Political News

New Ukraine evidence released, but will it make the impeachment trial?

Posted January 15, 2020 12:38 a.m. EST
Updated January 15, 2020 12:51 a.m. EST

— House Democrats unveiled new evidence Tuesday that they plan to send to the Senate as part of their case to remove President Donald Trump from office over his efforts to pressure Ukraine into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden ahead of the 2020 election.

What they released: Text messages and handwritten notes from Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas. (Parnas, his business partner Igor Fruman and two others were charged with funneling foreign money into US elections and using a straw donor to obscure the true source of political donations. They have all pleaded not guilty to the charges.)

What the documents show: Parnas sought to set up a meeting between Giuliani and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and connect with members of his government. The records also add more details about the push by Giuliani to seek the ouster of the then-US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.

Parnas' attorney hand-delivered the contents of an iPhone to the House Intelligence Committee's staff over the weekend.

Specific documents include:

A letter from Giuliani to then-President-elect Zelensky requesting a meeting in his capacity as the President's personal attorney.

Text messages that show Parnas' communications with Zelensky aides where he pursued a meeting between Zelensky and Giuliani and provided negative information about Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.

A previously undisclosed letter from Giuliani to Zelensky asking for a meeting in mid-May of last year.

There are also cryptic text messages suggesting that Yovanovitch's movements were being tracked.

Note: Expect a possible battle in the Senate over whether to include the documents at the trial. It's not clear if Republicans will allow new evidence, but some could side with Democrats to allow it.

Democrats talk impeachment in Iowa

Leading Democratic presidential candidates met on stage Tuesday night at the CNN/Des Moines Register Democratic presidential debate against the backdrop of the looming Senate trial.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar called the impeachment hearings against Trump a "decency check" on American government.

Head here for analysis on the debate's winners and losers from CNN's Chris Cillizza.

The House is about to hand over the impeachment

After nearly a month of waiting, we appear to have a trial date. Several things still need to happen, but if the House transmits the articles of impeachment on Wednesday as expected, that kicks off a series of events that culminate in Trump's Senate impeachment trial beginning next Tuesday.

Read the full scene-setter from CNN's Capitol Hill team.

What will happen this week? A march of managers, a swearing-in of senators

The next step is a vote in the House to appoint impeachment managers. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she'll announce their names Wednesday morning. That vote sets off choreographed steps that lead us to a trial.

First, the House would officially transmit the articles of impeachment, probably via a clerk, to the Senate. The Senate responds that it's ready to receive the articles. Then the House managers literally march across the Capitol. They enter the Senate and, after the Senate sergeant-at-arms commands everyone to be quiet, the House managers read the articles of impeachment out loud.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who will preside over the trial, is expected to come to the Senate at some point and take an oath. Then he'll swear senators to "do impartial justice."

The full oath:

"I solemnly swear (or affirm, as the case may be) that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of Donald Trump, now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws: so help me God."

The senators take the oath and sign their names in a book.

What then?

The Senate could vote on a resolution laying out parameters for the trial. No one outside the Republican conference appears to have seen a draft of this yet, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the trial will proceed in three stages in the coming weeks (yes, it will take weeks). The phases of the trial McConnell has described include:

House managers and Trump's defense make their arguments (this portion alone could last eight days, between prosecution and defense).

Senators ask questions in writing through Roberts.

Senators tackle the question of witnesses and new evidence before closing.

Then what?

While Trump on Monday pushed the idea of Republicans simply dismissing the charges, it is growing clear there will be a substantive trial and, depending on how the arguments go, there's a pretty good chance there will be witness testimony, too.

McConnell told reporters Tuesday afternoon that there is "little or no sentiment" within the Republican conference for the motion to dismiss the articles against Trump. However, that does not mean a senator won't try to force a vote on it once the trial begins.

Republicans split on dismissal

The question of whether to vote on dismissing the articles before the trial is clearly splitting the GOP. Sen. David Perdue, a Georgia Republican who talks to Trump and advises him regularly, said he is still interested in the motion to dismiss and hinted Republicans may need to step up and force a vote on it. But GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, now a key Trump ally, said flat out that a motion to dismiss was not realistic and should not happen. Read more on the divide.

How long will the trial last?

Asked if the trial will be over by the time Trump is slated to deliver his State of the Union address -- scheduled for February 4 -- Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota said, "I wouldn't bet on that myself." President Bill Clinton gave his 1999 State of the Union address in the midst of his own impeachment trial.

You can read Clinton's SOTU from that year here. He didn't use the words "impeachment" or "trial." He calls for civility and brags about record economic expansion, as Trump surely will. But Clinton also talked about balancing the federal budget, which Trump probably won't, since his tax cuts exploded the deficit to more than $1 trillion in 2019.

The first arguments in Clinton's trial were presented on January 14 and senators voted to acquit him February 9. So buckle up. Things are going to move fast the next few weeks.

Impeachment Watch Podcast: David Chalian talked impeachment and politics with Dana Bash.

Important things we don't yet know

Who will the House managers be? It's not yet clear who Pelosi will pick to deliver arguments in the Senate on behalf of the House. Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, is a good bet. Other than that? We will find out Wednesday.

Who will defend Trump?

CNN's White House team filed a detailed story about this and it leads with preparations for the trial undertaken by Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel. Cipollone is expected to work in tandem with Trump's outside attorney Jay Sekulow, who Trump has insisted must take "a big role" in the trial.

Trump has also pushed for Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, although he may be tainted by his ties to the late accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, whom Dershowitz once represented.

Giuliani has also lobbied to get a place on the Senate floor. You could also make an argument he should be a witness.

War powers resolution has a majority, but just barely

One key Republican to watch in terms of votes on procedural matters during impeachment is Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah. He has expressed a desire to hear from witnesses.

However, on another important vote Romney has decided to side with the administration. He said he won't support the war powers resolution, "in part because it's so focused on Iran and I don't want to send any message that would interfere with our deterrence."

Sen. Tim Kaine, the Virginia Democrat pushing the war powers resolution to limit Trump's military actions in Iran, tweaked it this week to gain some more Republican support. He told reporters Tuesday he has 51 votes to pass the resolution through the Senate. He said GOP Sens. Mike Lee of Utah, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Todd Young of Indiana and Susan Collins of Maine support the resolution.

"I've got 51 declared votes on version two, on the motion to discharge, and passage. So I've got a version on which I have 51 votes, but the timing on version two is different than version one," he told reporters.

But that vote could be delayed for some time by the impeachment trial. More here.

What are we doing here?

The President has invited foreign powers to interfere in the US presidential election. Democrats impeached him for it. A Senate trial is next. It is a crossroads for the American system of government as the President tries to change what's acceptable for US politicians. This newsletter will focus on this consequential moment in US history.

Keep track of action with CNN's Impeachment Tracker. See a timeline of events here. And get your full refresher on who's who in this drama here.

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