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Impeachment Today Podcast: Case Closed

In today's episode: Senators prepare for the final day of Donald Trump's impeachment trial.

Posted on February 3, 2020, at 7:17 p.m. ET

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Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell after the senate voted 51-49 against calling witnesses in the impeachment trial.

It's Monday, February 3, day 12 of the impeachment trial of Donald Trump. Every morning, the Impeachment Today podcast helps you separate whatโ€™s real and groundbreaking from whatโ€™s just, well, bullshit.

You can listen to today's episode below, or check it out on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

It's Monday, February 3rd, 2020. Day 12 of the impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump. And this is Impeachment Today.

Good morning, I'm Hayes Brown, reporter and editor at BuzzFeed News. It's looking very much like this will be the last week of the impeachment trial, and the last week of this show. We can't dwell on that latter part right now though, because we have a lot to cover from the last few days. So let's get right into it.

Friday afternoon was subdued in the Senate, as the jurors gathered to hear four hours of debate, over whether to allow witnesses and documents to be subpoenaed in the trial. But thanks to Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee's announcement from the night before, it was all over, but the shouting. To quote, I don't know, somebody, I actually have no idea where that phrase comes from. Not even an absolute bombshell of news on Friday morning could rouse some members of the Senate from their seeming stupor.

We learned that former national security advisor, John Bolton's book, basically says, "Yes, President Donald Trump was using Rudy Giuliani to pressure Ukraine, and knew all about it." The New York Times says that in his book, Bolton recalls a meeting in early May. In that meeting, President Trump instructed Bolton to call up then president Olek Zelensky of Ukraine, and tell him to work with Giuliani. Bolton says he never made the call. Giuliani, as we know, would spend the next few months working with other Trump officials, to secretly pressures Zelensky into announcing investigations, that would help Trump politically. We know this, because it was all in the House manager's case. Now, the president's defense has said that Giuliani was just a distraction. Here's what lawyer Jane Raskin, who we miss ID-ed as Jamie Raskin in an earlier episode, apologies to representative Jamie Raskin, talking about Rudy last Monday.

Jane Raskin:

Fact is, in the end, after a two years siege on the presidency, two inspector general reports, and a $32 million special counsel investigation, turns out Rudy was spot on. It seems to me if we're keeping score on who got it right on allegations of FISA abuse, egregious misconduct at the highest level of the FBI, alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, and supposed obstruction of justice in connection with the special counsel investigation. The score is Mayor Giuliani, four, Mr. Schiff, zero. But in this trial, in this moment, Mr. Giuliani is just a minor player. That shiny object designed to distract you. Senators, I urge you most respectfully, do not be distracted.

Hayes Brown:

Which is very interesting, because according to Bolton, you know who else was in the Oval Office for that early May meeting? Acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, Giuliani himself, and wait for it, White House counsel, Pat Cipollone. Yes, the very same Pat Cipollone who has spent the last few weeks, leading the president's defense team. Sorry. I just, I can't, I cannot. The House managers offered one last plea to not let this trial end without the truth coming out.

Adam Schiff:

I want to walk through some of the arguments that you've just heard from the president's counsel. The first were arguments made by Mr. Philbin. Mr. Philbin began by saying, The house managers assert." That you can't have a trial without witnesses. And he said it's not that simple. Actually it is. It is pretty simple. In every courthouse in every state, in every county in the country, where they have trials, they have witnesses. And I think you heard Mr. Philbin tie himself into knots, as to why this should be the first trial in which witnesses are not necessary. But you know, some things are just as simple as they appear. A trial without witnesses, is simply not a trial. You can call it something else, but it's not a trial.

HB:

That was lead manager, Adam Schiff. He also added what in his view is at stake, if the trial does wrap up with a shrug.

Adam Schiff:

Now, you also heard Mr. Philbin argue ... And again, this is where we expected we'd be at the end of the proceeding, which is, essentially they proved their case. They proved their case. We pretty much all know what's gone on here. We all understand just what this president did. No one really disputes that anymore. So what? So what? It's a version of the Dershowitz defense. So what? The president can do no wrong. The president is the state. If the president believes that corrupt conduct would help him get reelected, if he believes shaking down an ally and withholding military aid, if he believes soliciting foreign interference in our election, whether it be from the Ukrainians, or the Russians, or the Israeli prime minister, or anyone else in any form that it may take, so what?

Adam Schiff:

He has a God given right to abuse his power, and there's nothing you can do about it. It's the Dershowitz principle of constitutional lawlessness. That's the end all argument for them. You don't need to hear witnesses who will prove the president's misconduct, because he has a right to be as corrupt as he chooses under our constitution. And there's nothing you can do about it. God help us if that argument succeeds.

HB:

But, it was to no avail. The debate ended and the vote came. The final result on the question of if witnesses will be allowed in the trial, surprising nobody at that point, was 49 to 51. All Republican senators saved two, voted against hearing witnesses, or forcing the administration to turn over more documents. We'll talk a little bit more about who voted how, and what that means in the next segment. After the vote, the Senate collectively looked at each other like ... Having realized that they'd not really accounted for just how the trial would wrap with the witness question decided. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, has been driving this train along the railroad tracks to acquittal junction this whole time. And to help seal the deal, the draft he prepared laying out the final days of the trial, made sure there'd be no more pesky witness talk.

The resolution resolve that once passed, "The record in this case shall be closed, and no motion to reopen it shall be an order for the duration of these proceedings." In human talk, we are fucking done here, and I don't care what you find, we're not going to hear it, so please save your breath. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer offered up for amendments, similar to those that he did on the first night of the trial. All four failed. Two, that would specifically subpoena John Bolton, got the same two Republican votes as the earlier vote on witnesses. And with that, by a vote of 53 in favor, and 47 opposed, a straight party line vote, the die was cast, and the schedule for the last few days of the trial set, no witnesses and a likely vote on the articles of impeachment on Wednesday.

All of which is absolutely baffling, especially considering what happened just hours later. In a midnight court filing, the department of justice said, that it happened to have just a few emails, only like 111 of them, about the hold on the aid to Ukraine that the administration will not release in full. And of those, according to the White House in that filing, 24 of them directly contain information about the president's thinking when he held the aid to Ukraine. That's 24 emails that the president's defense counsel refused to mention, or enter into the record to defend the president. That's 24 emails, which would potentially show a concrete motive, which the president's offense said, there's no way of knowing. And that is 24 emails that Senate Republican said unequivocally, that they absolutely cannot allow themselves to see. Cool. And now to quantify the current what the fuckery, we have today's reading from our newly repaired Nixometer.

On our scale is zero, normal day, normal White House, and 10 is President Richard Nixon resigning, and flying away in Marine One. This morning we're at a 5.8. Things are clearer than ever that the Senate GOP wants to get this done, without any further delay. And so the race is on to do so before anything else comes out, that could complicate matters further. We are less than 72 hours away now from when the clerk of the Senate calls the role, and the vote on removing, the president is locked into history. After the break, we're talking about the senators who say, Trump definitely F-ed up here, but is that really a problem? Be right back.

All right. After a lengthy break, it's time once again for This Fucking Guy. It's where we zoom in on a person, place or thing, that's shaping the impeachment. Today it's several guys. Those profiles encourage among the Senate GOP, who say the president did the thing he was accused of, but who still plan to vote not guilty later this week. Now, let's be clear. The odds of there being two thirds of the Senate who were willing to remove the president, were always low. But the House managers presented a case, that said the president held up nearly $400 million in money, that Congress provided to Ukraine to get them to influence the election in his favor. Two Republicans, Mitt Romney and Susan Collins, voted with Democrats in Friday's vote.

But in announcing their decision to reject having witnesses called, several Republican senators have all but said, well yeah, Trump did it, but is that really something we can remove a guy from office over? We start with Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Now, Rubio has been against impeachment from early on, so his vote against witnesses wasn't really a surprise. But in his statement about his decision, he went with saying that even if the House's arguments are true to remove Trump, is to let Putin win. I guess.

Marco Rubio:

And so even if everything that the House has alleged is accepted as true, number one, removing the president is not a last resort. We have an election in November, which is a far better and a lot less damaging remedy. Removal also does not have broad support or bipartisan support, and removing the president would, in my opinion, inflict extraordinary trauma on our nation, which is already deeply divided and polarized. Half the country would view his removal as nothing less than a coup d'etat. And I ask you, what scheme could Vladimir Putin come up with that would divide us more than that removal would? So I'm not going to vote in favor of tearing this country apart any further, or fueling a raging fire that already threatens our country.

HB:

Also, I swear to God, we did not put that music under Senator Rubio. That was how it was when he posted on his Twitter account. Next we turn to Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa. Last we heard from her on this show, she was just wondering aloud how the whole Biden corruption case that the president's offense was making on the Senate floor, was playing out in the democratic primaries. No reason. Just wondering. Well, speaking on CNN on Sunday, she explained that she was sure that moving forward, President Trump would know better than to try to get a foreign country to interfere in the election.

Joni Ernst:

The president has a lot of latitude to do what he wants to do. Again, not what I would have done, but certainly again, going after corruption, Jake-

Jake Tapper:

So you're saying it's not perfect, I get that. But if it's not something-

Joni Ernst:

Maybe not the perfect call.

Jake Tapper:

If it's not something you would have done, why wouldn't you have done it? Because it was wrong, because it was inappropriate?

Joni Ernst:

I think generally speaking, going after corruption would be the right thing to do-

Jake Tapper:

No, but going after the Bidens.

Joni Ernst:

He did it maybe in the wrong manner.

Jake Tapper:

In the wrong manner?

Joni Ernst:

But I think he could have done it through different channels. Now, this is the argument, is that he should have probably gone to the DOJ. He should have worked through those entities, but he chose to go a different route.

HB:

That comes pretty close to what Senator Lamar Alexander has been saying, when explaining his vote against witnesses. In a long statement of release Thursday night, Alexander forcefully stated that, yes, the Democrats had made their case. But that meant there was no need for further witnesses in his eyes, and that he would still vote not guilty. Which what? Here's how he explained himself on Meet The Press.

Speaker:

Does it wear on you though, that one of the ... One of the foundational reasons or ways that the framers wrote the constitution, was almost fear of foreign interference.

Lamar Alexander:

That's true.

Speaker:

And here it is.

Lamar Alexander:

Well, if you hooked up with Ukraine to wage war on the United States, as the first Senator from Tennessee did, you could be expelled. But this wasn't that. This was the kind of ... What the president should have done was, if he was upset about Joe Biden and his son, and what they were doing in Ukraine, he should've called the attorney general and told him that. And let the attorney general handle it the way they always handle cases that involve publicโ€ฆ.

Speaker:

And why do you think he didn't do that?

Lamar Alexander:

Maybe he didn't know to do it.

Speaker:

Okay. This has been a rationale that I've heard from a lot of Republicans. Well boy, he's still new to this.

Lamar Alexander:

Well, a lot of people come to-

Speaker:

At what point though, is he no longer new to this?

Lamar Alexander:

Well, the bottom line, it's not an excuse. He shouldn't have done it. And I said he shouldn't have done it. And now I think it's up to the American people to say, "Okay, good economy, lower taxes, conservative judges, behavior that I might not like. Call to Ukraine. Weigh that against Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and pick a president."

HB:

For the record, when Ambassador Bill Taylor tried to get Ukraine to use those official channels that Ernst and Alexander were describing, that never happened. Instead, Presidents Zelensky was days away from announcing the investigations the president wanted, when the aid was released. And the aid was only released, because Congress began investigating. Just pointing that out. Real quick, going back to Senator Ernst. Later on Sunday, in an interview with Bloomberg News, she had a warning for Democrats and their whole impeachment kick. "I think this door of impeachable whatever has been opened. Joe Biden should be very careful what he's asking for, because we can have a situation, where if it should ever be President Biden, then immediately people, right the day after he would be elected would be saying, well, we're going to impeach him. And the reason that might be given for such an impeachment, why turning his back on corruption in Ukraine of course."

And finally, we've Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski. For the longest time, she was seen as a near certain vote in favor of witnesses. Back in October, she even told reporters on The Hill that, "You don't hold up for an aid that we had previously appropriated for a political initiative, period." But in her announcement on Friday morning, she said that everyone was to blame for her decision not to vote for witnesses at the trial. In particular, she singled out her colleague, Elizabeth Warren, for her question to Chief Justice John Roberts, asking him if his participation in the Senate trial would affect people's view of the court. And there you have folks. These are the senators who believe that, yeah, Trump asking Ukraine to investigate his political rivals was bad. Holding up the aid was bad, removing the president, somehow worse. So good job guys, and heads up to all future presidents. Here's what you can get away with.

Okay, it's time for the latest edition of Trial Watch 2020. It's where we run down what's happening next in the Senate impeachment trial. Today is set to be a bit of an anticlimax, all things considered. According to the final rules resolution path last Friday, the House managers and the president's lawyers, will each have two hours to make their closing arguments. There's not really much left to say that hasn't already been said, without the new information that the House managers wanted to pull forward. But it'll still be interesting to see how they frame things, now that we're going to be ending the trial without a full account of just what happened last year. Given the report shown during the last debate over witnesses, I somehow doubt that the members of the world's greatest deliberative body, will be laser focused. At least we'll be watching and taking it in for the history of it.

Things kick off at 11:00 AM Eastern standard time, so be sure to tune in for what will likely be, the last time you hear from both sides during this extremely abbreviated trial. That concludes Trial Watch 2020.

Okay, that's it for today. Tomorrow we'll have a recap of the closing arguments for you, and whatever news breaks in the next 24 hours, that will surely throw everything into chaos. It has to happen at this point. What else can we expect? Thanks to all of you out there who have subscribed to the show. If you're listening for the first time, or just haven't gotten around to it, do subscribe to Impeachment Today on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you go to hear my disembodied voice. And please, maybe leave us a rating and a review. It helps us figure out what you liked about the show, and what you loved about the show. And you're going to want to stick around to catch these apparent final episodes, where we all figure out how this all ends together.

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