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Impeachment Today Podcast: Day Three Of The Trump Trial

In today's episode: A late night in the Senate ends with Republicans pushing through the rules of Trump's trial.

Posted on January 22, 2020, at 4:02 p.m. ET

Mandel Ngan / Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks to the press on Tuesday.

It's Wednesday, January 22. Day three of the impeachment trial of Donald Trump. Every morning, the Impeachment Today podcast helps you separate what’s real and groundbreaking from what’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 Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020. Day three of the impeachment trial of Donald Trump, and this is Impeachment Today. Good morning. I'm Hayes Brown, reporter and editor at Buzzfeed News. You ready for some opening arguments? Well, get your coffee prepped now because it's going to be a late night. Today we're talking to Buzzfeed News, senior investigations editor, Mike Sallah about Lev Parnes. The man who knew just enough about Trump's Ukraine plot. But before we get to all of that, let's catch up on what happened yesterday. Sleep. Who needs sleep? Apparently not the U.S. Senate. The first full day of proceedings in the impeachment trial went late, and that shows no signs of changing for the next week at least.

Tuesday saw the Senate return from the long weekend raring and ready to go. At 1:00PM sharp, the Chief Justice hit his little hammer dealy to magically transform the Senate from a body that makes laws, in theory at least, to a body that put the President on trial. Also in theory, at least. But before anything else, the rules that Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell hammered out with his fellow Republicans needed to be approved. Those rules are different from the ones that the press had seen the previous night. House managers and the presidents D team, which is what I'm calling the defense, would still have 24 hours to make their cases, but spread out over three days instead of just two. And evidence from the house would automatically be entered into the record instead of needing a vote to do that. But the rules would still put off a decision on whether to allow for new witnesses or document to be subpoenaed until next week at the soonest. Here's lead house manager Adam Schiff, explaining why that's not an ideal timeline for a trial

Adam Schiff:

Resolution requires the House to prove its case without witnesses, without documents. And only after it's done will such questions be entertained. With no guarantee that any witnesses or any documents will be allowed even then. That process makes no sense. So what is the harm of waiting until the end of the trial? Of kicking the can down the road on the question of documents and witnesses? Besides the fact it's completely backwards, trial first then evidence. Besides the fact that the documents would inform the decision on which witnesses, and help in their questioning. The harm is this, you will not have any of the evidence the President continues to conceal throughout most, or all, of the trial. And although the evidence against the President is already overwhelming, you may never know the full scope of the President's misconduct or those around him, and neither will the American people.

Hayes Brown:

At times though it seemed like there were two different trials happening. The House managers were laying out a very clear argument for why the rules under debate wouldn't lead to a fair trial. While at the same time laying out the groundwork for their case.

Meanwhile the President's defense was stuck with, well, yelling. White house council Patsy Baloney was pretty clear that the resolution sounds pretty great, to be honest. But the hours of debate that came after was clearly starting to weigh on Sekulow, to the point that he accused the Democrats of unfairly investigating a political opponent, because irony.

Jay Sekulow:

I'm here and falsely accuse people, by the way they falsely accused you. You're on trial now. They falsely accuse people of phony political investigations. Really!? Since the House Democrats took over. That's all we've had from them. They've used their office, all the money that the taxpayers send to Washington to pay them, to conduct phony political investigations against the President, against his family, against anyone who knew him. They started impeaching him the minute he was elected. They've weaponized the House of Representatives to investigate incessantly their political opponent. And they come here and make false allegations of phony political investigations. I think the doctors call that projection. It's time for it to end. It's time for someone, for the Senate, to hold them accountable.


It's a bold strategy, cotton. Let's see how this one plays out. So even though you would think that yesterday would have been about the House managers battling the President's lawyers, it was not. Instead it was more Mitch McConnell versus Chuck Schumer, the leaders of the parties and the Senate. Because there was no doubt from the beginning of the day that McConnell's resolution would eventually pass. Even the more moderate Republicans said they'd like to hear from witnesses eventually, just, not in the now times. That despite the fact that none of the senators who are currently against hearing new evidence knows what the hell the documents or witnesses that the White House blocked last fall could even tell them. To that point, a new set of documents from the Office of Management and Budget were released via Freedom of Information Act late last night. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer was not about to let the rules click into place without a fight. And this began a torrent of amendments from the Democrats forcing Republicans to vote against the peanut and, basically, anyone and anything that could be relevant to the trial.

In total, the Democrats offered up 11 amendments. 11! Every one of them failed, with only one of them just getting one Republican vote. And if you're wondering why the hell the Democrats would go through this process, knowing good and well that all of the proposed amendment will fail? Well, the managers used every single offered amendment to put forward part of the case against the President, a sort of preview of their arguments, as they made the case for getting certain documents and witnesses. The trial day eventually wrapped at 2:00AM, 13 hours after starting. Schumer didn't exactly make friends with his marathon of amendment, but hey, he didn't come here to make friends. This is a Senate impeachment trial, not send Senate best friends trial. It's a RuPaul reference, I'm sure you get it. And now we have today's reading from our Nixonmeter.

On our scale. Zero, normal day, normal White House. 10 President Richard Nixon resigns, flies away in Marine one this morning we're at a 7.8. McConnell has gotten his way, and if that continues to hold through the next week, the chance of seeing new facts turn up in the trial, however long it is, shrink by a lot. Instead, we'll have to be watching how the two sides perform in the 24 hours that they have now to actually make their case. Okay. After the break we're talking to Mike Sal about Lev Parnes. Reform baddy, or just out for himself? Stick around.

All right. Time for this fucking guy. And for the first time we are revisiting one of our previous subjects. We're talking today about Lev Parnes, Rudy Giuliani's former right hand man and Ukraine turned goldmine of documentary evidence. We last spoke to Buzzfeed news, senior investigations editor, Mike Sallah about Lev in November, and we are thrilled to have him joining us from DC again today. Hello Mike.

Michael Sallah:

Hey, glad to be here, Hayes.


So where last we left off, Lev Parnes had been arrested along with his partner, Igor Fruman in DC. And there were rumblings that Parnes might be willing to speak out against the president, Rudy Giuliani. Since then, we've learned a lot. I guess my first question is, were you surprised by how complete and total his flip on Trump and Giuliani seems to have been?


Actually, Hayes, I kind of saw the drum roll earlier. I could see that with various disclosures made by his attorney, Parnes's attorney Mr.Bondy, who every now and then would tease out that Parnes was indeed known to Trump. Trump knew him well. We ended up tweeting out some of these points as well because in my interviews with Lev Parnes prior to his arrest, he talked about Mr. Trump and he talked about various encounters and meetings he had with him both at Mar-a-Lago and in Washington D.C. So I felt it was coming. I didn't know it was going to be to the full disclosure it was. That surprised me a bit, but not the fact that he wanted to basically set the record straight. That the president did know him and that he knew him much better than anyone had conveyed so far.


So you mentioned Parnes's lawyer, Mr.Bondy, he seemed to be relishing putting out pictures of Lev Parnes with half of Washington D.C. Do you think those pictures are showing anything more than just a handshake at a fundraiser? Or do you think they actually imply that Parnes actually knew these people?


You know, Hayes, it's a good question. If it was one, or two, or three images, and maybe one video, I would say yes. But we're talking a lot of video. We're talking a lot of images. Parnes has given information that, even conveyed some information, that nobody would really have known in just passing. So I think it's much more than the Republicans want to give and want to acknowledge. And I could tell that just from my interviews with him. The details that he knew about certain people. The things that he knew about Giuliani. Giuliani stands in as the godfather at his bris. I mean, doesn't that tell you something? And it's in far greater detail than I think even Giuliani's conveyed at this point.


So reading through this trove of documents that Parnes's lawyer submitted to Congress. Does it track with what you were seeing at the time as you were reporting on Parnes and Fruman's operations with Giuliani back last summer?


Parnas knew every detail of every meeting. He knew that the original interviews with the first prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, were set up through Skype sessions because Shokin could not get a visa. These are things that came out later, Hayes. These aren't things that were known at the time. These are things he conveyed to me early on. Also the details of [Luke Sanko 00:11:09], the second prosecutor, meeting in New York. What he conveyed to him. Those were things that only a person in the room would have known. And so unless he was totally making these things up in fantasy and now we know that they're much more grounded in reality, the things he told me were truthful. They were honest. He has certainly done an about face since that. He has certainly gone from being a great believer in Trumpland to somebody who feels like he himself was hoodwinked all that time.


And also the interchanges with Ivanovich. The meeting with her, that he confirmed that he pushed very hard to let people know that, in his own mind, she was not loyal to the President and she should go. And of course this was collaborated by a letter that Sessions, the Congressman, wrote. And so when you come up with tangible evidence like that, and it's collaborated by what you're saying. Well there's a saying in our work, in watchdog journalism. Where when you collaborate or substantiate information that way, it's tough to negate that. It's tough to put it aside and say, "Hey, this is all fantasy."


So were there any aha moments in these documents? Or something that had been kind of bothering you, that you couldn't quite figure out, was suddenly made clear about how Parnes was operating?


No, honestly he was very open with us. Buzzfeed did more interviews with him than anyone prior to his arrest. So we're talking at least a dozen sessions, both at the Trump hotel and a Starbucks near his home in Boca Raton. As well as multiple phone interviews. So the things that he was conveying to me, and telling me, were not a surprise. I was waiting to hear a bit more about direct revelations from Trump. What the President may have been directly directing him on, shall we say. I'm not getting that, and it's because he's not making it up. The things that Giuliani talked about, that were conveyed back and forth. I believe that Giuliani was the middleman between this operation and Trump the entire time. And Giuliani wasn't freelancing. He was doing it with the consent of the President.


Right. And that includes a letter that was among the documents that Parnes's lawyer turned over to Congress. From Rudy Giuliani, a letter that was signed by him, saying that he was acting with the knowledge of the President. So we've had some Republicans out there, including, I believe, it was Senator John Cornyn of Texas, on the Sunday shows this last week. Suggesting that these documents could have been tampered with, that they could be false, it could be part of a Russian operation. What do you think? Is there any chance that the documents have been meddled with at all from between the time that Parnes had them, to the time that Congress released them?


No, absolutely not Hayes. And you have document examiners today. You have people that could tell you, they can do microscopic analysis on these. Of course not. I don't think that they would stuck their necks out like that. And don't forget, again, it substantiates everything that led to this moment in time. He's not saying anything that's out of the box. Everything he's saying substantiates what's already been conveyed, and what you heard during the House sessions. It'd be one thing if they were sticking their necks in the sand. There actually is... In the case of Senator Cornyn questioning the validity of the document. That's nuts. It's just nuts talk. It shouldn't even be considered. What we should be considering, is what else is out there? What's interesting is every piece of evidence that's rolled out continues to be that slow drip that continues to substantiate, and to advance, everything that's been said so far about the President's interchanges with the president of Ukraine and the demands that he made.


So you mentioned crazy talk a second ago, and so I have to ask about the exchange between Robert F. Hyde and Parnes about Ivanovich. For the listeners out there who aren't familiar, these were exchanges where it seemed like someone talking to Parnes had the former ambassador of Ukraine under surveillance. What did you make of that when you saw it?


That has still not been resolved. I think we're still trying to figure out what happened because Hyde, on the one hand, is giving this very specific information, and it's being conveyed to him by somebody who has a phone that's registered in Belgian. And so all of these things raise a lot of questions. Parnes is a bit flummoxed by it. He has said he didn't think that Hyde was conveying that information accurately, or that he was really somebody in contact with on the ground that was peeping in the ambassador's windows. So I don't think that's been resolved yet, Hayes. It's a good question. I think it's still out there, and I don't think we know the answer to that just yet. What's more interesting is that this Mr. Hyde, the congressional candidate and landscaper who's come up. He's almost a trip all by himself. I mean look at some of those videos of him and it's just. Here's another character in this Pantheon of characters. You can't make this stuff up.


Okay, so last question for you. There's a lot up in the air with this trial. What do you think though? Will Lev Parnes be called to the stand to testify in this trial? And if so, will he be seen as a credible witness given the fact that he is currently indicted for alleged campaign finance violations?


They're going to question him. This isn't unusual that you have a witness. You have that all the time. You've had people put on death row because of the testimony of other inmates, things like that. It's not unusual. I think that he will be grilled. The fact that he's willing to do it, very willingly and very openly, gives me the impression that he's not willing to go up there and lie. He's actually willing to go up there and say what he knew and give all the details. If they want to take other witnesses to try to take his story down, they can try. But don't forget what he saying is collaborated by a good amount of physical evidence, and evidence that's very real. It's very tangible. So it's going to be difficult for them. They will try to though. Now, can he testify? Will they be willing to allow him? That's a big question. We don't know. There is a real fight ongoing right now to limit the parameters of this trial, if you will.


And I think there's going to be some pushback from Republicans on that. Particularly the moderate Republicans who are under their own... And look at recently, they looked at the American public and the polls. 69% want to see witnesses and documents. I think it would be foolhardy for them not to open up the doors a bit more, and that would open up doors for somebody like Lev Parnes, I would think.


I can't wait to see how this all plays out. Mike, thank you so much for joining us today. I really appreciate you taking the time.


Glad to be here Hayes.


Okay, it's time for the latest edition of our newest segment: Trial Watch 2020. It's where we run down what's happening next in the Senate impeachment trial. Now that all the rules are laid out and the process is set, today begins to start of oral arguments. Well actually, what this phase is called depends on who you ask. Senate Republicans had been calling this time where the two sides make their case, "opening arguments." But that's a bit of a stretch given the current trial format. We have to wait until these arguments are over before we know if witnesses will be allowed and the trial will actually move forward. Or if the Senate will just vote on the articles of impeachment and whether to convict or quit the president. So if they don't decide to hear from new witnesses, this set of presentations could be the whole trial. That's it. We wrap this whole thing up by next Thursday. And we'll have no clear idea if that's the case until next week, thanks to yesterday's decision to wait to decide on witnesses.

As for what we've got coming today, we begin the first day of three in which the House impeachment managers will get the chance to make their case. We can expect lead manager Adam Schiff to take the lead with his six fellow managers taking specific parts of the case, from the constitutionality of the charges, to the details of the abuse of power scheme detailed in the first article of impeachment. This is the part of the trial that most folks have been waiting for. So be sure to tune in at 1:00PM eastern standard time, if you can. Things will go straight through until likely 10:00 or 11:00 at night tonight. So if you're tired from last night's marathon, time to get that IV of coffee all set. And that concludes today's Trial Watch 2020.

Okay, that's it for today. Tomorrow we'll have a full recap and highlights of all of the whatever happened with opening arguments of the trial today. And into early morning tomorrow, I guess? Fuck my actual life. Anyway, be sure to subscribe to Impeachment Today on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you go to hear my disembodied and slightly dismayed voice. And maybe leave a rating and review? Also, tell your friends about the show as we all figure this out together.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.