House Democrats’ Ukraine allegations — both of which were helmed by White House Deputy Counsel Michael Purpura.

Three presentations by Purpura’s fellow White House lawyer Patrick Phibin asserted that the House’s case was procedurally defective and should be rejected for process-related failures, a response to the House’s second impeachment article charging Trump with obstruction of the House’s impeachment inquiry. Two were high-level overviews by Trump’s lead lawyer Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel. And another two centered on the constitutional cases against removing the president from office, delivered by Kenneth Starr and Alan Dershowitz, two high-profile outside attorneys added for a bit of star power.

W.H. defense team conclude their opening arguments

That left five speeches that seemed entirely intended to scratch Trump’s itch to drag his political rivals into the impeachment arena, something he repeatedly foreshadowed in the weeks leading up to the trial. It was a consistent tactic for Trump, who has maintained for months that his July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s president — the conversation at the center of Trump’s impeachment, in which he pushed for an investigation into 2020 challenger Joe Biden — was “perfect.”

Sekulow even echoed Trump’s language throughout his presentation on Tuesday.

“[Democrats] are talking about perfectly lawful actions on their face, but they want to make it impeachable if it’s just a wrong idea inside the president’s head,” he said. “It is our position legally, the president at all times acted with perfect legal authority inquired of matters in our national interest.”

One of Trump’s lawyers, Eric Herschmann, made an argument that former President Barack Obama committed an “abuse of power” akin to the allegations against Trump when Obama was caught on a microphone telling then-Russian-president Dmitriy Medevedev he would have more “flexibility” on Russia policy after the 2012 election.

“The case against President Obama would have been far stronger than the allegations against President Trump,” Herschmann said.

Another Trump attorney, Pam Bondi, spent nearly an hour suggesting that Biden’s son Hunter was involved in a corrupt deal with a Ukrainian energy company. She presented no evidence that a crime had been committed but suggested it warranted investigation — into both Hunter and Joe Biden, who was spearheading the Obama administration’s Ukraine policy at the time.

Democrats have called the charge baseless and argued that Trump’s request that Ukraine investigate it could only be meant to tarnish a rival he viewed as a political threat. And they noted, with rueful irony, that Trump used his own high-profile impeachment trial to mount the innuendo-laden investigation he initially asked Ukraine to perform. A Ukrainian investigation into Biden was never announced, as allegedly sought by Trump’s allies; but all of the major networks spent hours airing the Trump legal team’s arguments.

And Jane Raskin, who also served on Trump’s defense team in the Mueller inquiry, used her speech primarily to sing the praises of Rudy Giuliani, a central figure in Democrats’ impeachment case. She contrasted him with the House’s lead impeachment manager, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), whom she portrayed as the loser in both the Mueller and impeachment cases.

“The score is, Mayor Giuliani 4, Mr. Schiff 0,” Raskin said.

But it was Sekulow’s final speech — the last full presentation in Trump’s entire defense — that became a sort of grand finale of Trump’s grievances, a speech that appeared geared toward his client as opposed to the audience of Senate Republicans looking for reasons to vote to acquit. Some senators left the chamber seemingly bewildered by the performance and tone

Sekulow lashed out at the FBI over a recent inspector-general report that attorneys there abused their authority to obtain a warrant to surveil a former Trump campaign aide. He slammed former FBI director James Comey for leaking memos to a New York Times reporter meant to spur the appointment of a special counsel and which resulted in the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. And he devoted time to a complaint that Mueller’s team lost text messages between two agents who shared anti-Trump sentiments.

All of it, he said, should be factors in Trump’s acquittal — or else constitutional order in the U.S. would be permanently damaged.

“Danger. Danger. Danger,” he said, part of a refrain he repeated five times. “To lower the bar of impeachment, based on these articles of impeachment, would impact the functioning of our constitutional republic and the framework of that Constitution for generations.”

Democrats contended that the scattershot attacks on Trump’s perceived political enemies suggested a lack of confidence in their overall defense of the president on the Ukraine charge.

“The president’s lawyers today and in the prior presentations really did not, cannot defend the president on the facts,” Schiff told reporters Tuesday. “Instead they used their time on the floor today to go through a list of grievances which I’m sure the president was delighted to hear, but nonetheless, not particularly relevant to the charges against the president here today.”

Jesse Naranjo contributed to this report.

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Democrats hammer constitutional case for Trump’s removal

House Democrats are launching Phase Two of their impeachment case on Thursday: the constitutional argument for why President Donald Trump should be removed from office.

The House’s seven impeachment managers spent all day Wednesday piecing together their voluminous and complex case that Trump abused his power by pressuring Ukraine to investigate his Democratic rivals — and then tried to cover it up. Now, they’ll lay out the reasons they believe he should be ousted and barred from serving in federal office ever again.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the House’s lead impeachment manager, indicated that his team will seek to apply the facts of the case to the constitutional framework for impeachment — including an argument for why Trump’s alleged misconduct meets the threshold for “high crimes and misdemeanors” as outlined in the Constitution.

Thursday’s presentation will focus on the first article of impeachment against Trump, centering on his alleged abuses of the powers of the presidency. Schiff and his team are likely to delve into the second article — obstruction of Congress — on Friday.

The arguments will closely mirror those laid out by the House Judiciary Committee last month, when constitutional law experts called by Democrats made the case that Trump’s conduct clearly crossed the threshold into impeachable territory.

Democrats will likely push back against claims from Trump’s lawyers that an impeachable offense must be a statutory crime, such as bribery or obstruction of justice. The president’s allies have harangued Democrats for impeaching Trump without accusing him of a crime, arguing that the two articles of impeachment are legally defective and set a dangerous precedent for future presidential impeachments.

Trump brought Alan Dershowitz, a criminal defense attorney and former Harvard law professor, onto his legal team to push back against the idea that a president can be removed from office without being accused of a statutory crime. Specifically, Dershowitz has said that impeachable conduct should be “criminal-like.”

Democrats may even cite the one Republican witness from the December hearing, Jonathan Turley, who was critical of the case against Trump but did not dispute that “abuse of power” is an impeachable offense, even if the president hasn’t broken any laws. Turley handed Democrats ammunition earlier this week when he wrote an op-ed criticizing Trump’s defense team for suggesting there must be a criminal violation to justify impeachment.

Schiff highlighted Turley’s position during his own remarks on the trials’ first working day Tuesday, suggesting Trump had to turn to Dershowitz rather than a mainstream constitutional law expert to make the case.

“He couldn't even go to Jonathan Turley, their expert in the House, for an opinion. No, they had to go outside of these experts, outside of constitutional law, to a criminal defense lawyer and professor,” Schiff said. “And why? Because they can't contest the facts.”

Democrats are likely to lean more heavily on the testimony of the three constitutional law professors who argued that Trump unequivocally committed "high crimes."

“The president’s serious misconduct, including bribery, soliciting a personal favor from a foreign leader in exchange for his exercise of power, and obstructing justice and Congress,” said Michael Gerhardt, a University of North Carolina law professor, during the House’s impeachment hearings, “are worse than the misconduct of any prior president.”

Senate Republicans so far have appeared largely unmoved by Democrats’ case against Trump and a vote to convict seems unlikely. But if they did, a separate vote would be required to also bar Trump from again serving in federal office.

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