Sen. Murphy requests GAO to check Trump administration’s classification of documents

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) is requesting the Government Accountability Office review whether the Trump administration is improperly classifying documents that it provided to Congress.

In an interview, Murphy, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said that the Trump administration’s classification of a letter from Vice President Mike Pence’s aide Jennifer Williams centered on the vice president’s call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky was the “last straw.”

“There was absolutely nothing in that document that should have been classified,” Murphy said. “It was only classified because it was politically hurtful to the president in the middle of an impeachment proceeding and you are not allowed as president of the United States to keep information from the public simply because it’s going to hurt you politically.”

Williams testified during the House’s impeachment inquiry that President Donald Trump’s July 25 call with his Ukraine counterpart was “inappropriate.” She submitted the document in question to the House Intelligence Committee as supplemental testimony and additional evidence in the impeachment inquiry, but Pence’s office has deemed it classified.

Democrats who viewed the document in January when it was made available to lawmakers claimed there’s no reason to keep it classified.

In a letter sent Thursday, Murphy asked that the GAO compare classified documents that are in the Office of Senate Security to their original classified versions to see if they have similar classification levels as well as examine the material the documents provided to Congress are based on.

“Some documents contain information that is classified at a level that appears inconsistent with the nature of the material,” Murphy wrote. “It is critical to ensure that information provided to the Congress is properly classified when it must be classified at all.”

Murphy along with other Democratic senators have criticized the Trump administration for keeping documents under wraps that they argue do not contain classified information. The Connecticut Democrat has also called for declassifying the War Powers notification sent to Congress after the strike against Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.

“I’ve noticed a trend — I’ve watched as more and more of these documents I’m reading in the [Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility] don’t have information that compromises sources and methods,” he said. “The War Powers notification for the Soleimani strike had no information in it that was classified.”

Murphy said in the interview that he’s also hearing concerns from Republicans. He acknowledged that the Obama administration also classified documents that didn’t necessarily have classified information, but said that under the Trump administration the problem is “much more acute.”

The Connecticut Democrat is also asking GAO whether a member of Congress can challenge the classification status of a document.

“Right now the only thing we can do is declassify it ourselves which I do not think is a solution,” he said. “But if this doesn’t get better, then I do think we need to think about processes by which a third party can weigh in and decide to un-classify something that’s just a political embarrassment.”

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Red state Democrat Doug Jones will vote to convict Trump

Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), who faces a tough reelection race in Alabama, will vote to convict President Donald Trump on both articles of impeachment.

Jones made the announcement hours before the Senate is expected to acquit Trump over charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

“Senators are elected to make tough choices. We are required to study the facts of each issue before us and exercise our independent judgment in keeping with the oaths we take. The gravity of this moment, the seriousness of the charges, and the implications for future presidencies and Congresses all contributed to the difficulty with which I have arrived at my decision," Jones said in a statement.

Jones — a former prosecutor — was widely viewed as a potential Democratic swing vote, along with Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. His vote won't change the outcome of the verdict but comes amid pressure on Jones, the only red-state Democrat up for reelection.

Before the start of the three week trial, Jones said that he wanted to “see if the dots get connected” on whether the president withheld military aid from Ukraine in order to pressure its government to investigate Vice President Joe Biden. He added at the time that he would be open to acquitting the president if the House did not prove its case.

Like the rest of his caucus, Jones supported Democratic calls for witnesses and documents, which likely would have prolonged the trial for weeks.

Jones, who won a special election in 2017 against controversial Republican challenger Roy Moore, is the most vulnerable Democratic senator up in 2020.

During the trial, he was the target of an ad campaign from the nonprofit, pro-Trump group America First Policies.

James Arkin contributed to this story.

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Senate to skip town after impeachment vote

Senators are expected to leave Washington for a four-day weekend after Wednesday’s historic vote on President Donald Trump’s impeachment.

The imminent departure comes after GOP senators had previously warned that the chamber could be tied up for weeks if they agreed to call witnesses in the trial.

“The most likely scenario is that after the votes tomorrow, yeah, we would be out for the week and then pick it up next week,” said Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.).

The Senate is set to vote on Trump’s acquittal Wednesday afternoon at 4 p.m. The vote comes after an at-times grueling three-week impeachment trial that included late nights and one Saturday session, though it never went for more than five days a week, despite predictions that the Senate would be in six days a week.

Murkowski on impeachment: 'The house failed in it's responsibilities'

The trial proceedings Monday ended around 3 p.m. and Tuesday floor time was reserved for senators who wanted to deliver speeches on the Senate floor about the impeachment process and how they plan to vote. Senators will stay late Tuesday evening for President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address.

Last week, the Senate underwent a bitter debate about whether to prolong the Senate impeachment trial by calling additional witnesses. That measure failed, in a 51-49 vote. Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah joined all 47 Democrats to vote in favor of hearing more evidence.

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Lisa Murkowski will vote to acquit Trump

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said on Monday that she would not vote to convict President Donald Trump, but also offered a damning portrayal of Congress for its handling of the impeachment proceedings.

In her floor speech, Murkowski described Trump’s behavior as “shameful and wrong,” but said Congress had failed, too.

“The House failed in its responsibilities and the Senate — the Senate should be ashamed by the rank partisanship that has been on display here,” Murkowski said. “So many in this chamber share my sadness for the present state of our institutions. It’s my hope that we’ve finally found bottom here.”

During her speech, Murkowski condemned the House for what she said was a rush through the impeachment process, while also criticizing her Senate colleagues on both sides of the aisle for failing to approach the impeachment trial with an open mind. She lambasted the media for what she called “careless coverage” when Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not immediately send the articles of impeachment over to the Senate after they passed in the House.

Murkowski added that the House could have pursued censure and did not have to jump to impeach.

“I cannot vote to convict,” she said. “The Constitution provides for impeachment but does not demand it in all instances.”

Similar to her Republican colleague Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Murkowski said it would ultimately be up to the voters to offer the final verdict on Trump’s behavior in November.

She also called on Congress to do more to stop the legislative branch from ceding authority to the executive.

Murkowski on impeachment: 'The house failed in it's responsibilities'

“This process has been the apotheosis of the problem of congressional abdication,” Murkowski said. “Through the refusal to exercise war powers, or relinquishing the power of the purse, selective oversight and unwillingness to check emergency declarations designed to skirt Congress — we have failed.”

Murkowski was viewed as a key swing vote during the Senate impeachment trial, particularly when it came to hearing from witnesses. She ultimately voted against it, concluding that there would be no fair trial in the Senate. The Senate is scheduled to render its verdict at 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Murkowski said after her floor speech on Monday that her decision not to hear from witnesses was based on several factors, but noted that a question from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) about whether the chief justice’s role in the impeachment proceedings contributed to the loss of legitimacy of the court played a role.

“It absolutely took it to a different dimension when you have the suggestion that the courts should somehow be … complicit and in a proceeding where the Supreme Court decides that he is not going to rule,” Murkowski said of the president. “All of a sudden … political fireworks in my head went off.”

In explaining his vote against witnesses, Alexander said the House proved its case that Trump pressured President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to investigate the Biden family. Murkowski said on Monday that she, too, believed that U.S. military aid was withheld at least in part because Trump wanted the Bidens investigated.

“Based on what we heard, clearly a factor in that was the president was looking for a certain action from President Zelensky as it related to the Bidens,” she said. “I believe that.”

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‘He should move on’: Republicans urge Trump to shun impeachment in SOTU

Senate Republicans are praying President Donald Trump does something out of character during his State of the Union address — avoid talking about impeachment.

Trump will deliver his speech Tuesday, one day before the Senate ends its nearly three-week impeachment trial with a likely vote to acquit him. While the president is all but assured to take a victory lap Wednesday, Senate Republicans don’t want the State of the Union to turn into the type of speech he’d deliver at a campaign rally.

“My advice would be that in the State of the Union he should move on,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). “The president’s got a good record when you look at the economy and lower taxes and fewer regulations and higher incomes and I think he’d be well advised to focus on that and let the impeachment trial speak for itself.”

“We’re not done tomorrow and I don’t think it’s appropriate for him to bring it up,” added Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.). “He is his own person, obviously he can bring up things as he chooses to ... but I’m not coming into that speech to be able to hear more about impeachment.”

The president has repeatedly tried to undermine the impeachment proceedings, either when speaking to reporters or on Twitter. Just on Monday, Trump reiterated the impeachment inquiry is a “hoax” and asked “where’s the whistleblower,” referring to the individual who triggered the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry by filing a complaint about the president’s call with his Ukrainian counterpart.

Trump was impeached in December on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress for pressuring the Ukrainian government to investigate his political rivals, including former Vice President Joe Biden, and withholding almost $400 million in aid to the country.

Former President Bill Clinton also delivered a State of the Union address during the midst of his 1999 impeachment trial and famously didn’t bring up his ongoing trial. Richard Nixon, in his 1974 State of the Union address, asked Congress to end the Watergate investigations, saying “one year of Watergate is enough.” Nixon resigned months later after it became clear he’d be impeached and removed from office.

Senate Republicans advised Trump on Monday to focus his attention on other topics, like lowering the cost of prescription drugs, the economy, or even climate change, as well as outline his vision for a second term.

"We’ve got a great strong economy, our military is finally being rebuilt under this administration,” said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), a member of GOP leadership. “There are a lot of really great things he should talk about — and stay away from maybe what the proceedings are. We’re not voting until Wednesday.”

But Senate Democrats aren’t holding their breath for a unifying message from the president and expect to get an earful about impeachment.

“I am almost certain he will” bring it up, said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) “Have you met the man ... One of the core arguments is that he is utterly unrepentant, unlike President Nixon and President Clinton, who after their impeachments delivered formal apologies to the country and to the Congress.”

“Predicting what Donald Trump will say is a little bit like buying a lottery ticket,” added Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). “But I suspect he will talk about impeachment.”

Trump’s previous State of the Union addresses have made appeals to national unity and bipartisanship. But he’s also angered Democrats with his rhetoric. Last year’s speech left Democrats fuming after he asked for their help to build a border wall and called for a late-term abortion ban. He also urged House Democrats who had just taken the majority to skip “ridiculous partisan investigations.”

White House officials say Trump is viewing his state of the union speech as an official relaunch for his reelection bid. Last week, they said they did not expect Trump to mention impeachment and that he would instead focus on other issues like the economy or the trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, which the senate approved last month just before the start of the trial.

White House officials told reporters in a background briefing Friday that the speech would present "a vision of relentless optimism."

Still, even Trump’s strongest Capitol Hill allies say that it’s impossible to predict what the president’s message will be until he actually delivers his speech.

“Everyone should just know that Trump will be Trump and that means we don’t know what he’s going to say,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.). “I don’t think that he needs to be pressured to be anything other than who he is. I’m not writing his speech. Whoever is knows that there’s a 50-50 chance he’ll read it as written.”

Burgess Everett and Gabby Orr contributed to this report.

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At-risk Republicans push for swift end to Senate trial

The pressure to end the debate in the president’s impeachment trial is coming from a closely-watched contingent: Senate Republicans up for re-election in battleground states.

While Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has said she favors hearing more evidence and witnesses —– which would lengthen the trial — the majority of Republican senators up in 2020 are urging the Senate to wrap it up.

"We've had 17 witnesses, from the House," said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) in an interview. "We do hear from people back home but they're like, ‘get this over with.’ That's what I'm hearing, is that we really need to wrap this up and get the American people's business done."

"I have two priorities, one is get the president re-elected and keep the majority in the Senate," added Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.).

Meanwhile Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), who are both up for re-election in purple states, released statements Wednesday saying it's time to move on. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) also reiterated this week that he has “no problem, whatsoever, with voting ‘no’ on witnesses.”

The Senate is expected to hold a contentious vote on witnesses Friday.

Senators get first opportunity to ask impeachment managers and Trump’s lawyers questions

The senators' comments illustrate they’re not caving to pressure from Democrats who argue that public opinion polling supports their calls for witnesses. Their resistance to bringing in additional witnesses and documents highlight they'd rather spend their time talking about issues other than the present's impeachment trial. A vote for witnesses is also viewed as a break with Trump and could alienate his base.

Senate Democrats have made a concerted effort to push for witnesses during the impeachment trial, including Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. The New York Times reported Sunday that Bolton revealed in his upcoming book that Trump told him directly that he withheld almost $400 million in aid to Ukraine to pressure the country to help investigate his political rivals. But so far only three Republicans — Collins, Mitt Romney of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have suggested that they’re open to hearing from Bolton. Only Collins is up for re-election this year.

Romney said Wednesday that he’s made his views clear and that his colleagues can make their own decisions.

Most Republicans argue, however, that they should not have to consider evidence that the House did not have when it impeached Trump in December.

“They're all in a no-win position,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) “Vote against the president on witnesses, they are going to lose a whole bunch of support amongst the base. That's real. So I think some of them are probably choosing the lesser of two evils. They get hurt politically no matter what they choose.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) declined to surmise at a recent press conference whether a vote against witnesses would hurt Republicans facing reelection in 2020, saying only: “we’re looking at the truth and we’re gonna let the chips fall where they may.”

Of the Republicans up in 2020, only Collins has indicated since the start of the impeachment trial that she’d likely want to hear from witnesses, as she did during the 1999 Clinton impeachment trial.

“I've said from the beginning that I felt that it was likely that we would need to call a couple of witnesses, treating each side fairly in order to clarify some ambiguities, answer some questions,” she said Wednesday. “And that remains my position.”

During a private lunch this week, some Senate Republicans up in 2020 warned that prolonging the trial would only tie them up from working on other issues, according to an attendee. And Gardner said during another closed-door meeting that Democrats were politicizing the trial, and cautioned “the longer this goes on and [is] used as a political tool, the more it divided the country,” according to his spokesperson.

Democrats, in their push for witnesses, have repeatedly argued the public is on their side. A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that 75 percent of registered voters want the Senate to allow witnesses in the impeachment trial. That includes half of Republican voters. The National Republican Senatorial Committee, however, points to newly released data from Arizona, Colorado, Maine and North Carolina, which found that 62 percent of voters want Congress to focus on issues like health care or trade, instead of impeachment.

Senate Republicans are pushing back on the idea that a vote against witnesses would hurt senators up for reelection this year, noting that even if Bolton testified it wouldn’t change the outcome of the trial.

“Now that we’ve seen the case, most of the people running see that the case is shoddy, it’s circumstantial and that it would beg the question why others in the conference are maybe struggling with what to do,” said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.).

James Arkin and Burgess Everett contributed to this report.

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‘It’s going to be harmful’: Republicans weaponize Trump team attacks on Biden

The Senate impeachment trial isn’t exactly good press for President Donald Trump. But Senate Republicans says it’s also hurting former Vice President and 2020 hopeful Joe Biden.

The second day of the impeachment trial took a sharp turn, when Trump attorneys Pam Bondi and Eric Herschmann spent a significant portion of their time on the Senate floor arguing that Biden should be investigated for corruption.

Bondi primarily focused on Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, and his role on the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma while his father was vice president and in charge of Ukraine matters. Trump's team has presented no evidence that Biden used his role as vice president to benefit his son nor alleged anything improper other than the "appearance of a conflict."

But Senate Republicans used the concerted attack on Biden to raise questions about his political viability.

“Iowa caucuses are this next Monday evening and I’m really interested to see how this discussion today informs and influences the Iowa caucus voters, those Democratic caucus goers, will they be supporting vice president Biden at this point?” asked Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa).

“I was watching Elizabeth [Warren] and Bernie [Sanders] and Michael [Bennet] and Amy [Klobuchar] and they were really eyes wide open during that part of it," said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), referring to the four senators vying for the Democratic nomination sitting as jurors in the trial. "I think it's going to be harmful. It can't be a positive. Certainly not in November if he's the nominee and I think even in terms of getting the nomination."

Over the course of the afternoon, Bondi, the former Florida attorney general, and Herschmann featured clips of the elder Biden talking about his work in Ukraine, as well as footage of his son's recent televised interview about Burisma.

Democrats impeached Trump last month on charges that he pressured Ukraine to investigate Biden and other Democrats in order to benefit his 2020 reelection. Trump defenders say his interest in pursuing a Biden probe was a genuine reflection of his concerns about corruption and that they viewed Biden suspiciously for seeking the removal of a Ukrainian prosecutor who was supposed to be investigating Burisma.

But witnesses told the House throughout the fall that the impression created by Trump's allies was false -- that in fact, Biden's attempt to remove Ukraine's top prosecutor was in support of U.S. foreign policy any backed by the international community. Far from investigating Burisma, they said, the prosecutor was sidestepping an investigation of the company and his removal made it likelier that Burisma would face a legitimate probe.

The Biden campaign and Senate Democrats pushed back vehemently against the Trump defense team’s arguments, and have long argued that the attacks against the former vice president have no basis in fact.

Andrew Bates, a spokesperson for Biden, said shortly after Bondi’s presentation that she was doing nothing more but spreading conspiracy theories that have been debunked by major news organizations, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post.

"We didn't realize that Breitbart was expanding into Ted Talk knockoffs. Here on planet Earth, the conspiracy theory that Bondi repeated has been conclusively refuted,” Bates said in a statement. “Joe Biden was instrumental to a bipartisan and international anti-corruption victory. It's no surprise that such a thing is anathema to President Trump."

During the Senate trial, Bondi argued that she was merely responding to the arguments from House impeachment managers, who she said mentioned the Biden family during their opening arguments more than 400 times. But Senate Democrats saw nothing more than a political attempt to damage the former vice president.

“The first part just seemed to be a big 2020 campaign commercial list of the president's campaign highlights and bashing the Bidens,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). “From the very beginning it seems as if the president was so focused on Joe Biden partly because he knew Joe Biden was a strong candidate.”

“Look at the hour when they did it,” added Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) “It had nothing to do with what the president did.”

Both Murphy and Tester said it was unclear whether the attacks would hurt Biden.

Senate Democrats said that the criticism of Biden was long expected and note that so far he's been resilient. In the discussion around whether to bring witnesses into the impeachment trial, some Senate Republicans have said the Senate should bring in Hunter Biden if Democrats follow through on their demands to subpoena former Trump national security adviser John Bolton. Whether or not the Senate decides to bring in witnesses remains to be seen. Senate Democrats still need support from four Republicans to bring in Bolton.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said he was surprised the Trump team didn't spend the entire day attacking Biden.

"They alternated between making a serious legal case and accommodating the president's desire to exact revenge," Schatz said. "I was expecting it to be more maddening and more explosive."

Senate Republicans, however, defended the Trump team and argued they were merely responding to the presentation from House impeachment managers.

"Because Democrats raised it or the House managers raised it, I think the president's defense team thought they had to lay out the record to basically just show there's a reason to have questions,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) “There are legitimate questions that remains outstanding. I thought it was totally appropriate.”

Burgess Everett, Kyle Cheney, Heather Caygle and John Bresnahan contributed to this report.

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Ted Cruz’s new gig: Top podcaster

In 2016, Ted Cruz fought a deeply personal and bitter battle against Donald Trump for the Republican nomination for president. But four years later, the Texas Republican has the top podcast in the country defending the president as he faces his Senate impeachment trial.

The podcast, titled “Verdict with Ted Cruz” features Cruz and Michael Knowles, a conservative political commentator, and is taped at the end of the Senate impeachment trial every day, even if that means 2 a.m. So far, it’s had more than 250,000 downloads and has even earned a retweet from Trump promoting it. It’s now the number one podcast on iTunes, surpassing “The Joe Rogan Experience” and the New York Times’ “The Daily.”

“With all the noise, with all the division we have right now I think there’s a real hunger for substance,” Cruz said in an interview. “Most people don’t have time to turn on C-SPAN and watch 13 hours of impeachment proceedings. The idea of the podcast is something easy, that someone can download and listen on the way to work in the morning.”

In the first of five episodes, Cruz offered scenes from the Senate floor, saying that he could see the senators’ “eyes glazing over” because Democratic House impeachment managers repeated their arguments. He added that even reporters didn’t stick around.

“Like everyone had left and said ‘ok, I don't know what's going on here but I'm bored out of my mind,” he recalled.

The podcast is only the latest in Cruz’s defense of Trump throughout the impeachment trial. In addition to the podcast, the Texas Republican often stops at the Senate subways to deliver his take on the trial and also goes on cable TV to defend the president while condemning the House managers' case. And he’s pitched the idea of witness reciprocity to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), arguing that if Democrats subpoena former national security adviser John Bolton, Republicans should get to subpoena Hunter Biden, vice president Joe Biden’s son.

For Cruz, the defense of the president is a stark contrast from his 2016 presidential campaign, when he described Trump as a “pathological liar,” a “narcissist” and a “bully.” Meanwhile Trump dubbed Cruz with the nickname “Lyin’ Ted,” insulted Cruz’s wife and sought to link his father — with no evidence — to conspiracy theories about President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

But that’s well in the past now.

Cruz’s commentary around the impeachment trial is also a way for him to flex his knowledge and analysis of constitutional issues. A graduate of Harvard Law School and former law clerk for Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, Cruz led the law firm Morgan Lewis’ Supreme Court and national appellate litigation practice before coming to the Senate. Cruz argues that the House impeachment case does not meet the impeachment criteria for high crimes and misdemeanors.

“There’s a reason much of America has checked out from the constant droning of the impeachment trial,” Cruz said. “Both sides understand that this has been a partisan exercise by House Democrats rather than a genuine use of constitutional authorities.”

Cruz is also using the podcast as a platform to provide advice to Trump’s lawyers, who began their opening arguments Saturday and will continue their defense Monday. In an episode over the weekend, Cruz suggested that Trump’s lawyers attack the Biden family. Hunter Biden has come under scrutiny for his role on the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma while his father was vice president and working on issues related to Ukraine, though there’s no evidence that Biden used his position to benefit his son.

He’s also using listener feedback as a way to inform his questions ahead of the Senate’s 16-hour question-and-answer period that’s likely to start this week after Trump’s defense team wraps up opening arguments.

“It’s really anyone across the country who wants to understand what’s going on,” Cruz said. “Partisans spend so much time screaming at each other that it’s very hard for a lot of people to understand, 'ok when it comes to impeachment what’s going on, what’s going on with Ukraine and Burisma and Joe Biden and what are all of these issues and what does the constitution say about it.'”

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Senate Republicans push back on calls for more impeachment witnesses

Senate Republicans on Sunday defended President Donald Trump and panned calls for witnesses in addition to those who testified during the House impeachment inquiry, ahead of the start of the second week of the impeachment trial.

In interviews on major networks, Republicans appeared unmoved by House Democrats’ opening arguments for Trump’s removal and reiterated that the Senate should not seek new evidence.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a strong Trump ally, warned on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures With Maria Bartiromo” that calling in witnesses would create only more havoc.

“What do we do?” Graham said. “Delay the trial so the president can go to court? Or do we as the Senate destroy the president’s ability to go to court — a bad spot to be in in the Senate ... If we seek witnesses, then we’re going to throw the country into chaos.”

House impeachment managers and Senate Democrats have made repeated calls for the chamber to subpoena witnesses, including acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton, as well as documents related to the administration’s hold on aid to Ukraine. The White House has repeatedly blocked witnesses from testifying. But most Senate Republicans argue that they should have to evaluate only the evidence the House used to draft articles of impeachment against Trump.

Trump was impeached in December for pressuring the Ukrainian government to investigate his political rivals and withholding aid to the country.

Monday will mark the second day for Trump’s lawyers to make their opening arguments. They are not expected to use the full 24 hours they’ve been given. After those arguments, senators will proceed to a 16-hour question-and-answer period before taking a contentious vote this week on whether to bring in additional witnesses.

Democrats will need at least four Senate Republicans to join them in order to achieve their demands. While GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska are among the senators who could be open to calling witnesses, Democrats appear less optimistic that they will get the votes they need.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) declined on Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation” to “forecast” whether four Republicans would call for more witnesses, but made clear where he stood.

“I’m not going to vote to approve witnesses, because the House Democrats have had lots of witnesses, we heard from them over and over and over again this week,” Cotton said. “We don’t need to prolong what’s already taken five months of the American people’s time.”

One of the House impeachment managers, Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), also declined on Sunday to predict whether the Senate would have enough votes to bring in additional witnesses.

“I’m just not going to give up on the Senate and I’m not going to draw any conclusions, although I know there’s a lot of speculation about what they may do or may not do,” Demings said on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” “I’m not going to draw any other conclusions.”

Senate Republican leadership is eyeing a swift vote to acquit Trump this week, should the witness vote fail. That would allow Trump to be acquitted before his State of the Union address on Feb. 4. It would also give time to the four Senate Democrats running for president to return to Iowa and make their final pitch before the state’s caucus on Feb. 3.

Amid their calls for witnesses and documents, Democrats have also highlighted an ABC News report that captured Trump in 2018 ordering the removal of Marie Yovanovitch as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. Lev Parnas, a former associate of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, was at the dinner during which Trump made the remarks and has provided the recording to the House Intelligence Committee. Trump has denied knowing Parnas.

When asked about Trump’s denial on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) noted that “the president meets a lot of people.” Cotton, meanwhile, said on “Face the Nation” that the recording’s release hadn’t influenced the votes of any senators and reminded him of Democratic attempts to block Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. He added that Trump was told Yovanovitch predicted he would be impeached. Yovanovitch has denied ever making that statement.

“The president has the right to remove any ambassador for any reason or no reason whatsoever,” Cotton said. “An ambassador badmouthing the president is a pretty sound reason to remove an ambassador.“

This week’s witness vote comes after Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the lead House impeachment manager and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, read an anonymous quote during his closing statement that threatened Republicans would have their “head on a pike” if they broke with Trump. Though the statement will not make or break the case against Trump, it didn’t help win over senators like Collins or Murkowski who could be sympathetic to Democratic calls for witnesses. They, along with other Republican senators, have pushed back vehemently.

“I’m offended only because Adam Schiff believes that the only reason that we act the way that we do is because the president’s going to put our head on a pike,” Lankford said on CNN.

But Schiff stood by those remarks on Sunday, and further highlighted Trump’s tweet describing him hours earlier as a “corrupt politician” who “has not paid the price, yet, for what he has done to our country.”

“I made the argument that it’s going to require moral courage to stand up to this president,” Schiff said on NBC's “Meet the Press With Chuck Todd.” “This is a wrathful and vindictive president. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it, and if you think there is, look at the president’s tweets about me today.”

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What Republicans want to hear from Trump’s lawyers

Senate Republicans are all but ready to acquit President Donald Trump and end the Senate impeachment trial.

But they still don’t want the president’s defense team to phone it in.

Privately, some Republicans hope that Trump’s legal defenders mount a substantive defense on the merits of the case instead of generalities about Democrats trying to overturn the 2016 election or broad claims that Trump did “absolutely nothing wrong” — as they did on the first day of the trial.

The president’s lawyers are set to begin their opening arguments Saturday. It’s the first time the White House will publicly present its full case to acquit the president. While it’s essentially guaranteed that the GOP-controlled Senate will not remove Trump from office, his legal defense presents the best public opportunity to win over the handful of Republican senators who could prolong the trial by joining Democrats in their calls for witnesses and documents.

"The president’s team ... has never presented its case since it did not do so in the House,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a key swing vote. “Unlike the House managers, who partially presented when the motions were being debated, the president’s attorneys chose not to do that. It’s not finished yet ... so it’s difficult to judge"

Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said he hopes Trump’s team will present a "fact-based" defense that counters the Democrats' case.

“I assume at some point they're going to feature [Alan] Dershowitz and Ken Starr, people like that and talk about impeachment in the broader context of what that threshold is,” he said.

Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow told reporters Thursday that the White House will argue the president’s actions do not warrant removal from office by presenting “multiple schools of thought on what is and is not an impeachable offense.” Those presentations, Sekulow said, will demonstrate “the actions alleged and the actions of the president do not reach that level no matter which school of thought you’re on.”

Over the past two days, House Democrats have presented their case that Trump should be removed from office for pressuring Ukraine to investigate his political rivals and withholding millions in aid. Democrats will conclude their opening arguments Friday. The House impeached Trump in December on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

The president’s team foreshadowed its arguments in a 110-page brief filed Monday — an argument that combined a political assault on the Democrats leading the House’s impeachment investigation with a detailed attack on the process that Democrats used leading up to their Dec. 18 impeachment. A point-by-point rebuttal of Democrats’ specific case was a more limited aspect of the president’s argument.

Senate Republicans are eager to hear from the White House, but several offered a word of advice: keep it concise. Saturday will mark the fifth day of the Senate impeachment proceedings and senators are already getting tired. The trial, which started in earnest on Tuesday, went well past 1 a.m. on the first day this week and ended around 10 p.m. on the second.

While the White House technically has 24 hours spread out over three days to present its case for Trump’s acquittal, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a close Trump ally, doesn’t expect the president’s lawyers to use up all of their time.

“I would like them to be thorough but don’t talk any longer than you have to,” Graham advised.

When asked what he wanted to see during the president’s defense, Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) replied “videos,” with a laugh, before adding he’d like “an efficient use of words and time.”

“One of the things that’s hurting [Schiff] so much is that he is so inefficient,” Cramer said. “It appears he disrespects the time and the effort that my colleagues and I are putting into this and really abusing the hours.”

If the White House declines to use its full 24 hours, the Senate impeachment trial could be over as soon as next Thursday or Friday. After the president’s opening arguments, the Senate will proceed to a 16-hour question and answer period, followed by a vote on witnesses.

Democrats have made a repeated push for subpoenaing acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton, but it’s unclear four Republicans will join them to enact their demands. If a witness vote fails, the Senate can move swiftly to a final vote on acquittal — likely before Trump delivers his State of the Union on Feb. 4.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who wants to hear from Bolton, declined Thursday to offer any advice to the president’s legal counsel but said "they’ll do what they think is the best to defend their client." Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said he'd like the White House to respond to the timeline of events presented by the House and expects the president's lawyers to highlight what he sees as a lack of evidence that Trump ordered any sort of quid pro quo.

“They just don’t have any evidence,” Hawley said. “ I imagine that the president’s team will point that out.”

Other Republicans want the administration to talk more about Ukraine.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who raised concerns about the withholding of aid to Ukraine to Trump, says the president’s lawyers should validate Trump’s concerns about Ukraine and the 2016 election. There’s no evidence that Ukraine sought to interfere in the election.

“I do hope they just lay out all the different pieces of information we do have about actors in Ukraine having some effect on 2016,” Johnson said. “I don’t think you have to prove the case, I think all you have to prove is yeah, there are unanswered questions. They just have to prove that it is a legitimate concern that President Trump had.”

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), meanwhile, wants the White House to emphasize that the administration did ultimately release the Ukraine aid "in a timely fashion."

“I want to hear all about the great work that the president has been doing to aid Ukraine and I think that has not been brought up enough,” she said. "[Democrats are] acting like the previous administration was so great to the Ukrainian friends when all we did was provide them with darn blankets.”

Burgess Everett, Andrew Desiderio and Kyle Cheney contributed to this report.

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