Instrument of abuse
They laughed, from both sides of the Senate aisle, at President Donald Trump's personal lawyer and crack conspiracy sleuth during the impeachment trial on Thursday.
Instead, one of the House impeachment managers, Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas), played a September clip of Trump's former homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, quipping ruefully that hiring Giuliani was a way to “impeach oneself.” (Watch this video from the 2:20 mark.) Bossert had tried but failed to steer Trump away from "completely debunked" theories of Ukrainian election interference.
But it is Trump, not Giuliani, who committed the abuse of power so grave as to justify removal from office, argued Rep. Adam Schiff, the lead impeachment manager. "You can say a lot of things about President Trump, but he is not led by the nose by Rudy Giuliani,” said Schiff (D-Calif.). “And if he is willing to listen to his personal lawyer over his own intelligence agencies, his own advisers, then you can imagine what a danger that president [is] to this country.”
Trump bought into the "completely bogus" theory that originated with the Kremlin as it sought to blame others for its own election interference, Schiff said. Reciting a quote in which Russian President Vladimir Putin said "Thank God" that Ukraine, instead of Russia, was getting accused, Schiff deadpanned: “Well, you gotta give Donald Trump credit for this. He has made a religious man out of Vladimir Putin.”
The Democrats urged the Senate to reject the Trump team arguments that impeachment is invalid without an actual statutory crime. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-Manhattan) revised the history of constitutional law, citing historical figures as well as a present-day Trump defender, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). As shown on video, Graham contended during Bill Clinton's impeachment that what is meant by high crimes "doesn't even have to be a crime. It's just when you start using your office and you're acting in a way that hurts people you've committed a high crime."
Graham stood by Trump Thursday with the argument that seemed to say that whatever Trump did, he shouldn't be called to account if he didn't know any better. "All I can tell you is from the president’s point of view, he did nothing wrong in his mind,” Graham told reporters during a break. “If thought he was doing something wrong, he would probably shut up about it,” he said.
Oops, he'll do it again
In an emotional closing argument for Thursday’s session, Schiff warned the senators that if Trump gets away with what he tried to do with Ukraine, they can count on him to become a repeat offender.
"Let's say they start blatantly interfering in our election again to help Donald Trump,” he said of Russia. “Can you have the least bit of confidence that Donald Trump will stand up to them and protect our national interest over his own personal interest? You know you can't, which makes him dangerous to this country. You know you can't."
What triggered Trump?
U.S. aid went through without interruption to Ukraine during the first two years of Trump's presidency. What changed?
Last March, Joe Biden led Trump in 2020 presidential election polls, Garcia said. “In April, Biden officially announces his candidacy,” Garcia said, “and that is when the president gets worried.”
That's one of the five takeaways from Thursday's proceedings, reports Newsday's Tom Brune. Another is Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and some other Republican senators said they have already made up their minds and hinted they are bored by the Democrats’ repetitive arguments.
“It reminds me of the shopping channel, the hits of the ’80s, you hear it again and again and again and again,” Tillis said. “I can almost recite the testimony.”
Reviewing the lawyers
Despite such complaints, the Democratic impeachment managers are getting grudging respect from some Republicans, even if it remains doubtful they will win the case.
Graham encountered Schiff in a hallway Wednesday night and told him, "Good job. Very well spoken." Graham said Schiff "did a good job of creating a tapestry, taking bits and pieces of evidence and emails and giving a rhetorical flourish, making the email come alive — sometimes effectively, sometimes a little over the top."
Florida's GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz, one of Trump's most strident defenders during the House hearings, said the president's lawyers should learn from the Democrats.
"They know our side is allowed to use video, too, right? They’re doing very well on the facts, but we could use a little less Atticus Finch [the lawyer in 'To Kill a Mockingbird'] and a little more Miss Universe in the presentation,” he said.
Gaetz is still smarting at being left off Trump's House messaging team for the Senate trial after he broke with Trump on a war powers resolution vote.
Janison: Never-ending story
Sometime in the next few weeks, the impeachment trial will come to an end. That doesn't mean the Democrats' case won't keep getting stronger, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
It also means second-guessing about the Democrats' timing won't go away.
Schiff and other Democrats introduced recent revelations from Lev Parnas, the indicted associate of Giuliani's, when the lawmakers laid out an extensive timeline for the scandal.
This week, emails — denied to the House but obtained in a freedom of information request by the nonprofit group American Oversight — further illustrated friction between the Pentagon and the budget office over Trump's freeze on Ukraine aid, a key point in the impeachment charges.
What's in the Pence letter?
House impeachment managers got a letter from a national security aide to Vice President Mike Pence admitted into evidence late Wednesday, but only senators can see it.
Democrats say there's no reason for it to be classified except, as impeachment manager Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) put it, to "cover up" evidence, and that it should be made public.
“It highly corroborates the case that Chairman Schiff has been making and exhibits no apparent reason that it should be classified,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).
The letter from Jennifer Williams relates to Pence’s Sept. 18 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Williams testified to House investigators twice, telling them that Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky was “inappropriate” and “political.”
Asked about the letter, Trump's lawyer Jay Sekulow said he wouldn’t comment on “national security” matters.
Bernie surges in Granite State
Bernie Sanders has built a sizable lead for the New Hampshire primary, according to new poll conducted for Boston public radio station WBUR.
Sanders is favored by 29% of likely voters in the state's Feb. 11 Democratic primary. Pete Buttigieg runs second with 17%, followed by 14% for Biden and 13% for Sanders' rival New England progressive, Elizabeth Warren.
Sanders' support was nearly double that from WBUR's December poll, which found Buttigieg in first place.
Bloomberg's composite campaign
Michael Bloomberg is borrowing themes from Sanders and tactics from Trump for his free-spending Democratic presidential campaign.
Politico writes that the sometime-Republican multibillionaire who started his fortune on Wall Street is churning out populist-sounding sound bites like these:
“Too much wealth is in too few hands, and too few places as well. We have an economic inequality that’s distributed unfairly across this country," he said in Chicago. The next president must "make the issue of economic inequality a top priority," Bloomberg told Oklahomans.
Axios reports he's also incorporating lessons from Trump's 2016 campaign, such as building a content factory for Facebook with constantly updating videos and messages targeted at users with promising profiles. His saturation TV advertising aims to replicate Trump's ubiquity of four years ago, calculating that if voters see you on TV all the time, they'll take you seriously.
The imitation just adds up to more irritation for Trump, who tweeted that people should not believe Bloomberg's pledge to spend big for whoever wins the nomination. “When Mini losses, he will be spending very little of his money on these ‘clowns’ because he will consider himself to be the biggest clown of them all - and he will be right!” the tweet said.
What else is happening:
- Also Trump-like, Bloomberg isn't eager to unveil his personal finances. Because he entered the race late, and then got an extension from the Federal Election Commission, he won't be required to provide any details about where that money comes from until March 20, when more than half of the Democratic primaries are over, Politico reports.
- Spiritualist Marianne Williamson, who gave up her 2020 campaign, said she hopes Andrew Yang does well in Iowa. “Andrew’s personality is like a tuning fork realigning us with something we need to retrieve, taking us back to a more innocent time, making us remember to chuckle,” she said.
- Coming soon after years in the making: Trump's Middle East peace plan. Trump said he’ll likely release "a plan that would really work" before a meeting at the White House next week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main political rival Benny Gantz. What about the Palestinians? "I’m sure they maybe will react negatively at first, but it’s actually very positive to them,” Trump said.
- The State Department is moving ahead with plans to deny tourist visas to pregnant women if officials believe they are traveling here to secure American citizenship for their child by giving birth on U.S. soil. Pregnancy tests won't be part of the visa vetting process, officials told reporters.
- Trump tried to quiet alarm over his comment that he would look at cuts in entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare in a second term. “Democrats are going to destroy your Social Security,” he tweeted. “I have totally left it alone, as promised, and will save it!”
- Impeachment manager Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn) drew laughs with a joke that perhaps the Senate could agree to subpoena the Baseball Hall of Fame to find out who voted against Derek Jeter.