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Donald Trump unleashes loyalists: President’s firebrand defenders are on impeachment defense team

The White House on Monday announced that several House Republicans will join President Trump’s Senate impeachment team.

House Reps Doug Collins of Georgia; Mike Johnson of Louisiana; Jim Jordan of Ohio; Debbie Lesko of Arizona; Mark Meadows of North Carolina; John Ratcliffe of Texas; Elise Stefanik of New York; and Lee Zeldin of New York will have largely ceremonial roles.

The members of Congress will not speak on the Senate floor during the proceedings, sources told CNN.

Instead, the group of pro-Trump lawmakers will serve as outside advisers and surrogates, according to sources.

Several of the lawmakers have been meeting frequently with Trump’s lawyers to help them prepare for floor arguments, CNN is reporting.

The White House on Monday announced that eight House Republicans would be added to President Trump's impeachment trial team. The president is seen above leaving the White House on Monday to attend an economic forum in Davos, Switzerland

The White House on Monday announced that eight House Republicans would be added to President Trump’s impeachment trial team. The president is seen above leaving the White House on Monday to attend an economic forum in Davos, Switzerland

Last week, there were discussions about putting House members on the team to advise Senate Republicans on questions to ask Chief Justice John Roberts.

The White House and senior Republican leadership in the Senate have been at odds over whether it is wise to bring on House members to aid in Trump’s impeachment trial.

The president is said to want his most vocal defenders who will be most aggressive in fighting the charges against him.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other top Republicans say that bringing on the House members risks alienating moderate GOP senators who will need to be on board.

‘Repeating the House sideshow in the Senate will turn off the very members the President needs for a unified acquittal,’ a Senate Republican aide told CNN.

On the eve of Trump’s impeachment trial, the Senate leader proposed a compressed calendar for opening statements, White House lawyers argued for swift rejection of the ‘flimsy’ charges and the Capitol braced for the contentious proceedings unfolding in an election year.

Jim Jordan

Elise Stefanik

Two of President Trump’s staunchest defenders in the House – Jim Jordan of Ohio and Elise Stefanik – will serve as surrogates and advisers, according to reports

Mark Meadows

Lee Zeldin

House Reps Mark Meadows (left) of North Carolina and Lee Zeldin (right) of New York were also added to the team

Doug Collins

Mike Johnson

The White House reportedly insisted on adding the pro-Trump lawmakers to the team. House Rep Doug Collins (left) of Georgia and Mike Johnson (right) of Louisiana are seen above 

John Ratcliffe

Debbie Lesko

House Reps John Ratcliffe (left) of Texas and Debbie Lesko (right) of Arizona are seen above

Final trial preparations were under way Monday during a tense day of plodding developments with Trump’s legacy – and the judgment of both parties in Congress – at stake.

The president’s legal team, in its first full filing for the impeachment court, argued that Trump did ‘absolutely nothing wrong’ and urged the Senate to swiftly reject the ‘flawed’ case against him.

‘All of this is a dangerous perversion of the Constitution that the Senate should swiftly and roundly condemn,’ the president’s lawyers wrote.

Anger: Chuck Schumer called Mitch McConnell's plans for Donald Trump's impeachment trial 'a national disgrace' as he headed from New York to Washington D.C.

Anger: Chuck Schumer called Mitch McConnell’s plans for Donald Trump’s impeachment trial ‘a national disgrace’ as he headed from New York to Washington D.C.

Master of the Senate? Mitch McConnell’s plan was revealed Monday evening, with just hours to go until senators get to decide on the rules for the trial of Donald Trump

‘The articles should be rejected and the president should immediately be acquitted.’

The brief from the White House, and the House Democratic response, comes as the Senate could be facing 12-hour sessions for the rare Senate trial, with some of the very senators running to replace Trump as president sitting as jurors.

McConnell proposed a condensed, two-day calendar for each side to give opening statements, ground rules that Democrats immediately rejected.

Voting on the Republican leader’s resolution will be one of the first orders of business when senators convene Tuesday. It also pushes off any votes on witnesses until later in the process, rather than up front, as Democrats had demanded.

The Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, called the GOP leader’s proposed rules package a ‘national disgrace.’

Senators are poised for only the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history, coming just weeks before the first primaries of the 2020 election season and as voters are assessing Trump’s first term and weighing the candidates who want to challenge him in the fall.

American flags blow in wind around the Washington Monument with the U.S. Capitol in the background at sunrise on Monday, Jan. 20, 2020, in Washington. The impeachment trial of President Donald Trump will resume in the U.S. Senate on Jan. 21

American flags blow in wind around the Washington Monument with the U.S. Capitol in the background at sunrise on Monday, Jan. 20, 2020, in Washington. The impeachment trial of President Donald Trump will resume in the U.S. Senate on Jan. 21

House Democrats impeached the president last month on two charges: abuse of power by withholding U.S. military aid to Ukraine as he pressed the country to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden, and obstruction of Congress by by refusing to comply with their investigation.

The Constitution gives the House the sole power to impeach a president and the Senate the final verdict by convening as the impeachment court for a trial.

McConnell is angling for a speedy trial toward acquittal, and with Republicans holding the Senate majority, the proposal is likely to be approved by senators in the president’s party.

‘It’s clear Senator McConnell is hell-bent on making it much more difficult to get witnesses and documents and intent on rushing the trial through,’ Schumer said. 

He vowed to propose votes Tuesday to try to amend the rules package. He called it a ‘cover-up.’

The first several days of the trial are now almost certain to be tangled in procedural motions playing out on the Senate floor or, more likely, behind closed doors, since senators must refrain from speaking during the trial proceedings.

At the White House, where the president was embarking for an overseas trip to the global leaders conference in Davos, Switzerland, officials welcomed the Republican trial proposal.

Poll says 51% of Americans want Senate to REMOVE Donald Trump from office 

Americans are split on whether the Senate should move to remove Donald Trump from office, with 51 per cent saying a poll released Monday that he should be convicted.

 

In the CNN/SSRS poll, 45 per cent of Americans said the Senate should not vote to convict and remove the president and 4 per cent of respondents said they had no opinion on the matter.

But 89 per cent of Democrats believe he should be convicted and removed from office while only 8 per cent of Republicans agree. Independent voters are split. 

The poll comes the day before the Senate is set to begin the proceedings in the impeachment trial.

It also shows a slight shift from the same poll in December, which had 47 per cent of Americans said Trump should not be removed compared to the 45 per cent who want to see him ousted from the White House.

Of the 1,156 respondents, 58 per cent feel Trump did abuse his power of the presidency and 57 per cent say it’s true he obstructed the House from being able to properly investigate him.

 

‘We are gratified that the draft resolution protects the President’s rights to a fair trial, and look forward to presenting a vigorous defense on the facts and the process as quickly as possible, and seeking an acquittal as swiftly as possible,’ said White House Legislative Affairs Director Eric Ueland.

After the four days of opening arguments – two days per side – senators will be allowed up to 16 hours for questions to the prosecution and defense, followed by four hours of debate. Only then will there be votes on calling other witnesses.

At the end of deliberations, the Senate would then vote on each impeachment article.

McConnell had promised to set rules similar to the last trial, of President Bill Clinton in 1999, but his resolution diverged in key ways, which may leave some senators from both parties uneasy.

Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah said in an email message to his constituents Monday night that the resolution put forth by McConnell ‘overall, aligns closely with the rules package approved 100-0 during the Clinton trial.’

He is among a small number of Republican senators who want to consider witness testimony and documents that weren’t part of the House impeachment investigation.

With security tightening at the Capitol, the House prosecutors led by Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff made their way through crowds of tourists in the Rotunda to tour the Senate chamber.

The White House legal team led by Pat Cipollone and Jay Sekulow soon followed.

Both sides were under instructions to keep the chamber doors closed to onlookers and the media.

Four TV monitors were set up inside the Senate chamber, which will be used to show testimony, exhibits and potentially tweets or other social media, according to a person familiar with the matter but unauthorized to discuss it who spoke on condition of anonymity.

In their own filing Monday, House prosecutors issued fresh demands for a fair trial in the Senate.

‘President Trump asserts that his impeachment is a partisan ‘hoax.’ He is wrong,’ the prosecutors wrote.

The House Democrats said the president can’t have it both ways – rejecting the facts of the House case but also stonewalling congressional subpoenas for witnesses and testimony.

‘Senators must honor their own oaths by holding a fair trial with all relevant evidence,’ they wrote.

The White House document released Monday says the two charges against the president don’t amount to impeachable offenses.

It asserts that the impeachment inquiry, centered on Trump’s request that Ukraine’s president open an investigation into Democratic rival Biden, was never about finding the truth.

House Democrats in their initial court filing over the weekend called Trump’s conduct the ‘worst nightmare’ of the framers of the Constitution.

‘President Donald J. Trump used his official powers to pressure a foreign government to interfere in a United States election for his personal political gain,’ the House prosecutors wrote, ‘and then attempted to cover up his scheme by obstructing Congress’s investigation into his misconduct.’

But Trump’s team contended Monday that even if Trump were to have abused his power in withholding the Ukraine military assistance, it would not be impeachable because it did not violate a specific criminal statute.

No president has ever been removed by the Senate.

The current Senate, with a 53-47 Republican majority, is not expected to mount the two-thirds voted needed for conviction.

Even if it did, the White House team argues it would be an ‘unconstitutional conviction’ because the articles of impeachment were too broad.

Administration officials have argued that similar imprecision applied to the perjury case in Clinton’s impeachment trial.

The White House also suggests the House inquiry was lacking because it failed to investigate Biden or his son Hunter, who served on the board of a gas company in Ukraine while his father was vice president. 

There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden. 

Americans are split on whether the Senate should vote to convict and remove Donald Trump from office – 51 per cent say he should be removed, while 45 per cent say he should not

Americans are split on whether the Senate should vote to convict and remove Donald Trump from office – 51 per cent say he should be removed, while 45 per cent say he should not

THE TRUMP DREAM TEAM: WHO’S DEFENDING PRESIDENT IN SENATE

Lead counsel: Pat Cipollone, White House Counsel

Millionaire conservative Catholic father-of-10 who has little courtroom experience. ‘Strong, silent,’ type who has earned praise from Trump’s camp for resisting Congress’ investigations of the Ukraine scandal. Critics accused him of failing in his duty as a lawyer by writing ‘nonsense letters’ to reject Congressional oversight. His background is commercial litigation and as White House counsel is the leader of the Trump administration’s drive to put conservative judges in federal courts. Trump has already asked aides behind the scenes if he will perform well on television. 

Jay Sekulow, president’s personal attorney

Millionaire one-time IRS prosecutor with his own talk radio show. Self-described Messianic Jew who was counsel to Jews for Jesus. Longtime legal adviser to Trump, but he is himself mentioned in the Ukraine affair, with Lev Parnas saying that he knew about Rudy Giuliani’s attempts to dig dirt on the Bidens but did not approve. Michael Cohen claimed that Sekulow and other members of Trump’s legal team put falsehoods in his statement to the House intel committee; Sekulow denies it. The New York Times reported that he voted for Hillary Clinton.

Alan Dershowitz, Harvard law professor

Shot to worldwide fame for his part in the ‘dream team’s’ successful defense of OJ Simpson but was already famous for his defense of Claus von Bulow, the British socialite accused of murdering his wife in Rhode Island. Ron Silver played Dershowitz in Reversal of Fortune. In 2008 he was a member of Jeffrey Epstein’s legal team which secured the lenient plea deal from federal prosecutors. But Dershowitz was a longtime friend of Epstein and was accused of having sex with two of Esptein’s victims. He denies it and is suing one of them, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, for libel, saying his sex life is ‘perfect.’ He admits he received a massage at Epstein’s home – but ‘kept my underwear on.’ Registered Democrat who spoke out against Trump’s election and again after the Charlottesville violence. Has become an outspoken defender of Trump against the Robert Mueller probe and the Ukraine investigation.     

Ken Starr, former Whitewater independent counsel

Famous and reviled in equal measure for his Whitewater investigation into Bill and Hillary Clinton’s finances in Arkansas which eventually led him to evidence of Bill’s affair with Monica Lewinsky. He was a federal appeals judge and George H.W. Bush’s solicitor general before that role. He later became president and chancellor of Baylor University in Waco but was removed as president in May 2016 for mishandling the investigation into allegations of multiple sexual assaults by football players and other students, then quit voluntarily as chancellor. Is the second Jeffrey Epstein defender on the team; he was present  in 2008 when the plea deal with prosecutor Alex Acosta was made which let Epstein off with just 13 months of work release prison.       

Pam Bondi, White House attorney

Florida’s first female attorney general and also a long-time TV attorney who has been a Fox News guest host – including co-hosting The Five for three days in a row while still attorney general. Began her career as a prosecutor before moving into elected politics. Has been hit by a series of controversies, among them persuading then Florida governor Rick Scott to change the date of an execution because it clashed with her re-election launch, and has come under fire for her association with Scientology. She has defended it saying the group were helping her efforts against human trafficking; at the time the FBI was investigating it over human trafficking. Went all-in on Trump in 2016, leading ‘lock her up’ chants at the 2016 Republican National Convention. Joined the White House last November to aid the anti-impeachment effort.

Robert Ray, Ken Starr’s successor

Headed the Office of the Independent Counsel from 1999 until it closed for business in 2002, meaning it was he, not Ken Starr, who wrote the final words on the scandals of the Clinton years. Those included the report on Monica Lewinsky, the report on the savings and loan misconduct claims which came to be known as Whitewater, and the report on Travelgate, the White House travel office’s firing and file-gate, claims of improper access to the FBI’s background reports. Struck deal with Clinton to give up his law license. Went into private practice. Was charged with stalking a former lover in New York in 2006 four months after she ended their relationship. Now a frequent presence on Fox News. 

Jane Raskin, private attorney

Part of a husband-and-wife Florida law team, she is a former prosecutor who specializes in defending in white collar crime cases. Their connection to Trump appears to have been through Ty Cobb, the former White House attorney. She and husband Martin advised Trump on his response to Mueller and appear to have been focused on avoiding an obstruction of justice accusation. That may be the reason to bring her in to the impeachment team; Democrats raised the specter of reviving Mueller’s report in their evidence to the impeachment trial.

Patrick Philbin and Michael Purpura, Deputy White House Counsels

Lowest-profile of the team, they work full-time for Cipollone in the White House. Philbin (left) was a George W. Bush appointee at the Department of Justice who helped come up with the system of trying Guantanamo Bay detainees in front of military commissions instead of in U.S. courts. He was one a group of officials, led by James Comey, who rushed to seriously-ill John Ashcroft’s bedside to stop the renewal of the warrant-less wiretap program. Unknown if Trump is aware of his links to Comey. Purpura (right) is also a Bush White House veteran who shaped its response to Congressional investigations at a time when there were calls for him to be impeached over going to war in Iraq. His name is on letters telling State Department employees not to testify. Has been named as a possible Trump nominee for federal court in Hawaii.

Senate set to begin its historic impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump in chamber where Republicans are in control

The Senate on Tuesday afternoon will commence just the third impeachment trial of a U.S. president, with Donald J. Trump and his ‘perfect’ call to Ukraine on trial before a jury of 100 senators – 53 of them from the party the president has dominated for three years.

The chamber’s procedures will be governed by a combination of precedent, improvisation, and raw political power – with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell withholding his proposed rules to govern debate until the final hours before the most senior Republican gavels in the start of the trial.

Neither side is predicting that Democrats can muster the two-thirds needed to remove a president from office. But neither are they diminishing the political stakes, with Trump’s fate, the direction of the 2020 elections, and control of Congress all arguably up for grabs.

President Donald Trump

President Donald Trump

The historic trial is set to begin Tuesday at 1 pm.

A rhetorical battle that has been fought on Twitter and in Capitol hearing rooms for years has now been joined by a phalanx of lawyers – with the president’s legal team mocking the procedure as a ‘charade’ based on ‘flimsy evidence.’

A group of seven House impeachment managers – a diverse bunch of lawyers and litigators who nevertheless have never dealt with a case of his magnitude – punched back with their own filing Monday, citing ‘overwhelming evidence’ of Trump’s guilt.

The public, too, is weighing in, on Monday in the form of a new CNN poll that found a 51 per cent majority now backs Trump’s removal from office. But Trump’s political base is holding, with 45 per cent saying the Senate should vote against removal – about the same percentage that backs Trump in most surveys of his approval.

But on a critical procedural question, the public has shifted against the president’s position: An overwhelming 69 per cent of Americans want a trial with witnesses. That includes a 48 per cent plurality of Republicans and 69 per cent of independents.

The number follows an intensive push for witnesses by congressional Democrats who found themselves stymied by White House obstruction during their House impeachment inquiry. They even included ‘Obstruction of Congress’ as the second of two articles of impeachment. The first is on abuse of power. Both were voted out of the house on a mostly party-line vote.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer is vowing to demand a vote on witnesses at the first available opportunity at the outset of the trial. McConnell appears to have his conference in line for now – but that does not mean he can prevent a potential rump group from breaking off later in the trial.

Senator Mitt Romney of Utah – who delivered a blistering critique of Trump before the November 2016 election – and perennial holdout Susan Collins of purple state Maine have each expressed support for witnesses in some capacity.

The focus on witnesses come as Democrats continue to bet the next explosive revelation that could somehow shift the arithmetic is right around the corner.

As is so often the case in the Senate, impeachment will kick off not with a substantive debate about the matter at hand, but a clash over the process itself.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell only hours before debate was set to begin put out his proposed rules. They would provide for a series of late night, with blocks of 24 hours set aside for each side to make its case, then another 16 hours for senators to ask written questions.

Schumer blasted the proposal as ‘nothing short of a national disgrace,’ and vowed to try to amend the procedure.

After a two-hour debate over process, Schumer gets to offer his own ideas as amendments – something he is vowing to do. He wants to call at least four witnesses and bring forth documents related to Ukraine. The Senate next is set to go into closed session for lawmakers to figure out a way forward.

That is a throw-back to 1999, when leaders of both parties orchestrated a closed meeting inside the old Senate chamber to figure out how to get to a trial. But in that case, even amid a fraught party clash, senators reached a 100-vote consensus on how to proceed.

The preceding few weeks have seen an astonishing amount of new material emerge, with no certainty yet that it will change any minds in the trial.

House Democrats handed over reams of documents, including voluminous material provided by indicted former Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas, who has said he participated in efforts to get the government of Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.

Parnas turned over such items as a May 2019 letter from Giuliani to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky seeking a private meeting and saying he was acting with Trump’s ‘knowledge and consent.’

He also turned over photos of himself with Trump, Trump family members, and key Trump World figures. His lawyer says he wants to testify.

Each side will make its arguments as best they can in initial one-hour increments. House managers include California Rep. Adam Schiff, who Trump lawyers singled out for denying the president ‘any semblance of fairness’ while overseeing House proceedings.

Schiff, in remarks before the House Intelligence committee, has accused the president of orchestrating a ‘shakedown’ of Ukraine for his own political benefit.

On the sidelines is presidential candidate Vice President Joe Biden, whose own work on Ukraine under President Obama has become part of the Trump defense. Republicans are threatening to call his surviving son, Hunter, as a witness, due to Hunter Biden’s lucrative position on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma, that was part of the push by Trump and his allies for a probe that might tarnish a rival.

But with a trial that could last week, the former VP will have ample time to travel Iowa and early primary states, while rival senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Amy Klobuchar will sit view the trial as jurors in the Senate.

Like fellow colleagues, they won’t be able to make speeches on the floor – just ask written questions.

Also out of the spotlight will be Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani. He was left off the president’s dozen-strong legal team, having spent months arguing the president’s case on television. But he will certainly be part of the record, whether or not former national security advisor John Bolton is allowed to testify. Bolton disparaged the ‘drug deal’ Giuliani was running in Ukraine, according to witness testimony.

Weighing in from across the Atlantic will be President Trump, who opted to fly to meeting at the annual economic conference in Davos. He spent part of Monday tweeting about what he calls the impeachment ‘hoax.’

 

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