The House impeachment managers entered the Senate chamber and their leader, Adam Schiff, read the articles of impeachment. Four senators escorted Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts to the rostrum where he will preside over the trial. All the senators present stood to be sworn in to function as jurors and lined up to sign an oath book.
From Trump came a tweet that was like a cry of pain: "I JUST GOT IMPEACHED FOR MAKING A PERFECT PHONE CALL!"
Trump faces two charges after the House voted to impeach him last month. One, that he abused his presidential power by pressuring Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden, using military aid to the country as leverage. Two, that he obstructed Congress’ ensuing probe.
With a two-thirds majority required to remove him from office, odds favor acquittal by the Republican majority. But there's no guarantee that he won't end up bruised and battered, and the nation even more polarized, in the election year that's underway, as new revelations add to the Democrats' case.
A group of four Republican senators is working to ensure there will be votes on the possibility of witnesses, which Democrats have demanded though it’s not at all certain a majority will prevail for new testimony. If they do, and the White House tries to block them through executive privilege claims, a tumultuous battle over the Constitutional balance of powers would almost certainly erupt.
The Senate will issue a formal summons to the White House to appear, with the president’s legal team expected to respond by Saturday. Opening arguments will begin on Tuesday at 1 p.m. Watch video highlights of Thursday's proceedings.
Trump: Who's that guy?
After indicted Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas told interviewers that Trump knew everything they were up to in Ukraine, Trump told reporters Thursday: “I don’t know who this man is, other than I guess he attended fundraisers.”
The photos of Trump and the Ukrainian American businessman together don't prove anything, but there are an awful lot of them. Parnas said they spoke often enough for Trump to know "exactly" who he is.
Trump also said he knew nothing about a May 2019 letter Parnas turned over to House investigators from Giuliani to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which Giuliani introduced himself as the president's personal attorney and with Trump’s “knowledge and consent" sought a meeting.
Parnas told Maddow he was directed by Giuliani in May to deliver an ultimatum to Zelensky — investigate Trump's rivals or lose U.S. aid. Democrats may seek tGo bring in Parnas as a Senate trial witness, depending on additional evidence Parnas and his lawyer say is coming, Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said.
Can't do what they did
The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office concluded in a report Thursday that White House budget office violated the law in July when it froze U.S. military aid to Ukraine for almost two months.
“Faithful execution of the law does not permit the president to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law,” the GAO wrote. Similar warnings about legality came from others inside the government, but Trump didn't yield until the whistleblower complaint was about to emerge.
Several White House and administration officials testified in the House impeachment inquiry that the freeze came at Trump's orders. The move came while the president and his allies were trying to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations of political rivals.
Democrats said showed "total disrespect for the law." Republicans pointed out the aid was released, eventually. The Office of Management of Budget said it disagreed with the report.
Janison: Shocked, not shocked
One of the least surprising aspects of the Trump presidency is how the surprises never stop coming, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
For months it has been evident that Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani were trying to muscle Ukraine's leaders into smearing Democrat Joe Biden. Now Parnas' accounts and documents add firsthand detail of the push.
“Rudy told me after meeting the president at the White House — he called me, the message was, it wasn’t just military aid — it was all aid,” Parnas told MSNBC.
All of a sudden, Ukraine has announced investigations — just not the ones Trump wanted. (More on that below.)
Trump got some things done — a partial China trade deal and final, overwhelming approval from Congress for his new North American trade deal that fulfills a key campaign promise from 2016.
But a new book, "A Very Stable Genius," surfaces details that are alarming, though not after the last three years shocking, about the president's blind spots for basic facts and history.
At last, Ukraine investigations
For all his machinations, Trump never a public announcement from Ukraine that it was investigating the Bidens and a conspiracy theory of Democratic skulduggery in the 2016 campaign. But the latest fallout from that failure has the cops of Kyiv getting busy.
The Ukrainian Interior Ministry said the country’s police will investigate whether former U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was placed under illegal surveillance. The probe comes after documents turned over to House investigators by Giuliani associate Lev Parnas showed text conversations with a GOP donor and Trump world hanger-on, Robert Hyde, suggested he was having her watched.
Parnas also says he regarded Hyde's claims as empty alcohol-fueled boasts, and Hyde denied doing it. But officials in Ukraine indicated they have a legal obligation to look into it. Democrats and Yovanovitch have also called for investigations. The State Department didn't comment. The FBI visited Hyde's home and business in Connecticut on Thursday for undisclosed reasons, CNN reported.
Ukraine said it was opening an investigation into reports that Russian military hackers penetrated the computers of the Ukrainian gas company Burisma, which employed Hunter Biden. The Interior Ministry asked the FBI to assist.
Liz, Bern: Feel the chill
Senators are supposed to sit attentively and not talk to each other during the impeachment trial. That could work out just fine for Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
Sanders told reporters that he and Warren "haven't spoken" since they traded accusations of calling each other liars after Tuesday night's debate. Warren said: “I have no further comment on this. We're here for the impeachment trial of the President.”
The feud began over Warren complaining about Sanders volunteers working from a script to suggest to voters she couldn't build enough support to beat Trump. Then Warren's camp spread a story that Sanders told her in 2018 that a woman couldn't be elected. He denied saying that.
What else is happening:
- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell mocked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for distributing souvenir pens after she signed the articles of impeachment. He called it "the House’s partisan process distilled into one last perfect visual. Not solemn or serious. A transparently political exercise from beginning to end."
- Michael Flynn's sentencing has been delayed again so the judge can hear more from his lawyers and prosecutors on the former national security adviser's attempt to withdraw his guilty plea. The new date is Feb. 27.
- A Time magazine cover profile of Jared Kushner finds Trump's son-in-law increasingly confident in how he's carried out his role as senior adviser. “I had some bumpy patches along the way … there’s a lot I needed to learn,” he said in an interview. A senior administration official said he's not there yet. "He’s a classic ‘don’t know what you don’t know,' ” that official told Time.
- Intelligence officials asked the Senate and House intelligence committees not to hold public hearings on their annual Worldwide Threat Assessment, CNN reported. That's because last year, Trump blew up when their testimony contradicted his views, tweeting, "Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!"
- A New York Times review contains another nugget from the forthcoming book "A Very Stable Genius": After military and national security officials tried in a 2017 Pentagon meeting to explain the value of America's alliances, Trump raged at them: "You’re all losers, you don’t know how to win anymore,” and “You’re a bunch of dopes and babies.”
- Also from the book: After Chris Christie turned down the chief of staff job, he asks Trump how the details of their meeting leaked out, because the only people in the room were them and Melania Trump. "Oh, I did it,” said Trump.