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After fiery Senate trial rules debate, House managers begin their prosecution

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The prosecution has begun.

    Impeachment managers from the United States House of Representatives opened their presentation before the U.S. Senate today. They have three days to make their arguments for why President Trump should be removed from office.

    Nick Schifrin begins our coverage of this day of the trial.

  • John Roberts:

    The Senate will now hear you.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In the Senate chamber the founders described as dignified and independent, Democrats laid out their case to convict and throw President Trump out of office.

    Lead House manager Adam Schiff:

  • Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.:

    Because he abused his office and the public trust by using his power for personal gain by seeking elicit foreign assistance in his reelection and covering it up.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Democrats accuse President Trump of abusing his power by pressuring Ukraine to announce investigations into the 2016 election and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden by withholding $400 million in military aid that Ukraine needs in its conflict with Russia.

    House manager Jerry Nadler:

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.:

    This effort threatened the security of Ukraine in its military struggle with Russia and compromised our own national security interests.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And Democrats accuse President Trump of obstructing Congress by refusing to hand over documents and blocking senior officials from testifying.

  • Rep. Adam Schiff:

    In obstructing the investigation into his own wrongdoing, the president has shown that he believes that he is above the law and scornful of constraint.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Today was for the president's prosecutors, so the response fell to the president himself, 4,000 miles away, at the Davos World Economic Forum. He singled out Schiff, and described his impeachment as beneficial.

  • President Donald Trump:

    These are corrupt people, some of them, and some of them are just playing the political game. But if you look at the poll numbers, my poll numbers are the highest they have ever been.

    If you look at the funding numbers, if you look at what the money raised by the Republican Party is, just set a record. Nobody's ever done this before. It's because of the impeachment hoax.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Today, Democrats laid out a narrative highlighting three key days. On July 24, special counsel Robert Mueller publicly testified and read his primary conclusion:

  • Robert Mueller:

    The investigation didn't establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government in its election interference activities.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The next day, July 25, President Trump called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

    Schiff quoted President Trump asking Ukraine to launch investigations.

  • Rep. Adam Schiff:

    President Trump said: "I would like you to do us a favor, though, because our country has been through a lot."

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And the next day, July 26, President Trump called U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, asking whether Ukraine would undertake the investigations.

  • Rep. Adam Schiff:

    In many ways, those three days in July tell so much of this story. This course of conduct alone should astound all of us who value the sanctity of our elections.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Schiff urged senators next week to vote to interview witnesses and allow documents that were kept from House investigators.

  • Rep. Adam Schiff:

    You will see them, and so will the American people, if you allow it, if, in the name of a fair trial, you will demand it.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Today, President Trump suggested he could support witnesses, but had reservations, especially about senior national security officials, such as former National Security Adviser John Bolton.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I would rather interview Bolton. I would rather interview a lot of people. The problem with John is that it's a national security problem.

    He knows what I think about leaders. And what happens if he reveals what I think about a certain leader, and it's not very positive? And then I have to deal on behalf of the country. It's going to be very hard. It's going to make the job very hard.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The impeachment trial's jurors are the Senate's 100 members. It would take two-thirds of them, 67, to convict and remove the president from office. They cannot speak inside the trial, so they visited microphones outside.

    Key ally to President Trump South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham:

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.:

    When it comes to replacing this president nine months-plus from the election, you have got an uphill battle with me, because I really do believe that the best person — group of people to pick presidents are the voters, not a bunch of partisan politicians.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Senators decided to restrict the camera angles, but artist Bill Hennessy sketched scenes of the chamber-turned courtroom and lawmakers-turned-jurors, a senator catching a few winks, chief Justice John Roberts, one of few participants allowed a computer screen, and a spittoon, whose lack of use is more bipartisan than the trial.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.:

    I send an amendment to the desk to subpoena certain documents.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yesterday, beginning in the early afternoon…

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer:

    I send an amendment to the desk to allow adequate time for written responses.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    … until almost 2:00 a.m., 11 times, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tried to amend the trial rules set by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer:

    I send an amendment to the desk to issue a subpoena to John Robert Bolton, and I ask that it be read.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Each one…

  • John Roberts:

    The amendment is tabled.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    … rejected on a party-line vote.

  • John Roberts:

    The amendment is tabled.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Only one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, sided with Democrats, once, and voted to lengthen the time both sides had to file motions, but that amendment also failed.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer:

    If there's one thing we learned from the series of votes on the Senate floor, it's that Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans don't want a fair trial that considers all the evidence.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The day began with Chaplain Barry Black reading a prayer that appealed to civility.

  • Barry Black:

    Help them remember that patriots reside on both sides of the aisle, that words have consequences, and that how something is said can be as important as what is said.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Democrats are expected to continue their case for more two days, after which President Trump's lawyers can take up to three days for their case.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now to our White House correspondent, Yamiche Alcindor, and to congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins. She again was in the Senate chamber today.

    Hello to both of you.

    So, Lisa, you have had a chance to look at the senators. It's an angle we can't see watching from the studio, watching a television screen. How are they taking all this in? Long night last night, big day today. How much are they paying attention?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, for the first two hours today, Judy, they did seem to be paying very careful attention, with the exception of just a handful of senators. Most of them were very serious, and you could feel a sense of gravity in the room about the articles of impeachment that wasn't there yesterday for much of the process debate.

    That was the first two hours. But, Judy, I think you can tell many of these senators are going on just a few hours of sleep, probably not for the only time during this trial. And after a few hours, you could tell that the attention levels were dissipating, and you could also tell that senators themselves were leaving the chamber in larger numbers.

    At different times, our team took various counts, and roughly between a fifth and a fourth of the Senate was absent for much of today, different people, different times. Many times, they're going into kind of the antechamber or cloakrooms nearby. They can do it for sort of a quick personal break, but some of these senators are taking longer.

    Notably, Senator Bernie Sanders has been walking on and off the floor quite a lot, Senator Rand Paul as well. But they're not the only ones.

    And to a point in this, Jason Crow, one of the House managers, was trying to get the attention of the Senate and, at one point, stopped his presentation and said to Senate Leader McConnell, Mr. Leader, let's take a 15-minute break. I see members are moving around in the chamber. Maybe we should take a break, really talking about the fact that they weren't paying as close attention.

    McConnell responded he wanted to take a break at a later time. But it is something notable here on day two.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We noticed that late in this afternoon.

    So, Yamiche, we heard a little of the president's comments about this impeachment trial today. What more are you picking up from the White House, from the people around the president about how they see this?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, despite being thousands of miles away and traveling from Switzerland to Washington, D.C., tonight, the president was paying very close attention to this historic impeachment trial, this historic Senate trial on whether or not he should be removed from office.

    And the day started with a surprise press conference, where the president really lashed out at Democrats. He was calling Representative Nadler a sleazebag, saying Representative Schiff is a con job. And he was also saying that he wants to see a longer impeachment trial with witnesses, including John Bolton, as Nick noted.

    It is important to note, though, that the president has also been saying that all of this is really national security issues, and that the president is really still the target of an unfair trial.

    We — all have that was echoed by the president of legal team. Here's what Jay Sekulow, a lawyer on the president's impeachment team, had to say about how today went.

  • Jay Sekulow:

    He seems like he has got a lot of information, so proceed with your case.

    I mean, the more they do this, 2.5-hour events at a time, it undercuts their entire argument. We will challenge aggressively the case that they are putting forward, based on what we're hearing, and we also have an affirmative case that we're going to make as well.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    But even as they're going to be continuing to listen to Democrats make their case, you already have the president's lawyer saying they're going to aggressive when it's their turn.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, back to you.

    We are now into this trial, but we still don't know if the senators are going to vote to call witnesses. What are you hearing about that?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    A little news on that today, Judy.

    Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said he would take off the table a deal for a Democratic witness like John Bolton in exchange for Hunter Biden as a potential Republican witness. Senator Schumer said they only will talk about fact witnesses to the president's alleged charges.

    They do not believe Hunter Biden is that kind of fact witness, and they say, if Republicans want to call Hunter Biden, they need to get 51 votes on their own to do it.

    Now, this doesn't mean a deal is completely off the table, any kind of deal, but that specific deal is off the table, at least for now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Yamiche, I'm going back and forth because there is so much to ask both of you.

    But we know the Democrats were criticizing the president today not turning over any documents, not cooperating. The president brought this up himself.

    What are you hearing, again, from folks in the White House about how they plan to push back?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The president, in fact, was bragging about the very thing that Democrats say got him impeached, and that is that he does not want to be turning over any sort of documents to Democrats.

    He said, look, we have all the materials. They don't have any. He was saying that he was happy with his defense team because of that. Now, of course, Democrats are saying that's the president bragging about what they say is obstructing Congress.

    The other thing we note is that the president set a record today when it came to tweeting out things. This is what the White House has been saying, that they're going to really be proactive in being on social media.

    Here's what the president tweeted, retweeting the Republican National Committee today. He said: "Just how weak is the Democrats' impeachment case against President Trump? Adam Schiff is relitigating Russia and Mueller"

    And there you have the president's legal team essentially also echoing that statement. They have been saying that this is the ghost of the Mueller investigation haunting President Trump, making the case that Democrats are still trying to find something, anything, they argue, to try to take the president down.

    But what we see now is the president really echoing that and really doubling down and lashing out at Democrats both online and, of course, in that Senate trial.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, a final question for you before I come back to Yamiche.

    I mean, hanging over all this is the question of whether any senator's mind is truly open enough to an argument that could change his or her mind.

    How do you sense that?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, we're trying to read the faces of the senators.

    And I will say, to talk what about Yamiche is bringing up, both sides mentioned the Mueller report. And when you look at senators, that is something that really doesn't make them more alert. They seem to be tuning out talk of the Mueller report on either side.

    But there were some moments today, especially sound bites of the president himself. When he spoke, Judy, when they played the sound bite of the president asking Russia for — to look into Clinton's missing 30,000 e-mails, which I think the president's team said was a joke, but which Democrats take seriously, you could tell every senator was paying close attention to that, including Republicans.

    The idea of the president asking Russia for help, whether it was rhetorical or not, was something that you could tell really was gripping the Senate in that moment.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And finally, Yamiche, we are in the phase of the trial where the president's legal team has to sit there and listen to, in essence, 24 hours of arguments from the House managers, the Democrats.

    How are they using this time to get ready when it becomes their term?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    They are using this time by really listening closely at what — how the Democrats are making their case.

    And as Lisa just noted, they're really paying attention to the fact that the Democrats are planning to use the president's own words against him.

    I remember being on the White House lawn when the president said, look, not only should Ukraine look into the Bidens, but so should China. Now the White House's legal team is getting ready to make the counterargument that the president was only joking and that Democrats are really taking his words and trying to twist them to mean things that he didn't really mean.

    But it's important to note that there was reporting that China did try to turn over some documents about the Bidens after the president said those words. So it's really going to be the president's legal team trying to make the case that the president at times is being lighthearted, and that he wasn't really trying to violate the Constitution in some of those statements that he's made.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yamiche Alcindor, reporting from the White House, Lisa Desjardins at the Capitol, we thank you both.

    Now, the Senate impeachment trial is supposed to maintain a certain sense of decorum, in keeping with the role of the Upper Chamber.

    And that's been largely true, but, at times, especially yesterday, as it got under way, the tone of this trial has grown heated and harsh.

    It was very late last night that Chief Justice John Roberts took note and made a point of rebuking the lawmakers.

    Earlier, Congressman Jerry Nadler had suggested that Republican senators were ready to vote for a cover-up for the president. The White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, in turn, told Nadler that he should be embarrassed and called the Democrats' efforts a farce.

    Well, that's evidently what prompted this response by the chief justice:

  • John Roberts:

    I think it is appropriate at this point for me to admonish both the House managers and the president's counsel, in equal terms, to remember that they are addressing the world's greatest deliberative body.

    One reason it has earned that title is because its members avoid speaking in a manner and using language that is not conducive to civil discourse.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    To examine the role of the chief justice in this impeachment trial while he is still carrying out his main job, presiding over the Supreme Court, we turn to Marcia Coyle of "The National Law Journal," who was in the court for the arguments today.

    Marcia, this is a man with two big jobs right now. You have covered the court. You have written a book about the Roberts court. What did you make of his speaking out as he did very late last night?

  • Marcia Coyle:

    Well, I think, Judy, the chief justice has really two major obstacles here, or challenges here.

    He has to, as presiding officer, maintain decorum in a hyperpartisan environment, and also keep himself above the fray for the sake of his own reputation and the reputation of the Supreme Court.

    And I think what he did early this morning was show that he's quite willing to step in, in order to maintain that decorum. And he did it in quintessential Roberts style. He was firm, he was even-handed, and he used a bit of history.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    He did.

  • Marcia Coyle:

    This nugget from 1905 about the impeachment of a federal judge and an objection to the use of the word pettifoggery, in order to sort of soften the rebuke with a little bit of humor.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Which sent us rushing to…

  • Marcia Coyle:

    Look it up.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    To look it up with a dictionary or Google or whatever.

    So, it's something that matters to him?

  • Marcia Coyle:

    Oh, very much so.

    And it's also how he runs the court during oral arguments. He doesn't have a heavy hand. You don't hear banging of the gavel. But just with a short word, a little bit of humor, he can rein in what is a very hot bench.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, meanwhile, it was reported that he did show up on time this morning for this important — all the cases are important, but a noteworthy case that the justices heard this morning, having to do essentially with public moneys going — being used in religious schools.

    Tell us a little bit about this case.

  • Marcia Coyle:

    Well, this is very much like many of the cases that seem to be coming to the court recently, where you have religious organization or, in this case, parents of students who attend religious schools, that are challenging state-funded programs that exclude them.

    The Montana Supreme Court hearing validated a state tax credit program that ultimately resulted in scholarships to private schools, including religious schools.

    But the Montana Supreme Court said, we have what's called a no-aid clause, an amendment in our constitution, that says no public funds for any kind of religious purpose. So it struck down the entire program.

    The parents here challenged that. They claimed Montana's Supreme Court got it wrong, that this actually, what the court did violated their free exercise rights under the federal Constitution.

    It seemed as though several justices, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Kagan, felt, where is the harm here now? The program is gone. All the parents are in the same boat, whereas Justices Gorsuch, Alito also seemed to feel, well, as the state — as the parents argued, that you can't use the remedy of striking down the program if the reason for that remedy was religious discrimination.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, very quickly, you were telling us earlier it looks as if the chief justice's questions seemed to be looking for a more narrow decision.

  • Marcia Coyle:

    He does look for play in the joints, so to speak, and he only really asked, I think, two or three questions during the entire argument.

    I think he may well be decisive. The court appeared very closely divided on this one.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So two very important roles at the same time.

  • Marcia Coyle:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thank you very much, Marcia Coyle.

  • Marcia Coyle:

    My pleasure.

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