Impeachment Briefing: Democrats Open Their Case

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  • The House managers began to deliver their opening arguments Wednesday afternoon, presenting the evidence and witness testimony they gathered in the impeachment inquiry to an audience — the Senate — that may not have seen the material before.

  • Representative Adam Schiff, the lead manager, started the session with a dramatic, two-hour presentation that featured historical references, political philosophy and sweeping declarations about what he called President Trump’s attempts to undermine the rule of law and American elections. He accused the president of a “corrupt scheme” to pressure Ukraine for help “to cheat” in the election.

  • Mr. Schiff was followed by a mix of shorter presentations from his six colleagues, who broke down their time by theme and chronology. For example, Representative Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, homed in on the beginnings of the Ukraine pressure campaign, while Representative Jason Crow, a veteran, talked about military aid and Ukraine’s war with Russia.

  • The managers played dozens of video clips from witness testimony, including from current and former officials like Fiona Hill, Gordon Sondland, Bill Taylor and David Holmes. And they played several from Mr. Trump himself, showing the president in 2016 publicly calling on Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s email and last year publicly calling on Ukraine and China to investigate Joe Biden.

  • Republican senators were quick to dismiss the presentations, and many of them were spotted leaving the Senate chamber in the middle of them. “So far we haven’t heard anything new from what he heard yesterday,” said Senator John Cornyn. Senator Roy Blunt was harsher: “There’s about one hour of presentation that we’ve heard about 10 times yesterday, and about 6 times today,” he said. “It’s not a very deep case.”

Here’s a collection of Wednesday’s biggest moments, video highlights, sketches from inside the Senate chamber and an analysis of the two sides’ legal strategies.

Mr. Schiff’s presentation was especially well received by Democrats — Senator Richard Blumenthal, a former prosecutor, told reporters that it was one of the most powerful arguments he had ever seen. I talked to my colleague Sheryl Gay Stolberg, who visited the Senate chamber on Wednesday, about what made his appearance effective in the eyes of his audience.

Sheryl, why do you think Mr. Schiff organized his presentation the way he did?

I think he felt he needed to serve up the whole story on a platter at the outset and then let the other managers kind of take bits and pieces of it. He is the person Nancy Pelosi trusts the most. He’s been the leader of this whole inquiry from start to finish, so it was natural that he would take the most time to talk.

He’s a former federal prosecutor and is just very adept at speaking to a jury and making a case. I was struck by how he invoked the founders at the beginning and end of his presentation, making lofty appeals to history. But he also did go through, in a very granular way, the scheme that Democrats say Mr. Trump undertook to press Ukraine to interfere with the 2020 election. And I was especially struck by his use of video clips, effectively bringing witnesses into the trial.

He made a long appeal at the end of his presentation to our political systems, to what has sustained American democracy at a time when Russia has projected its autocratic politics across the world. Why do you think he ended on that note?

He wanted to drive home what a lot of Democrats say among themselves, which is that there’s no guarantee that our democracy will survive, that you have to fight for it. At the very end, he invoked what Benjamin Franklin said as he was emerging from the Constitutional Convention. Mr. Franklin was asked whether we have a monarchy or a republic, and he famously said, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Ms. Pelosi uses that line all the time. There was a subtle bit of internal politics there, where he was in effect quoting the speaker, letting her make the last point. I’m sure she liked that.

You were in the Senate chamber as the managers made their case. What did it look like?

It seemed like both sides got bored. At one point, I counted 13 empty Republican seats and 8 empty Democratic seats. I saw Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, stand up and talk to Chuck Schumer and go across the aisle to one of his Republican colleagues. There’s a rule that senators can’t speak, upon “pain of imprisonment,” and they are admonished not to do so at the start of the proceedings. Apparently that rule doesn’t stop them from whispering under their breaths. At the same time, many were taking notes and reading.

And there was no mistaking the gravity of the day. Hearing House members speak from Senate floor was extraordinary in itself.

It’s a question on the minds of impeachment followers, and one my colleague Michael Shear tried to answer, based on the rules passed Tuesday night. Here are some key (provisional) dates to keep in mind.

1. The House managers are through about a third of the 24 hours they were allotted for opening arguments, which will most likely go through Friday, Jan. 24. That gives the White House team Saturday (a work day during an impeachment trial), Monday and Tuesday, Jan. 28, to conclude theirs.

2. Under a special clause in the rules, after the conclusion of opening arguments, Mr. Trump’s legal team can formally object to pieces of evidence the House collected in its impeachment inquiry. That could happen on Wednesday, Jan. 29.

3. At some point next week, senators will spend up to 16 hours asking questions in writing. Under the rules of the Senate, the chief justice will decide which questions to ask, directing them to the managers or to the White House legal team. That could last until Friday, Jan. 31, or Saturday, Feb. 1, when the Senate will most likely begin debate over whether to subpoena witnesses and documents.

4. If the Senate hears witnesses, the process becomes far more convoluted, and the trial could go deep into February. If not, the trial could conclude before an important date: Mr. Trump’s State of the Union speech, which he’ll deliver to Congress on Tuesday, Feb. 4.

  • The White House passed up a chance Wednesday morning to force a vote to dismiss the two impeachment charges. Mr. Trump had endorsed the idea, but a vote would almost certainly have failed to attract a majority of senators. A motion to dismiss could still be offered later in the trial.

  • Senate Democrats ruled out any bargain that would involve calling Hunter Biden, the son of Joe Biden, as a witness in the trial in exchange for Republicans agreeing to hear testimony from John Bolton, the former national security adviser. “That trade is not on the table,” Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, told reporters during a break in the trial.

  • At a news conference in Davos, Switzerland, Mr. Trump said he would prefer a long trial with witness testimony from his top advisers, but said that allowing them to speak would create a “national security problem.” He also said he would like to attend the trial, sit in the front row and “stare into” the faces of the House managers, whom he called “corrupt.”

  • If you made it through Tuesday night’s marathon session, you might have needed extra coffee in the morning. So did the chief justice of the United States. After presiding over the Senate trial until nearly 2 a.m., John Roberts reported to his day job for oral arguments at the Supreme Court at 10 a.m., then returned to the Senate chamber for the session that started at 1 p.m.

  • We told you yesterday about an unusual precedent that limited senators to drinking only water and milk. Many of you wrote in expressing a mix of glee and curiosity. Well, we’ve got an update: My colleague Catie Edmondson reported from the press gallery that she could see Senators Tom Cotton and Richard Burr drinking milk on the Senate floor. (Here’s a wonderful, brief history of the milk rule, courtesy of CNN.)

  • What else was the president up to today?

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