Political News

Impeachment trial negotiations ramp up amid Iran drama

Posted January 6, 2020 12:01 a.m. EST
Updated January 6, 2020 7:37 a.m. EST

— Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has now made clear what he needs heading into the first big week of Senate negotiations over President Donald Trump's impeachment trial: four Republican senators to join with Democrats.

Here's why:

At least 20 Republicans would have to break with Trump to provide the 67 votes needed to remove him from office, but if enough peel off they could provide Democrats with the 51 votes needed for key wins, such as to compel witnesses, demand documents and push through other procedural motions Democrats may seek during a trial.While Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska indicated some procedural frustrations over the holiday break, Schumer will have his work cut out for him.

"I hope, pray, and believe there's a decent chance that four Republicans will join us. If they do, we will have a fair trial," Schumer said on ABC's "This Week."

Reminder: The House voted to impeach Trump, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi hasn't sent the articles over to the Senate, which is where the decision over whether to remove the President will be made.

Where Trump's head is at

The President left Washington with a political crisis. He's returning to a military one, following his greenlight for the US strike that killed top Iranian General Qasem Soleimani last week -- but his attention remains focused on impeachment.

CNN's Kevin Liptak, Kaitlan Collins and Pamela Brown report:

At Mar-a-Lago, Trump was keen as ever to sound out his friends' opinions of the impeachment predicament, according to people who spoke with him. Aides had warned ahead of the trip that crucial decisions about his impeachment defense needed to be made during his two-week hiatus, but the White House has still not locked down a defense strategy or team.

As the White House awaits Pelosi's next move, the counsel's office has been drafting multiple lines of approach and preparing for any outcome, according to White House officials. That includes contingencies should the trial include witness testimony -- though aides now say that seems unlikely -- and trying to map out potential formats for the proceedings.

The biggest obstacle facing Trump, according to people close to him, is deciding who will represent him during the impeachment trial alongside Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel. Trump has polled at least a dozen people, some of them repeatedly, about who would do the best job in representing him.

Options still include attorneys famous for their television punditry, such as Alan Dershowitz, whom Trump was spotted engaging on Christmas Eve at Mar-a-Lago. Trump has also considered asking some of his staunchest allies in the House to participate. Jay Sekulow, another one of the President's private attorneys, is expected to play a role in the Senate trial, though his responsibilities are still unclear. Trump has said repeatedly that he wants Sekulow on the team, two people familiar with the matter said.

As of now, the plan is for both Cipollone and Sekulow to deliver both opening and closing statements, a person familiar with the legal team's strategy said. Who else might participate in the opening and closing statements remains fluid.

The main message Trump received this week was one of reinforcement, according to aides, whether on the ninth hole or dining on hot dogs covered in relish inside the clubhouse. On New Year's Eve, he was seen locked in conversation with his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and the conservative television host Lou Dobbs, who has provided fawning coverage of the President on his nightly program.

The next move belongs to Pelosi

The House could vote as early as Tuesday to approve impeachment managers and send the articles to the Senate, but it's far from clear if they will.

On Friday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rejected any idea that House Democrats hold leverage over the impeachment trial. That's after Pelosi ended 2019 by declining to send the two articles of impeachment to the Senate until Democrats receive assurances about the structure of the trial.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, floated on Sunday the possibility of working with McConnell "to change the rules of the Senate so we could start the trial without (Pelosi) if necessary."

"If we don't get the articles this week, then we need to take matters into our own hands and change the rules," Graham said in an interview with Fox News. "Deem them to be delivered to the Senate so we can start the trial, invite the House over to participate if they would like."

But as reported by Kevin, Pamela and Phil Mattingly last week, the Senate already has rules dictating impeachment procedures, which require the articles to be transmitted by the House. As such, any effort to start a trial without them would require the chamber to operate outside of those rules -- something that would not only require Democratic support, but also a multi-step process to even consider. Aides have told CNN such a move is not being considered.

A crack in the wall?

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who oversaw the impeachment inquiry and hearings, told CNN's Jake Tapper on "State of the Union" Sunday he didn't think the hold from the House is "going to be indefinite."

"I don't think that's at all the desired motivation here," Schiff said. "The desire is to get a commitment from the Senate that they're going to have a fair trial. Fair to the President, yes, but fair to the American people."

More articles coming?

Last week, a top House attorney for Democrats declined in court to rule out the possibility of additional impeachment articles against Trump for obstruction of justice relating to the Mueller investigation.

Schiff also didn't deny the possibility of a new impeachment article when pressed about it in Sunday's interview.

"Well we're focused right now on the trial we've got coming up and that's our foremost priority. But what the House counsel is saying is we have been trying to get testimony from people like Don McGahn, we've been trying to get the grand jury material as part of the impeachment inquiry. And for those senators who say 'well why didn't the House wait on the Ukraine articles until you exhausted the court remedies?' the reason is because on those articles the President was trying to seek foreign help in the election," he said.

"It's not sufficient to say 'let's wait another year or two years to get these witnesses in' if the President is trying to cheat in the next election so we move forward with those articles that have the greatest sense of urgency."

Schiff added: "We continue to press the case with McGahn, with grand jury material, with those that weren't as urgent and I think that makes all the sense in the world."

White House withholds Ukraine emails

The New York Times reported late on Friday that the Trump administration is withholding 20 emails pertaining to frozen Ukraine military aid between Robert Blair, an assistant to Trump and senior adviser to acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, and Mike Duffey, a Trump political appointee who's the Office of Management and Budget official responsible for overseeing national security money.

The Times filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in late November for emails exchanged between Blair and Duffey but "all 20 documents are being withheld in full," Dionne Hardy, OMB's Freedom of Information Act officer, wrote of the 40 pages of emails in a letter to the Times.

The withholding of the emails highlights how extensively the administration has refused to disclose to the public or to Congress information about Ukraine that led to the President's impeachment, and the standoff over public records could result in a judge's intervention.

Trump closes 2019 with more falsehoods

Trump made 90 false claims during the final two weeks of 2019, including a new barrage of dishonesty around impeachment.

Some notable fact-checks from CNN's Daniel Dale and Tara Subramaniam:

Trump mocked journalists for calling it "unsubstantiated" when he says Joe Biden had told Ukrainian officials he would "refuse to give $1 billion of taxpayer money to Ukraine unless they get the prosecutor to stop looking at your son and your son's company." Trump said, "He's on tape. He's -- if that were me, it's the electric chair. They would bring the electric chair back. No, the guy's on tape and they always say it's unsubstantiated."

Facts First: Trump's claims are unsubstantiated -- at best. There is no evidence Biden ever tried to get a Ukrainian prosecutor to stop investigating Burisma, the Ukrainian natural gas company where his son, Hunter Biden, had sat on the board of directors.

"Once I presented the transcribed call, which surprised and shocked the fraudsters (they never thought that such evidence would be presented), the so-called whistleblower, and the second whistleblower, disappeared because they got caught, their report was a fraud, and they were no longer going to be made available to us."

Facts First: There is no evidence that either the first whistleblower (who filed the complaint about Trump's dealings with Ukraine) or the second whistleblower (whose lawyers said they had firsthand information corroborating claims made by the first whistleblower) are now somehow "gone," let alone that they are "gone" because the first whistleblower was shown to be inaccurate.

"More due process was afforded to those accused in the Salem Witch Trials."

Facts First: Trump might have meant this as a non-literal figure of speech, but as a factual matter, the claim is absurd. (Salem's current mayor told Trump to "learn some history.") Nineteen innocent people were hanged after they were accused of witchcraft in the trials of the late 1600s. The courts accepted "spectral evidence" from dreams. Some of the accused were tortured into confessions.

129 days of impeachment

On August 12, 2019, the Ukraine whistleblower filed a complaint alleging Trump used his official powers as President for his own personal and political gain. On December 18, 2019, the House impeached Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

We've chronicled the daily flurry of developments between those two dates in this newsletter, but as the impeachment process enters a new year, it's worth revisiting how we got here. CNN Editor at Large Chris Cillizza and The Point team have a new video that does just that.

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