The Senate impeachment trial was exactly what you were expecting — if you were expecting milk, quills, and chartreuse boots. Here’s what you missed this week in Washington, D.C.
To catch you up:
On July 25, 2019, President Donald Trump hopped on a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for what was supposed to be a routine call between two world leaders. (Spoiler alert: It wasn’t.) Trump decided to ask Zelensky to investigate potential 2016 election interference based on a conspiracy theory and dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter Biden. The American president also allegedly held up $400 million in pre-approved military aid as some sort of wildly expensive bribe. Two months later, a whistleblower complaint about the call became public, leading to private and public hearings from everyone from Ambassador Bill Taylor, the top diplomat in Ukraine, to Fiona Hill, Trump’s top Russia advisor. The following weeks in Washington, D.C., were filled with dogs, drag queens, Kim Kardashian and A$AP Rocky name-drops, weird turkey pardons, deadline promises made and not kept, and a House Judiciary Committee vote. In late December, Trump was officially impeached by the House of Representatives. Then, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi held off on sending the articles of impeachment over to the Senate for nearly a month, citing that she wanted more evidence to be revealed and proof that the Senate trial would be fair. Last week, the impeachment finally moved from the House to the Senate. This week, the trial began.
So what happened this week?
Monday, January 20
The Senate wasn’t in session on Monday in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but that doesn’t mean the news was quiet. President Trump’s legal team submitted a 171-page brief claiming the impeachment is “a dangerous perversion” of the constitution and calling for Trump to be immediately acquitted by the Senate, BBC reported. The brief also called the two impeachment charges — abuse of power and obstruction of congress — “frivolous and dangerous.”
“House Democrats settled on two flimsy Articles of Impeachment that allege no crime or violation of law whatsoever — much less 'high Crimes and Misdemeanours' as required by the Constitution,” the brief said, calling for the Senate to “swiftly reject” the charges and acquit him. But the brief didn’t deny that Trump asked Zelensky to investigate the Bidens or that Trump held military aid from Ukraine — they’re merely stating that he never tied the two together. We’ve heard this line from the Trump administration time and time again, and it goes like this: “No quid pro quo!” Another one of Trump’s greatest hits? That the chat with Zelensky was a “perfect” phone call.
In response, the House managers said the brief painted a picture that was “chilling” and “dead wrong,” according to CNN.
“President Trump maintains that the Senate cannot remove him even if the House proves every claim in the Articles of impeachment. That is a chilling assertion,” the House managers wrote in their response. “The Framers deliberately drafted a Constitution that allows the Senate to remove Presidents who, like President Trump, abuse their power to cheat in elections, betray our national security, and ignore checks and balances. That President Trump believes otherwise, and insists he is free to engage in such conduct again, only highlights the continuing threat he poses to the Nation if allowed to remain in office.”
Tuesday, January 21
The first day of the impeachment trial began at 1 p.m. with a lot of milk, a red faux fur coat and chartreuse boots courtesy of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), and nearly 13 hours of party-line votes.
You read that right: The entire first day was spent arguing over the set of rules that will govern this trial, which officially-for-real began on Wednesday (January 22), NPR reported. The resolution was approved on party-line votes after Democrats offered 11 different amendments that were all rejected by Republicans, according to NPR.
There was one rule that did change, though. After receiving pressure from moderate Republicans like Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and others in a closed-door lunch before the trail, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) extended the debate from two days to three and automatically admitted the House of Representatives records into evidence, the New York Times reported. This changed the resolution away from what he originally proposed, and he did it so last-minute that the amendments were hand-written in the margins of the printed rules, CNN reported. Now, the House managers and Trump’s defense team each have 24 hours to present their sides. They have to split their time between each other over three days, with each day starting around 1 p.m. After opening statements, senators have 16 hours to ask both sides questions. Then they decide whether or not to introduce more evidence.
The rules, many of which harken back to the 1960s, according to NPR, included the provision that senators can only drink milk and water. Per USA Today, the rules literally state, “Senate rules do not prohibit a Senator from sipping milk during his speech.”
Another of the rules the Senate adopted was that every senator is “commanded to keep silence, on pain of imprisonment.” Metal. But outside of the Senate chambers, protesters and activists gathered on the National Mall in droves.
“We always talk about how, ‘I want to live through great events in history,’ and now we are and we’re panicking,” Lydia Valentine, a 17-year-old from Gorham, Maine told MTV News reported Sarah Emily Baum . “I think the role of young people is to stay angry. Even if it doesn't go the way we want, stay angry so it doesn't happen again.”
Wednesday, January 22
Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), who is leading the impeachment managers, laid out their arguments on Wednesday. His speech included everything from how Trump pressured Zelensky to investigate the Bidens, to how this mess has helped Russia. He argued that Trump plotted a “corrupt scheme” to get Ukraine to help him “cheat” in the election, the New York Times reported.
After Schiff finished up, the other six managers gave a variety of presentations, including videos from witness testimony and Trump himself calling on Russia to hack then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s emails. Senators kept silent (read: “on pain of imprisonment”) during the trials, but opened up to media when they stepped out of the chamber.
“There’s about one hour of presentation that we’ve heard about 10 times yesterday, and about 6 times today," Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) said, according to HuffPost reporter Igor Bobic. “It’s not a very deep case.”
At one point in the afternoon, there were 25 vacant seats, CNN's Jeremy Herb reported, likely due to the toll a 12-hour day can take on a person. Senators were standing to stretch their legs. Democrats were passing around folded notes. People were getting restless. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) even dropped his quill, according to Daniel Flatley, a congressional reporter for Bloomberg Business.
Outside of the Senate trial, CNN’s Chris Cilliza discovered that Trump broke a new record by tweeting more on Wednesday than he has ever tweeted in a single day.
Thursday, January 23
Democratic managers homed in on the first impeachment article: abuse of power. Schiff read the memorandum of the now-infamous July 25 call between Zelensky and Trump on the Senate floor and cited Alexander Hamilton over and over again. House managers even played a video clip of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) from 1999, in which he said, “I think that's what they meant by high crimes. Doesn't have to be a crime. It's just when you start using your office and you're acting in a way that hurts people, you committed a high crime.” The Hill notes that Graham was not in his seat at the time.
Friday, January 24
Bombshell drop: A new recording obtained by ABC News shows that Trump told associates — including Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, the two associates of Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani who have been indicted in New York — that he wanted U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch fired.
“Get rid of her!” Trump said, according to ABC News. “Get her out tomorrow. I don't care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. Okay? Do it.”
Parnas responded: “The biggest problem there, I think where we need to start is we gotta get rid of the ambassador. She's still left over from the Clinton administration. She's basically walking around telling everybody ‘Wait, he's gonna get impeached, just wait.’”
Yovanovitch was recalled from her position a year later, and her removal has been a key part in House Democrats’ impeachment argument. After all, she was a key witness in the earliest phases of the Ukraine scandal and, she says, was the victim of a smear campaign for removal, according to NPR.