Impeachment Trial Week 1 Breakdown

By Cristina Goerdt 

There is no lack of adjectives one could use to describe the impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump: contentious, alienating, divisive all come to mind. Legal complexities notwithstanding, the trial is also fraught with acute partisanship and political nuance. In this weekly column, I’ll provide you with day-by-day updates of the impeachment trial. 

TUESDAY, 21 JANUARY:  An exhaustive battle over trial rules introduced by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took place on Monday, which passed along party lines. According to the amended document (see the original here), the House of Representatives and the President’s defense counsel each have 24 hours over three session days to present their case. While the House is permitted to file other motions, it is deprived of the power to subpoena witnesses. The trial rules also allow for 16 hours of questioning and 4 hours of argument prior to a final vote. As the New York Times points out, this highly partisan vote is a stark contrast to the Senate’s unanimous adoption of trial rules in President Clinton’s impeachment trial. 

WEDNESDAY, 22 JANUARY: House Democrats began their opening arguments today. In addition to lead manager Rep. Adam Schiff, six other Democrats are tasked with swinging Republican votes in order to convict President Trump: Rep. Jerrold Nadler,  Rep. Val Demmings, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, Rep. Jason Crow, and Rep. Sylvia Garcia. Schiff called upon the Senate to permit the calling of witnesses and accused President Trump of “cheating” in order to win re-election by ordering an investigation into the Bidens, while some Senators took issue with what was characterized as an aggressive tone adopted by the House managers. 

THURSDAY, 23 JANUARY: The trial began in earnest. House managers argued that President Trump abused his office, invoking the solemnity of the Constitution, while Republican Senators James Lankford and Thom Tillis defended his actions after the Senate adjourned for the day. Also noteworthy: Schiff read aloud the entire Trump-Zelensky phone call transcript, the Bidens were repeatedly mentioned by the prosecution, and Republicans are steadfastly refusing to call witnesses.

FRIDAY, 24 JANUARY:  In the last day of argument alloted to the House, Schiff continued to press the Senate to allow the submission of additional evidence and the calling of witnesses while the other managers presented the existing evidence in a narrative form. Drawing upon the depositions of various State Department officials obtained during the impeachment inquiry, the prosecution argued that the President knowingly pressured Ukraine into investigating a political rival in exchange for military aid. Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York said that he would not exchange acquiring the testimony of former National Security Advisor John Bolton for that of Hunter Biden, claiming that Biden has no relevance to the trial. Meanwhile, President Trump posted a record 142 messages on Twitter from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. 

The lawyer of Lev Parnas, a former associate of President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, released a recording in which Trump can be heard instructing Parnas to “get rid of” U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. Yovanovitch was removed from her post in May 2019. Democrats allege that Yovanovitch was subject to a smear campaign for rooting out corruption in Ukraine and for her refusal to post a tweet supporting Trump. The recording contradicts Trump’s previous claims that he did not know Parnas. 

SATURDAY, 25 JANUARY: In an abbreviated session, President Trump’s counsel commenced their defense, continuing to portray the impeachment as a partisan witch hunt designed to undermine the democratic process. To aid their defense, they are presenting an opposing interpretation of the Constitution and the definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” White House Counsel Pat A. Cipollone, Alan Dershowitz, and Ken Starr, former impeachment prosecutor against President Clinton, are the leading defense lawyers.

SUNDAY, 26 JANUARY:  In his forthcoming memoir, Bolton revealed that President Trump explicitly told him to hold the Ukraine aid until they opened investigations into the Bidens. First reported by the New York Times, the leaked manuscript directly contradicts President Trump’s defense, which argued that the freeze in military aid was unrelated to Ukraine’s investigation of the Bidens.

Trump tweeted that Schiff will pay a “price” for his role in the impeachment inquiry and Senate trial. It’s unclear what sort of “price” to which President Trump was referring, but this threat is reminiscent of the tweet he posted against Yovanovitch during her testimony to the House, which Democrats argued was witness intimidation. 

MONDAY, 27 JANUARY: Just after midnight, President Trump vehemently denied the accusations via Twitter, even though Bolton cited multiple officials in his account. In the Senate, the new revelations increased the pressure to call Bolton as a witness. Republican Sens. McConnell and Lindsey Graham visited the White House to meet with the President about the Bolton manuscript, whereas Republican Suzanne Collins edged closer to openly calling for Bolton’s testimony. 

TUESDAY, 28 JANUARY: President Trump’s legal team concluded their defense amid rising pressure from Democrats to call Bolton to testify. President Trump continued to deny Bolton’s allegations, even some Republicans expressed desire to read the manuscript Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma suggested the White House release the manuscript to the Senate, who would review it in a closed session. 

Looking ahead: On Thursday, the 16 hours allotted for questioning begins.

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