Impeachment trial of President Trump

By Meg Wagner, Veronica Rocha, Mike Hayes and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 0636 GMT (1436 HKT) January 24, 2020
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8:13 p.m. ET, January 23, 2020

Lindsey Graham suggests Trump's defense team should focus on "the Bidens in the Ukraine"

From CNN's Ted Barrett and Clare Foran

Jose Luis Magana/AP
Jose Luis Magana/AP

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina and ally of President Trump, sketched out a possible line of argument for the President's defense team to reporters today.

He said that while he thinks the House managers “have done a good job, particularly yesterday, of painting as I said, a tapestry, taking a series of events and telling a story," Trump's defense team will “start pulling on the threads.” 

Graham went on to say that he would "really go hard at the idea that when they tell you there’s not a scintilla of evidence, groundless, baseless, phony accusations regarding the Bidens, I would challenge that very hard."

He continued: "I would take the Mueller report and say this is what the Trump family went through and this is the investigation of the Bidens in the Ukraine – a blank piece of paper. And I’d walk people through why somebody should look at this.”

“When the President said look at the Bidens, I think there’s a reason you should look at what happened with Hunter Biden in the Ukraine,” Graham said.

 

8:11 p.m. ET, January 23, 2020

Republican senator says Trump "probably had a mixed motive" in withholding Ukraine aid

From CNN's Alex Rogers

Julio Cortez/AP
Julio Cortez/AP

Republican Sen. John Cornyn told reporters that President Trump “probably had a mixed motive" for withholding aid to Ukraine.

Cornyn said it's “a little hard to believe” that it was “solely” about Burisma. He said the Obama and Trump administrations “were concerned about burden sharing with our European allies” and corruption.

Asked if he thought that Trump wanted to hurt former Vice President Joe Biden's political campaign, Cornyn said, "I mean that's the other thing. Biden hadn't even won the nomination."

"I just think it seems a little far-fetched," he said.

7:53 p.m. ET, January 23, 2020

House manager Hakeem Jeffries dives into the Ukraine texts

From CNN's Marshall Cohen

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a Democrat from New York, dug into some of the explosive text messages that were uncovered during the House inquiry.

Specifically, these text messages include conversations between:

  • Kurt Volker, former US special Envoy for Ukraine
  • Gordon Sondland, US ambassador to the European Union
  • Rudy Giuliani, President Trump's personal attorney
  • Andriy Yermak, adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky

CNN’s Zachary B. Wolf did a deep-dive into these texts when they were publicly released by House Democrats in October. They revealed how Volker met with Giuliani and later told Yermak that Zelensky would need to announce investigations that Trump wanted. (In this instance, Volker was talking about the potential probe into election-meddling in 2016, not the proposed investigation into Joe Biden.)

8:43 p.m. ET, January 23, 2020

Trump's lawyer: The Democrats' presentation "opened the door" for Biden and Burisma discussion

From CNN's Betsy Klein

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

Jay Sekulow, President Trump’s private counsel, said that today’s case presentation has “opened the door” for the President’s defense team to discuss former Vice President Joe Biden and Burisma.

“For the last five hours, it’s been a lot about Joe Biden and Burisma, they kind of opened the door for that response so we’ll determine as a defense team the appropriate way to do it," he told reporters in the basement of the Senate during the dinner break.

Asked about the possibility of witnesses, he said, “If we thought witnesses were not necessary, we would not bring witnesses ourselves. Unless we thought that there was a need for witnesses. If the other side were to get witnesses, we would have a series of witnesses. But we are nowhere near that process yet.”

Sekulow again laid out the potential time frame. Beyond the House managers’ presentations tomorrow, he said his team would go, but would not say how long their case would be.

The President’s defense team, he said, “will take the appropriate time to respond and present.”

That will be followed by 16 hours of questioning, then arguments on the motion regarding witnesses for four hours.

“So we’re going to get to know each other,” Sekulow joked.

7:28 p.m. ET, January 23, 2020

Ted Cruz refuses to answer questions on whether he'll defend Trump’s conduct 

From CNN's Clare Foran, Ali Zaslav and Manu Raju

Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Asked if he would defend President Trump’s conduct — specifically his phone call with the Ukrainian president — Sen. Ted Cruz refused to answer.

Instead the Texas Republican said “you asked a question last night, let me let someone else ask a question.” 

A New York Times reporter tried to follow up and Cruz wouldn’t take the question. 

He also said that House Democrats “threw a Joe Biden under the bus.”

Cruz said that as a result of Democrats “spending so much of their argument on Burisma that will force the media — many of whom have not wanted to cover this stuff — to actually discuss the very real and significant evidence of corruption of the former vice president’s son.” 

7:39 p.m. ET, January 23, 2020

Elizabeth Warren urges Republicans to "call the witnesses and bring in the documents"

CNN
CNN

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren urged Senate Republicans to call for witnesses and documents if they want to learn more about the Democrats' impeachment case.

"I think the Republicans have worked themselves into this corner of nothing new but we're not going to call any witnesses or get new evidence. Like I say, you can't have it both ways. If you want to hear what happened, call the witnesses and bring in the documents," she told CNN.

The Democratic lawmaker went on to say that she thinks the House managers are "doing such good job."

Warren also touched on the bizarre "rule" in the Senate that only allows lawmakers to drink milk and water in the chamber during the trial. Warren confirmed she sipped on yogurt milk during the hearing.

"It's like the buttermilk I grew up on," she said.

Watch Dana Bash's interview with Elizabeth Warren:

7:29 p.m. ET, January 23, 2020

Republicans criticize House managers' presentation during trial

From CNN's Ali Zaslav, Michael Warren, Manu Raju and Clare Foran

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, accompanied by from left, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., and Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., speak to the media on January 22.
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, accompanied by from left, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., and Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., speak to the media on January 22. Jose Luis Magana/AP

Republican senators Joni Ernst, James Lankford, Tim Scott and John Barrasso spoke with reporters during the trial break to criticize the presentations today from the House managers..

Ernst spoke with vigor and anger while holding a list of which House managers voted against or didn’t vote at all for different packages that included aid to Ukraine.

“Four of the house managers have voted against legal aid to Ukraine and they can’t sit there and lecture about this President not doing enough for Ukraine. This President has done more than they have, and he has done more than the previous administration,” Ernst said as she waved around the paper. 

Barrasso, Lankford and Scott all discussed how the Democrats are just repeating information.

“Another day, seems like Groundhog's Day in the Senate,” Barrasso said. “What we heard from the managers yesterday the day before is the same thing, day after day after day.”

Scott said Democrats have “literally bought into that premise that if you say it often enough, it must be true. We've heard the same story. Rinse it recycle it and repeat it.”

“Democrats are simply telling the same story over and over again with actual no basis in fact," Scott added.

Lankford echoed Scott's sentiments. CNN's Mike Warren asked Ernst: Do you have any questions about the Trump administration's temporary hold on Ukrainian aid that you need answered?

Ernst replied, “I don’t because it was a temporary hold and the President did release that. And please understand too, the aid, what was being held is for the next fiscal year..”

Asked if there was something the managers said that prompted her to come down to talk about this, Ernst replied: “I am super fired up.

“I think, it was wonderful to hear from Ranger Crow and House manager Jeffries, they talked a lot about the fact that our men and women are out there fighting and not having the necessary supplies. And now I know that they're going to be committed to providing that," Ernst said.

House manager Jason Crow is a former Army Ranger.

7:18 p.m. ET, January 23, 2020

White House prepares its legal defense as opening arguments continue

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins and Kevin Liptak

The President's legal team has been meeting at the White House every day around 11 a.m. ET since the trial started to go over what Democrats said the day before and to prep for their own opening statements, according to multiple people.

While President Trump was out of town, there were late night discussions with him on the phone but now that he's back in town, he's participating directly.

But he's also on the phone regularly with outside allies, Republican lawmakers and Fox News hosts. After the session ended last night, Pat Cipollone, Trump's attorney, did not stick around much later, telling his team he was going home to get some sleep after a late night the evening prior, according to sources.

Trump praised Cipollone's rare display of emotion during the opening debate over amendments, though multiple people have privately cautioned that the White House counsel is expected to be the staid attorney in this dynamic, while senators will more likely expect a boisterous performance from his legal counterpart, Jay Sekulow.

Pat Philbin, who is deputy counsel, also earned praise inside the West Wing after he addressed the Senate floor Tuesday night. He and attorney Pam Bondi were not originally slated to speak, but the White House was a little caught off guard by how many amendments Democrats offered, so they sent other members of the team up to break up the arguments. 

It appears there has been little to no formal prep with attorneys Ken Star and Alan Dershowitz, according to multiple people. They have not been involved in the sessions on Capitol Hill, or seen in the White House, several people said. 

Later this week and next: Right now the White House expects to present for two days, not three, though a source cautioned that could change. Feeling comfortable Democrats will not have the votes to convict the President, the White House's number one goal right now: make sure there are no witnesses. 

One person familiar says the legal team has also been preparing video clips they say will offer a counter-narrative to the clips shown by the Democratic managers. 

 

7:16 p.m. ET, January 23, 2020

The Senate trial is back in session

The Senate impeachment trial has resumed.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated the trial could go until 10:30 p.m. ET.