Senate trial of Trump to last weeks

By Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver

The Senate opened its impeachment trial against President Trump on Thursday as the chamber continues to consider taking testimony from new witnesses and wrestles with new allegations surrounding Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.

The trial will not begin in earnest until Tuesday when the Senate passes a resolution to lay out the rules and procedures. According to The Hill’s Scott Wong and Cristina Marcos, the Senate will then notify the president’s defense team, which must be given at least two days’ notice, meaning opening arguments by Trump’s team and the House managers will not kick off until later in the week.

The Senate formally accepted the articles of impeachment and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the lead manager, read the resolution that named the seven impeachment managers and the pair of articles from the well of the Senate.

Chief Justice John Roberts was escorted with ceremonial flourishes to the Senate floor on Thursday by a bipartisan group of senators and was sworn in to preside over a trial predicted to consume weeks in the Senate.

The Associated Press: Trump’s trial begins, senators vowing “impartial justice.”

While the upper chamber dealt with procedural matters on Thursday, new evidence and documents relevant to charges that Trump abused his powers emerged from Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudy Giuliani’s who has ties to Ukraine.

Separately on Thursday, a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) accused the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) of breaking the law by withholding military aid to Ukraine in 2019. Impeachment witnesses have testified to the House that they believed the order to block the aid, which was authorized by Congress, was given by Trump, who allegedly sought to pressure Ukraine to do him a political favor.

GAO, an independent government watchdog, said the Budget Office withheld the appropriated funds last summer in order to advance Trump’s agenda, not as a programmatic delay, which violates a law governing Congress’s role in setting the federal budget (The Hill).

“The timing is interesting, but the good news is we’re going to have a trial soon and I assume people will bring it up,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) of the report, which he noted he had not read in full.

The president and his advisers maintain the administration held up the money for a period of time because Trump worried about corruption in Ukraine. Others accuse Trump of using the foreign aid as a pry bar to get Ukraine to dig up dirt about a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Parnas accused the president of being in the know from the start about Giuliani’s pressure campaign with the Ukrainians. It allegedly included an effort to remove then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and nudge Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to announce investigations into Biden and his son Hunter Biden.

Asked about Parnas during an appearance in the Oval Office on Thursday, Trump said he doesn’t “know him at all.” Parnas was interviewed on Wednesday during an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow (The Hill).

“I don’t even know who this man is, other than I guess he attended fundraisers so I take a picture with him,” Trump told reporters. “I take thousands and thousands of pictures with people all the time. Thousands during the course of a year.”   

“I don’t know him at all,” Trump repeated. “Don’t know what he’s about. Don’t know where he comes from. Know nothing about him. I can only tell you this thing is a big hoax.” 

Among documents released was a message from Trump’s attorney Jay Sekulow to a former Trump attorney, John Dowd, saying the president consented to allowing Dowd to represent Parnas.

The Hill: New allegations, watchdog report complicate GOP position on impeachment trial.

Dan Balz: The Senate trial will shape the president’s legacy and also that of his Republican Party.

The Hill: Vice President Pence denies Parnas allegations: “I don’t know the guy.”

The Senate has not voted on whether to call additional witnesses during its impeachment trial. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who is running for reelection, said on Thursday she is “likely” to support witnesses following the first phase of the trial. She has not made decisions about which individuals should be questioned (The Hill).

Senate Democrats are looking for a few Republican colleagues to buck Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who faces the voters in his state this year and says he wants a quick trial before what he expects will be Trump’s acquittal. Democrats particularly want to hear from former White House national security adviser John Bolton, who has signaled he would cooperate if subpoenaed. The president has sought to block all top advisers from providing depositions, arguing it would violate executive privilege.

The Hill: GOP threatens to weaponize impeachment witnesses amid standoff.

The Hill: Trump trial poses toughest test yet for Roberts.

The Hill: Collins displaced McConnell as the most unpopular U.S. senator, according to Morning Consult poll.

Senate Republicans appear to be coalescing around a fallback idea floated by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) for witness reciprocity. If Democrats want to call Bolton, for example, Republicans say they would seek to call Hunter Biden as a witness.

“I think it’s a pretty reasonable approach,” Cramer said. “Clearly, we don’t want this to be what the House was. We want to demonstrate the seriousness that it deserves. We want it to be fair and look fair. It makes some sense, but not every witness is equal either.”

Trump has done little to assertively defend his actions after it was disclosed last year that he sought a favor from Zelensky at the same time that U.S. foreign aid to Ukraine was held up. The president, who last year released notes from a July phone call with Ukraine’s president, on Thursday repeated his view that their conversation was routine. He has said his suspicions about Biden and his son are warranted and that the House impeachment was a “hoax” and the Senate trial is a sham.

“I JUST GOT IMPEACHED FOR MAKING A PERFECT PHONE CALL!” Trump tweeted on Thursday afternoon as senators took oaths to render impartial justice in the third Senate trial of a president in American history.

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