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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Documents provide new details of Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine

House Democrats released the tranche of previously unseen records even as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a Wednesday vote to name House prosecutors and send the articles of impeachment against Trump to the Senate to begin the trial.

By: New York Times | Washington | Published: January 15, 2020 11:19:26 am
Documents provide new details of Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine A Capitol Hill police officer looks in on a meeting where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and other members, following the regular House Democratic Caucus meeting in Washington on Tuesday. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times)

Written by Nicholas Fandos

New details emerged on Tuesday of President Donald Trump’s campaign to solicit political interference from Ukraine, intensifying pressure on Senate Republicans on the eve of a historic impeachment trial to include witness testimony and additional documents in their proceeding.

House Democrats released the tranche of previously unseen records even as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a Wednesday vote to name House prosecutors and send the articles of impeachment against Trump to the Senate to begin the trial.

It included dozens of pages of notes, text messages and other records provided to the Intelligence Committee by Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, detailing work the men did in Ukraine on behalf of the president. Under federal indictment, Parnas had only recently been cleared to hand over the material to Congress, and an official involved in the inquiry indicated more was likely to be made public soon.

Among them were handwritten notes scrawled on a sheet of hotel paper at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Vienna that mention getting President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine to announce an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, and a May 2019 letter from Giuliani requesting a meeting with Zelenskiy in which he said Trump had “knowledge and consent” of his actions.

The records also included text messages suggesting that Giuliani’s associates were tracking the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in Kyiv.

The material built upon details undergirding the charges against Trump and highlighted how much is still to be learned about the scope of a scheme that the impeachment charges call a blatant effort to solicit foreign help in the 2020 election. Senior Democrats who led the House impeachment inquiry said the new records underscored the need for senators to demand additional evidence at trial.

The new documents, they said in a statement, “demonstrate that there is more evidence relevant to the president’s scheme, but they have been concealed by the president himself.”

“There cannot be a full and fair trial in the Senate without the documents that President Trump is refusing to provide to Congress,” they said.

The evidence came to light as the House prepared to vote Wednesday to send its impeachment charges — one on abuse of power, and one on obstruction of Congress — to the Senate, where leaders signaled that the tribunal would not begin in earnest until after the holiday weekend.

“The American people deserve the truth, and the Constitution demands a trial,” Pelosi said. The speaker said she would announce the names of her managers at 10 a.m. Wednesday, and a vote to formally name them and send the articles was scheduled for early afternoon.

In the Senate, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the majority leader, indicated that senators would be ready to receive the charges Wednesday and take sworn oaths to render “impartial justice” in the trial shortly thereafter, if not the following day.

But after weeks of demanding the charges be brought forward speedily, he said the Senate would put off considering the terms of the trial or the substance of the case for nearly a week, until next Tuesday. That would allow lawmakers time to vote late this week to approve Trump’s new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico and give senators time to travel home this holiday weekend before the trial requires them to remain at their desks in the Senate chamber six days a week.

The announcements paved the way for a choreographed exchange between the two chambers that will unfold Wednesday as they look toward the third presidential impeachment trial in American history. With little precedent to guide them, House and Senate leaders were working with Chief Justice John Roberts, who will preside over the trial, to nail down the timing of what was to come.

If all goes according to plan, the trial would officially open about a month after the House voted to impeach Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, charges that stemmed from his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political opponents, then stonewall the House inquiry into his actions.

The White House, readying its own case, welcomed the progress toward a trial and predicted Trump’s acquittal.

“We’ve been ready for a long time,” Eric Ueland, Trump’s congressional liaison, told reporters in the Capitol after huddling with Senate Republicans over lunch. “We could have started the morning after the House vote in December. We’re good to go, and we’re ready to go, and we’d be shocked if the House isn’t ready to go either.”

Trump’s campaign was already capitalizing on what promises to be a brutally partisan proceeding, circulating a fundraising appeal signed by the president that announced, “We’re taking this fight to the Senate,” and asked supporters to donate to an “Emergency 2020 Impeachment Defense Fund.”

Behind the scenes, Trump’s team was bracing for a potentially damaging period, inviting conservative activists to the White House to plan strategy for the trial. Lawmakers were anxious, too, as they moved toward an unpredictable process that will test an already strained Senate, consuming lawmakers for weeks or longer.

Debates raged in public and private over difficult questions that may darken the proceeding, including whether to call witnesses and compel new evidence or to consider a motion, endorsed by Trump but opposed by Republican leaders, to quickly dismiss the charges against him with no arguments or deliberations.

McConnell used an extended Republican luncheon to brief lawmakers on protocols and procedures. He played down Trump’s apparent enthusiasm for a motion to dismiss, insisting that such a move was not viable.

“There is little to no sentiment in the Republican conference for a motion to dismiss,” McConnell told reporters after the lunch. “Our members feel that we have an obligation to listen to the arguments.”

McConnell, working to hold his conference together against Democratic complaints, predicted that he still had the Republican votes to set rules for the trial next week. His proposal would put off a debate over calling witnesses until after opening arguments and senatorial questioning is complete.

“All 53 of us have reached an understanding very, very similar to the one that was achieved at the beginning of the Clinton impeachment trial,” McConnell said, referring to the 1999 trial of President Bill Clinton.

Democrats argue that a trial without witnesses and new evidence would be a sham and want a guarantee that they will be included. Trump blocked the House from gaining access to both during its impeachment inquiry.

In her statement earlier in the day, Pelosi accused McConnell and Trump of working together to cover up the facts the House had unearthed.

“The American people will fully understand the Senate’s move to begin the trial without witnesses and documents as a pure political cover-up,” she said. “Leader McConnell and the president are afraid of more facts coming to light.”

Pelosi plans to convene her newly appointed managers at 5 p.m. Wednesday to complete necessary paperwork to transmit the articles. Immediately after, the House managers will ceremonially walk the articles of impeachment from the House, through the Rotunda, to the Senate. When they do, they will formally present the articles and read them aloud in their entirety, beginning the trial.

The team of managers is likely to be led by Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who spearheaded the House’s Ukraine inquiry.

During a meeting with House Democrats on Tuesday, Schiff laid out his expectations for trial procedures, telling members that House managers would likely have 24 hours to present their case against Trump, spread over four six-hour days. The president’s lawyers would be given the same amount of time.

Schiff’s presentation appeared to be based on the procedures from Clinton’s impeachment trial in 1999. McConnell has said he plans to adopt similar procedures this time, but he has yet to release a detailed proposal, leaving the House in the dark.

“None of us have been through it before,” said Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt.

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