Let’s start with what happened in the official trial. The clock started Wednesday on Democrats’ allotted 24 hours to argue that the Senate should convict Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Lead impeachment manager Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) spent two of those hours laying out the broad outlines of their argument. Here’s what he said:
1. Democrats are not overstepping their bounds by impeaching Trump and telling the Senate to kick him out of office. In fact, they’d be ignoring their duty not to impeach him, Schiff said: “The framers of the Constitution empowered Congress to thoroughly investigate presidential malfeasance and to respond, if necessary, by removing the president from office.”
2. Then he outlined the evidence Democrats gathered to show that Trump withheld an Oval Office meeting for political gain. (Fact check: That’s pretty thoroughly backed up by the evidence we’ve seen.) Democrats are also pretty sure Trump withheld money Congress approved for Ukraine for the same political purposes. (But, fact check: They have yet to prove that Trump explicitly ordered this.)
Still, Schiff argued that a quid pro quo almost certainly happened if you take a common-sense approach to reading Trump’s rough transcript with Ukraine’s president and other evidence: “President Trump conditioned hundreds of millions of dollars in congressionally appropriated, taxpayer-funded military assistance for the same purpose: to apply more pressure on Ukraine’s leader to announce the investigations.”
3. Finally, Schiff took a step back and argued that if the Senate didn’t throw Trump out of office, it would undermine the United States’ standing in the world. “Vladimir Putin would like nothing better” than for Republicans to acquit Trump, Schiff said.
Impeachment managers spent the rest of the day chronicling Trump’s actions on Ukraine in a detailed timeline. Want a refresher? We have our own exhaustive one here.
Here’s what happened behind the scenes that could shape the trial
The tone of House managers, specifically House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), is under scrutiny.
As Tuesday’s debate on the Senate trial rules dragged on into Wednesday morning, Nadler grew frustrated and raised his voice, accusing Republican senators of “treacherous” behavior for not allowing witnesses. After one of Trump’s lawyers angrily responded, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. told both sides to “remember where they are” and be more polite.
Why that matters: Nadler is a key House manager, with a starring role, and this was a high-profile slip-up for Democrats. He risked alienating Republican senators he needs to vote for witnesses. Also, we got to see Roberts exercise his relatively subdued role to oversee the trial. Now we know he’ll step in to try to enforce decorum.
It’s looking like there won’t be a trade for witnesses.
That trade would go like this: Republicans can call people like Joe Biden or his son, Hunter, to the stand to ask about their work in Ukraine if Democrats can call Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton to ask what he knows about Trump’s intentions in holding up the military aid. Such a deal carries significant political risks for Democrats, as The Fix’s Aaron Blake lays out.
A few hours after The Washington Post reported the swap idea, top Democrats shut it down. “I want no part of that,” Biden told a voter from the campaign trail in Iowa, according to The Post’s Matt Viser.
Why that matters: If Republican senators aren’t going to vote of their own volition to hear from Trump’s top aides, this deal paved a potential path to get witnesses, however unsavory to some Democrats. But it looks like it’s not going to happen, so it’s back to Plan A to try to persuade four Senate Republicans to vote to allow Trump’s top aides to testify.
Is this the fourth senator willing to consider witnesses?
Number three, be guaranteed a right to vote on whether we need additional evidence. Evidence could be documents; it could be witnesses; or there could be no need for additional evidence.— Sen. Lamar Alexander (@SenAlexander) January 21, 2020
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) tweeted Tuesday that he’d be open to considering whether to consider witnesses. (The Senate works incrementally like that.) If he did vote to consider witnesses alongside Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, that could be enough to have Bolton testify. But it’s also possible that none of these senators vote to have witnesses.
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Senators are out and about rather than in their seats.
Senators are supposed to sit down and stay in their seats for the entire trial, except when they all agree to take breaks. And yet at one point, our congressional colleagues watching the hearing from above the Senate chamber counted about 20 Republican senators not in their seats, walking outside the Senate floor or hanging out in private rooms just off it.
“As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) stood to recommend a dinner break at 6:30 p.m., at least five pairs of senators took that as a cue that they could start side conversation — and some of them did not stop after [Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.)] began his argument again,” The Post’s Karoun Demirjian reported.
Why that matters: It’s another reminder there are no repercussions for not following the rules — which technically warn everyone to be silent “upon pain of imprisonment.”
Your questions about this Senate trial
Are there any repercussions for Trump’s lawyers saying inaccurate things on the Senate floor? Could Roberts call them out?
No and no. Jessica Levinson, a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said attorneys can face repercussions for misrepresentations under oath in a criminal trial. But this is not a criminal trial. Also, “Roberts isn’t there as a real-time fact-checker,” she said. He’s more like a parliamentarian.
Why is everyone acting like a Senate subpoena for Trump’s top aides is somehow stronger than a House subpoena, since they resisted those?
“A subpoena is a subpoena,” Levinson told me. “It doesn’t get supercharged because it is issued by the Senate instead of the House.” Bolton said earlier this month that he would comply if the Senate subpoenaed him. And it would look bad politically if Trump’s top aides were seen as ignoring the will of a Republican-controlled chamber of Congress, so they wouldn’t ignore a Senate subpoena.
What’s the deal with restricting press covering the impeachment?
It’s a big deal. The Capitol is one place in Washington where reporters can come right up to powerful people and ask them tough questions. But for this trial, their movement has been severely restricted. The Senate also declined a request from C-SPAN to put cameras on the Senate floor so we can see the senators sitting at their desks. Instead, there are limited vantages from which to watch the trial.
That makes reporters actually in the Senate chamber even more indispensable. Any time something of interest happens, our Washington Post congressional team will report it on washingtonpost.com. Thanks for reading!