The curtain goes up
It has a taste of "Hamilton," except there's no music or dancing, and the audience is required to sit quietly and watch for at least eight hours — and then come back the next day and the one after that.
Democrats on Wednesday began their three days of arguments in the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump with flashes of drama, long interludes of tedium and the uncertainty of any lasting consequence.
The House impeachment manager, Rep. Adam Schiff, reached back to the warnings of the Founding Fathers. He quoted from a 1792 letter to George Washington from Alexander Hamilton that warned against a leader who would "pursue his own interests" in public office.
By trying to "cheat" his way to reelection by "seeking illicit foreign assistance" from Ukraine to tar political rivals, Trump "has acted precisely as Hamilton and his contemporaries feared,” the intelligence committee chairman said. In Schiff's telling, the future of constitutional government in America is at stake.
“If not remedied by his conviction in the Senate and removal from office, President Trump’s abuse of his office and obstruction of Congress will permanently alter the balance of power among the branches of government, inviting future presidents to operate as if they are also beyond the reach of accountability, congressional oversight and the law,” he said.
Schiff (D-Calif.) and the impeachment managers who followed him unfurled their case against Trump in exhaustive detail, reprising testimony from the House hearings and revelations since, complete with video clips. “This is the story of a corrupt governmentwide effort that drew in ambassadors, Cabinet officials, executive branch agencies and the office of the president,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-Manhattan).
Another poll Wednesday showed Trump's removal is favored by more Americans than not — 45% to 40%. But three-fourths of those in The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey say it’s not very likely or not at all likely that the trial will introduce new information that would change their minds.
Playing to the galleries
On his way into the Senate chamber, Schiff said, “We’re trying this case to two juries: The Senate and the American people.”
The Democrats hope a strong enough response against Trump among the latter will influence the former. Don't count on it, say Republicans.
"I think we’re already beginning to lose certainly the television audience and maybe the press to some extent,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). “But, certainly, senators are struggling to try to see why we have to sit there — sit hearing the same arguments over and over and over and over again.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) poured out indignation. “They’re on a crusade to destroy this man, and they don’t care what they destroy in the process of trying to destroy Donald Trump," he said.
See five takeaways on the trial so far, from Newsday's Tom Brune. (Watch a video of Schiff's opening statement, or read it here.)
Trump vs. Trump on witnesses
Is Trump OK with the Senate calling witnesses such as John Bolton at his impeachment trial, or is he determined to stop it? The answer is yes.
Trump spoke to both sides of the question before leaving the global economic meeting in Davos, Switzerland.
The president at first said he would "love" for Bolton and other officials sought by the Democrats to testify. But he also gave reasons why Bolton appearing at the trial would worry him. Noting the former national security adviser's rocky exit last September, the president said: “You don’t like people testifying when they didn’t leave on good terms.” Also, "what happens if he reveals what I think about a certain leader, and it's not very positive?"
Trump said he’d likely assert "executive privilege" to try to block Bolton and others from testifying about their candid dealings with the president. (Democrats, meanwhile, shot down reports they were considering a deal to get Bolton in return for letting Republicans question Hunter Biden.)
Trump also handed his accusers a new talking point by noting his legal team had the benefit of "all the material" that House Democrats have been fighting to obtain. The remark prompted one impeachment manager, Rep. Val Demings, to tweet Wednesday that Trump "not only confessed" to the charge of obstruction of Congress, "he bragged about it."
Janison: Trump's defense overreaches
If Republican senators deciding this impeachment trial were not so determined to acquit him, the cracks in the credibility of Trump's defense could be costly, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
On Tuesday, Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow misleadingly told the Senate that former special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia report found no obstruction of justice. In fact, it flagged several instances of possible obstruction.
White House counsel and lead Trump lawyer Pat Cipollone charged that Republicans were barred from attending the House impeachment inquiry's closed-door hearings. That's false. Republican members of the committees holding those sessions were allowed to attend and given equal time to question deposed witnesses.
Trump's lawyers maintain that abuse of power by itself — as the president's extracurricular Ukraine dealings are described — does not justify impeachment. Yet Attorney General William Barr took a different stance in a memo to Trump in 2018, before joining the administration.
Trump: Senior benefits not untouchable
During his 2016 campaign, Trump said he would reject any cuts for Medicare and Social Security. But if he's reelected, he'd be open to it, Trump suggested in a CNBC interview on Wednesday.
Trump appeared to signal a belief that higher economic growth would make it easier to reduce spending on those programs, though he didn't explain how. This was his answer to a question on whether entitlements would be on his plate:
"At some point they will be … At the right time, we will take a look at that. You know, that’s actually the easiest of all things, if you look.”
Just a pain in the brain
At least a dozen U.S. service members in Iraq who were near the blasts from Iranian missiles on Jan. 8 suffered traumatic brain injuries or concussion-like symptoms serious enough to be evacuated to hospitals in Germany and Kuwait.
But Trump, who initially said there were no casualties, doesn't count those injuries as serious.
"I heard that they had headaches. And a couple of other things," Trump said at his Davos news conference. "But I would say and I can report it is not very serious" — not "relative to other injuries that I’ve seen," such as lost limbs from roadside bombs.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the effects of traumatic brain injury can vary from short-term symptoms to lifelong debilitating impacts on cognitive and motor function and behavior, including significant changes in thinking and behavior, depression, anxiety and aggression.
What else is happening:
- Explaining in a CNBC interview why the U.S. needs to “protect our geniuses,” Trump cited "people that came up with originally the light bulb" — fair enough, that was Thomas Edison — "and the wheel." That was a steer in the wrong direction. The credit goes to the ancient Mesopotamians and Greeks.
- In yet another of his international embarrassments, Trump apparently confused Iraqi Kurdistan with the Kurds of Syria in a conspicuous way on Wednesday.
- Trump's 2017 inaugural committee spent more than $1 million to book a ballroom at the Trump International Hotel that it barely used, charges the District of Columbia’s attorney general. A lawsuit called it a scheme to “grossly overpay” for party space and enrich the president’s family business.
- Following the recent blowup between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, CNN pollsters asked voters if they believed a woman couldn't be elected president. Among men, only 9% said they thought so. But 20% of women hold those doubts.
- Is it just her "anger" or uncompromising environmental activism that irks Trump about Greta Thunberg? Perhaps there's more. “She beat me out on Time magazine,” he said, referring to the teen's status as Time's Person of the Year. Daughter Ivanka had a different take. "I think she’s elevated awareness and that’s a positive thing.”
- Tulsi Gabbard, a low-polling 2020 contender, filed a defamation suit against Hillary Clinton on Wednesday for suggesting that the Hawaii congresswoman is a "Russian asset."
- Around 1 a.m. during the Senate trial's first full day, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts admonished both sides for language "not conducive to civil discourse" after Nadler accused Trump lawyers of lying and GOP senators rejecting witnesses of treachery. Trump, under no civility constraints, called Nadler a "sleazebag," in part from the Manhattan Democrat's past battles against Trump development ventures.
- Would Rudy Giuliani mix foreign policy and personal business? Told that Alejandro Betancourt López, a rich Venezuelan client under U.S. investigation in a money-laundering scheme, helped fund Venezuela’s opposition, Giuliani touted that to Justice Department prosecutors as a reason to go easy on the client, Reuters reports.