Trump impeachment: President 'brags' about obstructing Congress as Senate hears he used power to 'cheat' election
Trial begins with opening statements from House prosecutors summarising mountain of evidence from Congress
House impeachment managers delivered opening remarks during the US Senate trial into Donald Trump and his dealings with Ukraine, as Democrats blasted White House attorneys for presenting Fox News-style “histrionics" at the hearings.
Democratic impeachment manager Adam Schiff argued in his opening remarks the president's "misconduct cannot be decided at the ballot box" and suggested that Americans "cannot be assured that the vote will be fairly won" in 2020 after Mr Trump encouraged Ukraine to launch political investigations into one of his Democratic rivals, Joe Biden.
The prosecution's marathon opening statements included clips from witness testimonies and, most damning, from the president himself, including his admission that he would accept politically damaging information on a rival candidate from a foreign country and would ask China to investigate the Bidens.
House impeachment managers, acting as the prosecution, each handled a different aspect of the charges against the president and the players involved, from Rudy Giuliani's influence and direction under the president to pressure Ukraine into an investigation, to the on-the-ground consequences of withholding military aid to Ukraine while it was in the middle of a ground war with Russia.
Looking on from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the president fired out dozens of retweets in support of his cause while insisting he was “making great progress” at the global summit, as a new poll makes bleak reading for his supporters ahead of 2020.
The president appeared to acknowledge his administrations' participation in the obstruction charges against him by telling reporters: "Honestly, we have all the material. They don't have the material."
He also falsely claimed that Democrats leading his impeachment "don't talk about my conversation" with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenksky and that "they don't talk about my transcripts" that the president believes exonerate him.
Follow live coverage as it happened:
Chief justice John Roberts gaveled open the session, with House prosecutors on one side, Trump's team on the other, in the well of the Senate, as senators sat silently at their desks, under oath to do "impartial justice." No mobile phones or other electronics were allowed.
Over and over, Republicans turned back Democratic amendments to subpoena documents from the White House, State Department, Defense Department and budget office. By the same 53-47 party-line, they turned away witnesses with front-row seats to Trump's actions including Mulvaney and Bolton.
Only on one amendment, to allow more time to file motions, did a single Republican, senator Susan Collins of Maine, join Democrats. But it, too, was rejected, 52-48.
"It's not our job to make it easy for you," Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee leading the prosecution, told the Senate. "Our job is to make it hard to deprive the American people of a fair trial."
As the visitors' gallery filled earlier with guests, actress-and-activist Alyssa Milano among them and Trump's most ardent House allies lining the back rows, the day that began as a debate over rules quickly took on the cadence of a trial proceeding over whether the president's actions toward Ukraine warranted removal from office.
Cipollone led the prosecution, scoffing that the House charges against Trump were "ridiculous," insisting the president "has done absolutely nothing wrong." The White House legal team did not dispute Trump's actions, when he called Ukraine and asked for a "favour," which was to investigate Democrat Joe Biden as the US was withholding military aid the ally desperately needed as it faced off with hostile Russia on its border. But the lawyers insisted the president did nothing wrong. "Absolutely no case," Cipollone said.
Schiff, the California Democrat, said America's Founders added the remedy of impeachment in the Constitution with "precisely this type of conduct in mind - conduct that abuses the power of office for a personal benefit, that undermines our national security, and that invites foreign interference in the democratic process of an election."
All four senators who are presidential candidates were off the campaign trail, seated as jurors. "My focus is going to be on impeachment," senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, told reporters.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell stunned senators and delayed the start of proceedings with his decision to back off some of his proposed rules. He made the adjustment after encountering resistance from Republicans during a closed-door lunch meeting. Senators worried about the political optics of "dark of night" sessions that could come from cramming the 24 hours of opening arguments from each side into just two days.
Collins and Lisa Murkowksi of Alaska, who often buck party leadership, along with a substantial number of other Republicans, wanted to make the changes. It was only when the clerk started reading the dry language of the resolution that the hand-written changes to extend debate to three days became apparent. It also allowed the House impeachment record to be included in the Senate.
The turnaround was a swift lesson as White House wishes run into the reality of the Senate. The White House wanted a session kept to a shorter period to both expedite the trial and shift more of the proceedings into late night, according to a person familiar with the matter but unauthorised to discuss it in public.
Trump's legal team, absent its TV-showcase attorneys, Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr who were not in the chamber, argued that in seeking new evidence the House was bringing a half-baked case.
But Zoe Lofgren of California, one of the House managers and the first woman to argue for the prosecution in a presidential impeachment trial, said the House wasn't asking the Senate to do the job for them. "The House is asking the Senate to do its job, to have a trial," she said. "Have you ever heard of a trial without evidence?"
The White House had instructed officials not to testify in the House inquiry and refused to turn over witnesses or documents, citing what is says is precedence in defiance of congressional subpoenas.
The ambassadors and national security officials who did appear before the House delivered often striking testimony, highlights that were displayed on television screens during the Senate proceeding.
Looking on from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, while all this was going on, President Trump fired out 50 retweets of support for his cause overnight while insisting he was “making great progress” at the global summit.
These are fairly typical examples of the GOP effort to claim the narrative...
He also has pre-recorded interviews with Joe Kernan of CNBC's Squawk Box and Fox Business's Maria Bartiromo airing today.
Here's Andrew Buncombe with climate change activist Greta Thunberg's thoughts on the president from Davos yesterday.
A freedom of information (FOI) request by watchdog American Oversight forced the White House Office of Management and Budget to release 192 pages of emails on the matter, including communications between budget officials on the day of the president’s phone call to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenksy to press for an investigation into his Democrat rival Joe Biden.
The president told The Wall Street Journal in an interview from Switzerland that he wants to extend the controversial ban but declined to name names. The paper and Politico subsequently speculated that the other countries likely to be targeted are Nigeria, Sudan, Belarus, Myanmar, Tanzania, Kyrgyzstan and Eritrea.
Oliver O'Connell has more on this.
For Indy Voices, Andrew Feinberg has the inside track on the impeachment trial from Capitol Hill.
As discussed, Trump is due to meet up with the president of Iraq later today at the World Economic Forum.