House Panel Cites Trump Team in McGahn Case: Impeachment Update

Peter Blumberg
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House Panel Cites Trump Team in McGahn Case: Impeachment Update

(Bloomberg) -- House managers, led by Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, presented their case for removing Donald Trump from office for a second day Thursday in the president’s Senate impeachment trial.

Here are the latest developments:

House Panel Cites Trump Team in McGahn Case (11:15 p.m.)

The House Judiciary Committee, which has been trying to compel former White House Counsel Don McGahn to testify, said that Trump’s impeachment defense team had contradicted the Justice Department’s stance that the courts cannot enforce congressional subpoenas.

The Trump team’s response to the Senate impeachment trial faulted House committees for not litigating their subpoena disputes in court. But the Judiciary Committee said in a court filing Thursday that the administration had taken the opposite position regarding McGahn.

The panel argues that McGahn could answer the question of whether Trump obstructed Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. When McGahn, citing the instructions of the White House, would not appear, the committee filed suit seeking an order to force him to comply with a subpoena.

“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,” the House Judiciary Committee said in a court filing Thursday. “The Executive Branch cannot have it both ways.”

Collins, Murkowski Paying Close Attention (8:57 p.m.)

The two Senate Republicans who seem most likely to vote for additional evidence -- Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski -- also seem to be paying the most attention of any of the GOP senators.

Unlike many other senators, they seem glued to their seats from start to finish. Collins of Maine in particular has been taking copious notes. Both of them have been watching the video evidence intently, sometimes with pained looks on their faces.

Murkowski of Alaska earlier Thursday seemed wary of a potential court fight over fresh witnesses. Democrats need at minimum to convince Collins, Murkowski, Utah Senator Mitt Romney and a fourth senator -- perhaps retiring Senator Lamar Alexander or a Collins ally like Ohio’s Rob Portman -- to back subpoenas.

Collins and Murkowski have also appeared grumpy at times. Murkowski said she was offended at House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler’s presentation on the opening night, when he accused Republican senators of voting for a coverup by opposing subpoenas at the start of the trial.

Collins also expressed her displeasure with Nadler in an interview with Politico Thursday, and said that’s why she sent a note to Chief Justice John Roberts shortly before he admonished lawyers for both sides. Collins told Politico the matter won’t affect her votes during the trial.

Meadows Wants Trump Lawyers to Show Clips (5:36 p.m.)

Some Republican backers of Trump say one strategy they anticipate seeing from his defense team is the use of video clips to respond to what they call misleading video evidence presented by Democratic House managers.

Representative Mark Meadows previewed a bit of what he expects from the defense case probably starting Saturday.

“They can present the argument of many of the video clips that have been left on the cutting room floor as they’ve been edited by my Democrat colleagues,” Meadows said. “We put those up and I think you’ll see the rest of the story and it paints a very different conclusion.”

It might appear now that much of the Democrats’ case is well constructed, said Meadows of North Carolina.

“It’s real easy to connect the dots when you only have half the dots to connect,” Meadows said. “You don’t have the other part of the story here.”

For example, Meadows said, referring to Representative Elise Stefanik, “They would take a clip and they wouldn’t show the questions from Congresswoman Stefanik contradicting it.”

Stefanik of New York, a member of the Intelligence Committee, agreed, saying of some of Schiff’s presentation: “It’s not telling the complete truth.” -- Steven T. Dennis, Billy House

Murkowski Wary of Court Fight for Witnesses (4:48 p.m.)

Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska -- one of four Republicans who Democrats are counting on to support subpoenas for witnesses -- questioned whether it makes sense to call for fresh evidence that could lead to court fights with the White House.

“The House made a decision that they didn’t want to slow things down by having to go through the courts, and yet now they’re basically saying you guys need to go through the courts. ‘We didn’t but we need you to,’” she told reporters Thursday. “That’s kind of where we are.”

Murkowski is one of four Republican senators who insisted that the trial rules allow senators to vote on whether to call new witnesses. The others are Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

Schiff told senators the House panels didn’t have a year to wait for a court decision on witness subpoenas -- and that the Senate should remove the president for obstruction now to protect the November election. Asked about that argument, Murkowski of Alaska begged off.

“You guys are making my head spin,” she said. -- Steven T. Dennis

Democrat Cites Trump Allies to Build Case (2:58 p.m.)

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler is using decades-old statements from a member of Trump’s own legal team and one of the president’s key Senate allies to build the case against him.

Nadler played video clips of Alan Dershowitz, a member of Trump’s legal team, and Senator Lindsey Graham from the impeachment of President Bill Clinton to buttress his argument that an abuse of power doesn’t necessarily involve committing a crime.

“If you have somebody who completely corrupts the office of the president, and who abuses trust, and who poses great danger to our liberty, you don’t need a technical crime,” said Dershowitz in the 1998 clip.

Graham, who was a House manager during the Clinton impeachment, made a similar point that a high crime is “when you start using your office and acting in a way that hurts people.”

Nadler and fellow House managers on Thursday argued that Trump’s actions toward Ukraine meet the constitutional standard for “high crimes and misdemeanors” that warrant removal from office.

The strategy has a downside. Nadler, too, made statements during the Clinton impeachment that he might not repeat now, including this one: ”There must never be a narrowly-voted impeachment or an impeachment substantially supported by one of our major political parties and largely opposed by the other.”

GOP Senator Unworried About Re-Election (1:54 p.m.)

Republican Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa, one of the top Democratic targets in the November election, dismissed any concern the impeachment trial could hurt her chances.

“You know what I say to that, ‘Bring it on. Bring it on!’” she told reporters at the Capitol Thursday when asked about GOP Senator Tim Scott’s comment that the trial seemed intended to help Democrats take the Senate, including Ernst’s seat.

Ernst said voters are asking about trade deals and the economy, not impeachment.

“I don’t think constituents in Iowa are watching it now, honest-to-goodness,” she said. “Unemployment in Iowa is at an all-time low, we are fully employed in the state.”

Ernst added she’s “still waiting to see that overwhelming evidence” from Democrats and will evaluate it after their presentation.

“I would love to see this wrapped up. This is a political exercise,” Ernst said. -- Steven T. Dennis

House GOP Members Helping Prep Trump Lawyers (1:17 p.m.)

Representative Mark Meadows, one of eight House Republicans named to support Trump’s legal team, said he’s coaching the president’s lawyers on the nuances of the House hearings and helping them prep for senators’ questions and answers after evidence is presented.

“There’s only a certain amount of contextual understanding that you get when you’re reading a transcript,” said Meadows of North Carolina.

Meadows said he and the other Republicans helping Trump’s legal team talked with many Senate Republicans before the trial, but contact has been limited to “professional courtesies” once the proceedings began.

GOP Senator Lindsey Graham told reporters he doesn’t want a trade to let Democrats call their witnesses in exchange for Republicans calling witnesses such as Joe Biden or his son Hunter to testify.

“I will not use my vote to extend this trial,” Graham said. Instead, the Judiciary Committee chairman he said he will investigate the Bidens in his committee.

“I don’t think Joe Biden is corrupt, but I don’t think he’s beyond being looked at,” Graham said. -- Laura Davison, Erik Wasson

Charges Should be Dismissed, Trump Aide Says (12:35 p.m.)

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley says the impeachment articles should be dismissed on merit, but declined to say whether Trump’s lawyers will make a motion to do so.

“I’m not going to get ahead of legal strategy,” Gidley told reporters at the White House on Thursday. He said the lawyers have the case well in hand. “It’s pretty clear, though, that the merits, the facts of this case should be dismissed.”

He said wasn’t aware of any meetings or contact between Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell since the trial began. “The president, though, has been very pleased with the way it’s going for a myriad of reasons,” Gidley said.

At a press conference in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday, Trump said the same, adding: “Honestly, we have all the material. They don’t have the material.” Gidley dismissed a question of whether Trump was essentially boasting about withholding evidence from Congress.

“He wasn’t. That’s a ridiculous allegation,” Gidley said. “What president was clearly saying is that the evidence is all on our side. We’ll get a chance to present our side in the days ahead.” -- Josh Wingrove

Schumer Says House Managers Set High Bar (11:16 a.m.)

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the “atmosphere of the Senate took on an entirely different dimension” Wednesday as the impeachment managers laid out evidence from the House inquiry to support the charges against Trump.

”It has been only one day but House managers are setting the bar very high for the president’s counsel to meet,” Schumer said. He described Trump’s team, which will probably begin making its case on Saturday, as “unprepared, confused and tending to conspiracy theories.”

Schumer dismissed Republican complaints that they hadn’t seen anything new in the House’s presentation, and he said it would only take a simple majority of senators to subpoena the Trump administration for new documents and witnesses.

“If they want new stuff, there is plenty of it,” Schumer said. “Unless, that is, they’re not interested in the truth, they’re afraid of the truth.” -- Mike Dorning, Laura Davison

Anti-Trump GOP Group Targets Maine’s Collins (10:18 a.m.)

A group of prominent conservatives who oppose Trump launched an ad campaign accusing Senator Susan Collins, a moderate Republican seeking re-election in Maine this year, of “covering for Trump” as the Senate begins his impeachment trial.

On Tuesday Collins voted with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell against Democratic requests to subpoena Trump administration officials and documents. She was the only Republican to break with party leaders to support one Democratic amendment, to allow more time to file motions, though that also failed.

Collins has said she will likely vote to hear from new witnesses after opening arguments and senator questions. Democrats would need to persuade at least three other Republicans to join her.

The ad was paid for by the Lincoln Project, whose website lists advisers including George Conway, a Trump critic married to senior White House aide Kellyanne Conway.

“Either do your job, Susan Collins,” the ad says, “or Maine will find someone who will.”

The group has targeted other senators from ideologically mixed states like Cory Gardner, who is up for re-election in Colorado.

House Portrays Trump as Risk to Security (6 a.m.)

Schiff opened the prosecution’s case Wednesday by portraying Trump as vindictive, untruthful, a cheater, unbound by the law, and out for himself even at the expense of the national security of the U.S. and its allies.

Schiff said he was speaking with two juries in mind: The senators who will vote on the articles of impeachment and the American public, which will decide in November on whether to return Trump to office.

The California Democrat repeatedly stressed to senators that while many questions about the Trump administration’s actions regarding Ukraine are unanswered, documents and officials’ testimony -- thus far withheld by Trump -- are available “for the asking” if the Senate will vote to subpoena them.

Almost two-thirds of Americans believe Trump has definitely or probably done things that are illegal, either while in office or when he was running for president, according to a Pew Research Center poll released Wednesday.

Catch Up on Impeachment Coverage

Key Events

Here is House Democrats’ web page containing documents related to the impeachment trial. House Democrats’ impeachment brief is here. Trump’s initial reply is here, and his lawyers’ trial brief is here.The House impeachment resolution is H.Res. 755. The Intelligence Committee Democrats’ impeachment report is here.Gordon Sondland’s transcript is here and here; Kurt Volker’s transcript is here and here. Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch’s transcript is here and here; the transcript of Michael McKinley, former senior adviser to the secretary of State, is here. The transcript of David Holmes, a Foreign Service officer at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, is here.The transcript of William Taylor, the top U.S. envoy to Ukraine, is here and here. State Department official George Kent’s testimony is here and here. Testimony by Alexander Vindman can be found here, and the Fiona Hill transcript is here. Laura Cooper’s transcript is here; Christopher Anderson’s is here and Catherine Croft’s is here. Jennifer Williams’ transcript is here and Timothy Morrison’s is here. The Philip Reeker transcript is here. Mark Sandy’s is here.

--With assistance from Laura Litvan, Greg Stohr, Erik Wasson, Josh Wingrove, Mike Dorning, Laura Davison, Billy House, Erik Larson, Andrew Harris and Steven T. Dennis.

To contact the reporter on this story: Peter Blumberg in San Francisco at pblumberg1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net, Laurie Asséo, Anna Edgerton

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