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Donald Trump has bemoaned the Senate impeachment trial rules set by Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell after realising the first day of his defence team’s opening argument will take place on Saturday, “which is called Death Valley in TV”, he noted, because viewer ratings are likely to be lower than they would be on a week night.

On Friday afternoon Mr Trump made history by becoming the first sitting president to attend the anti-abortion March for Life rally in Washington, DC, as he seeks to shore up conservative support ahead of November’s election.

Just before that speech, his administration announced that it would cut federal funding streams to California unless the liberal state revokes rules that require abortion coverage by health insurers.

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During Mr Trump's speech to the anti-abortion group, he drew attention for claiming that unborn babies had never had a "stronger defender" in history, and pledged to maintain his support for religious liberties.

The Democratic impeachment managers have meanwhile continued to make the case against the president in the upper chamber on Thursday, focusing on abuse of power and accusing the administration and Fox News of pursuing “completely bogus, Kremlin-pushed” conspiracy theories as a pretext to cheat in 2020 by leaning on Ukraine for a political favour to damage possible rival Joe Biden.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon announced that dozens of US service members who were present when Iran attacked an Iraqi base suffered from brain injuries, contradicting Mr Trump's previous comments that they simply had headaches after the blast.

Many of those soldiers were transported to the United States for treatment, while others were taken to Germany.

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Hello and welcome to The Independent's rolling coverage of the Donald Trump administration.
Impeachment prosecutors make abuse of power case, attack conspiracy theories
 
The Democratic impeachment managers continued to make the case against Donald Trump in the Senate on Thursday, focusing on abuse of power and accusing the administration and Fox News of pushing “completely bogus, Kremlin-pushed” conspiracy theories as a pretext to cheat the 2020 election by leaning on Ukraine for a political favour.
 
Sylvia Garcia shot down the "groundless" corruption allegations against Joe Biden concerning his tenure as vice president - the basis on which Trump asked Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky for a quid pro quo in his notorious 25 July call: a graft investigation in exchange for the release of $391m (£302m) in congressionally-approved military aid to battle Russian aggression.
"There was no basis for the investigation the president was pursuing and pushing. None. He was doing it only for his own political benefit," said the former judge from Texas.
 
House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff pointed to a "convergence of interest" between Russian president Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump: "The Russians not only got him to deflect blame from their interference in our democracy, but they got him to withhold military aid."
 
Schiff also got a laugh by claiming Trump had "made a religious man" out of Putin:
 
His Judiciary Committee counterpart Jerrold Nadler meanwhile commented: "No president has ever used his office to compel a foreign nation to help him cheat in our elections…The president's conduct is wrong. It is illegal. It is dangerous."
 
The prosecution team again made brilliant use of video clips - particularly from Fox pundits like Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson to shoot down the pro-Trump network's disingeuous efforts to gaslight its viewers. 
 
They also embarrassed Trump loyalist and senator for South Carolina Lindsey Graham by running a vintage excerpt of him speaking during the Bill Clinton that completely contradicts his current stance on proceedings now his own man in the dock.
 
They also saved their biggest hits for primetime, when American viewers were most likely to be engaged in the latest marathon session:
 
Here's John T Bennett's report.
 
Adam Schiff makes emotional appeal: 'If the truth doesn't matter, we're lost'
 
The California Democrat leading the impeachment prosecution had already won glowing plaudits for his perfomance on Wednesday from  left-leaning pundits but arguable suprassed himself last night with his emotional closing statement.
 
It's quite something and well worth watching.
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Republicans bemoan 'Groundhog Day in the Senate'
 
GOP senators in the chamber again made a point of heavily advertising how bored they were – with North Carolina senator Richard Burr even handing out 52 fidget spinners to colleagues.
 
While they case was being laid out for them, they doodled on documents, worked on crosswords and fiddled with their Apple Watches (making a mockery of the custom not to allow electronic devices into the trial), according to The New York Times, all as part of a co-ordinated pantomime intended to loudly illustrate to conservative voters that they were not giving the process the serious attention it deserves.
 
"It's Groundhog Day in the Senate," moaned John Barrasso of Wyoming to reporters during a break, while Roy Blunt of Missouri praised the opposition's "admirable presentations" but complained: "There's nothing new there".
 
Again, as a frustrated Chuck Schumer said yesterday, it's worth repeating that if the GOP were really interested in "new" evidence against the president, they would not have voted against hearing from new witnesses and subpoenaing new documents on Tuesday.

Don't be fooled - only one side here is engaging in a "partisan charade" (to borrow Rand Paul's phrase) and it's not the Democrats.
 
This might have something to do with it.
 
Here's Peter Stubley on these exasperating hijinks (warning: features Ted Cruz drinking game).
 
Trump posts Obama 'spying' meme, turns focus to 2020 race
 
The president took to Twitter to shift attention to the 2020 battle but could not resist posting a meme of Barack Obama “spying” on him in Trump Tower (itself exactly the groundless conspiracy theory the impeachment managers were describing).
 
He served up favourable polling charts from Florida, Alabama, Texas and Kansas (all states he won in 2016), wondered whether "Sleepy Joe" could edge out "Crazy Bernie" and singled out one brainwashed MAGA fan boy in particular for praise:
 
But he couldn't entirely resist weighing in on matters in the Senate...
 
This Sean Hannity tweet actually serves as a helpful illustration of how Fox are covering the impeachment trial (they're not).
 
John T Bennett has more on Trump's pivot.
 
Lindsey Graham says he will resist pressure to call Bidens as witnesses but asks media to dig deeper into ex-veep's son
 
Senator Graham was embarrassed by the Democrats yesterday when they ran that vintage footage of him at the Clinton impeachment (although he is understood to have fled the chamber before it aired, perhaps having been tipped off) but, speaking to reporters afterwards, he said he would not bow to either side when the question of calling witnesses next raises its head.
 
He said he expected to be "under a lot of pressure" from his own side to call Joe and Hunter Biden and the CIA whistleblower to give testimony but pledged: "I'm not going to give in to that pressure, because I don't think it will serve the Senate and the country well."
 
He appeared to agree with Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer on the need to stop the trial becoming a "circus".
 
"I want the American people to pick the next president, not me... I am not going to use my vote to extend the trial," he said.
 
Having reasserted his independence, Graham revealed his more familiar colours by calling on the media to dig deeper into Hunter Biden's career opportunities overseas.
 
"I don't know how many times it was said by the managers that the Biden conflict of interest allegations has been debunked and there's no scintilla of evidence in terms of conflicts of interest and potential wrongdoing," he said, adding: "So, when the managers tell me this has been looked at and debunked... by who?"
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Democrats call on White House to declassify mystery Jennifer Williams letter
 
Impeachment manager Zoe Lofgren and the Senate minority leader have both called on the Trump administration to declassify a letter written by Jennifer Williams, an aide to vice president Mike Pence, which was submitted to the impeachment inquiry in the aftermath of her testimony on 19 November.
 
"A cover-up is not a reason to classify a document," Lofgren said in the chamber on Thursday.
 
The letter in question is a one page memo focusing on Pence's call with Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine on 18 September, one week before the latter met with Trump at the UN.
 
Williams also heard the original Trump call on 25 July and told the House about her unease with its contents during her appearance under oath before Christmas.
 
“I’ve seen the supplemental testimony,” Chuck Schumer told reporters during a break in the trial yesterday. “I’m not sure it should be classified. I agree with the House managers to declassify it.”
 
"There's no reason that it should be kept classified. It should be made public, regardless of which side it helps. The American people should judge," agreed senator and former Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal after viewing it in a secure Senate briefing room yesterday morning.
 
The Republicans are, of course, seeking to downplay the matter.
 
"I don’t know that any other documents are going to make a more compelling case for my Democratic colleagues at this point,” says Trump apologist Mark Meadows.
 
“For the vast majority of Americans, it’s time to get this over with.” 
Mike Pence calls Trump 'unstoppable' on hot mic
 
Speaking of Pence, he was caught on a hot mic in conversation with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday at the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem.
 
Alex Woodward was listening in.
 
Trump attending March for Life in DC on Friday
 
The president is up and advertising his controversial upcoming appearance at a March for Life anti-abortion rally in Washington today.
 
He also still doesn't know that it's "attorneys general", not "attorney generals".
 
There was also this via Lindsey Graham on Fox, seeing the president cheerily returning to pushing conspiracy theories right after the Democrats comprehensively dismantled the tactic in the Senate.
 
On the reweet count, it's currently 4-3 to Fox hack Greg Jarrett against Dan Bongino.
 
He's also posted a five month old tweet by Candace Owens, hawking her new book, plus several more from offical GOP accounts, Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy, Lee Zeldin, Mike Lee, Tim Scott, Joni Ernst and John Barrasso.

Here's Kate Ng on a very questionable first for the presidency.
 
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Betsy DeVos says being pro-choice is akin to supporting slavery
 
Trump's education secretary is one of the longest-serving members of his cabinet, largely because the president has little personal interest in her sector and because she typically (perhaps shrewdly) prefers to keep a low profile.
 
She's broken with that here though, making an extraordinarily ill-advised and inflammatory comparison in support of the March for Life movement ahead of the president's appearance with them today.
 
Zoe Tidman has this report.
 
Trump pushes ancient Steele Dossier conspiracy theory, complains his defence lawyers will get poor ratings
 
"So had bad & illegal is that?" the president asks, after extensively quoting an ex-federal prosecutor alleging FBI snooping on his administration.
 
He's now moaning about the fact that the first day of his legal team's rebuttal comes on a Saturday, when he expects audience numbers to be way down...
 
...and using Biden's words against him.
 
That point about Saturday being "Death Valley" for TV ratings betrays his obsession with the subject, a hangover from his Apprentice days, as well as his preoccupation with his status as a perennial political victim, despite his own stooge, Mitch McConnell, setting the rules for the trial.
 
This is just paranoid raving.
Trump imposes visa restrictions on pregnant women to target 'criminal' birth tourism
 
Clark Mindock has this on another attempt by the administration to police's women's bodies - this time as an anti-immigration measure.
 
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Kamala Harris 'considering' Joe Biden endorsement
 
The California senator and former state attorney general, who was forced to drop out of the 2020 race in December due to lack of funds, is reportedly considering backing the Democratic front-runner, according to The New York Times
 
For now, Harris "remains focused on the ongoing impeachment trial" but her backing would represent a major coup for Biden.
 
“No decisions have been made about whether she will endorse, which candidate, nor when an endorsement decision will be made,” her spokesman Chris Harris (no relation?) told The NYT.
‘The Constitution is not a suicide pact’
 
What a superb line that is from Jerry Nadler. “It does not leave us stuck with presidents who abuse their power in unforeseen ways that threaten our security and democracy," he continued.
 
"Until recently, it did not occur to me that our president would call a foreign leader and demand a sham investigation meant to kneecap his political opponents, all in exchange for releasing vital military aid that the president was already required by law to provide.”
 
Here's a little more on yesterday's prosecution effort, where the intentions of the Founding Fathers were again poured over with no little passion.
 
Trump seeks to distract with new Obama meme
 
Kate Ng has more on that witless attempt by the president to divert attention from the Senate impeachment trial.
 
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Trump says Schumer 'never had what it takes'
 
In the last hour, Trump has continued his never-ending retweeting spree and turned his fire and fury on poor old Chuck Schumer.
 
His target has been on barn-storming form this week and tweeted this last night:
Rudy Giuliani says damning Lev Parnas phone records only proof that he is 'a very hard-working lawyer'
 
The president's personal attorney has been on Fox and Friends this morning and again proves himself to be a liability.
 
"They want to kill me", he says, before clarifying that he meant reputationally, not literally.
 
"[Viktor] Shokin they're trying to really kill..." he continues, alluding alarmingly to the former Ukrainian prosecutor general Joe Biden objected to in 2016.
Trump brags about 2020 poll that completely ignores his biggest competition
 
Among Trump's polling tweets last night was one in support for his candidacy in Florida, ranking him favourably against the 2020 Democratic field.
 
But there was one major omission from his natty little chart.
 
Louis Staples has more for Indy100.
 
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Democratic counsel says Jay Sekulow argument contradicts Justice Dept stance on Don McGahn
 
House Democrats last night wrote to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit arguing that comments made by the president's defence lawyer Jay Sekulow in the impeachment trial contradicted arguments used by Trump's own Department of Justice (DOJ) to block ex-White House counsel Don McGahn from giving testimony.

Sekulow questioned from the Senate floor this week why the Democratic-led inquiry had not pursued their requests for additional testimony - stonewalled by the White House on Trump's orders - through the courts. 
 
“The president’s opponents, in their rush to impeach, have refused to wait for judicial review,” he declared.
 
But the DOJ has argued that federal judges should not get invovled in disputes between Congress and the executive as a reason to silence McGahn, a key recurring character in the Mueller report, who spent 30 hours being interviewed about the firing of then-FBI director James Comey from the Russia investigation and other matters by the special counsel. 
 
“President Trump’s arguments in the impeachment trial contradict DOJ’s assertion in this case that the Committee may not seek to enforce its subpoenas in court,” House counsel Douglas Letter wrote to the court.
 
“In light of President Trump’s argument, it is not clear whether DOJ still maintains its position that courts are barred from considering subpoena-enforcement suits brought by the House," he continued. "At the very least, President Trump’s recognition that courts should resolve such suits undermines DOJ’s contrary threshold arguments in this case, which seek to prevent the House and its committees from seeking judicial resolution of subpoena-enforcement disputes.”
 
“The executive branch cannot have it both ways.”
 
A three-judge panel is expected to rule on the House Judiciary Committee's months-long fight to subpeona McGahn imminently.
'No, no America': Thousands march in Iraq to demand US forces leave
 
Thousands of protesters marched in Baghdad on Friday calling for American troops to leave Iraq, a show of anger at the killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in a targeted US drone strike on 3 January.
 
Richard Hall has the full story.
 

 

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