Impeachment Today Podcast: Trump's Trial Begins

It’s Thursday, January 16, 114 days since House Democrats began impeachment proceedings. 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 Thursday, January 16th, 2020. 114 days since the house began its impeachment inquiry and day one of the trial of president Donald Trump and this is Impeachment Today.

Good morning. I’m Hayes Brown reporter and editor at Buzzfeed News. The trial is afoot, so get hyped for that. Oh, by the way, this is our 50th episode and it is very likely that today will be the day that we see our 1 millionth download. So off the bat, I just wanted to say thank you so much for sticking with us through this wild ass process that sees us here together living through history. Okay, today we’re talking to Politico’s, Darren Samuelson about the legal team tasked with defending the president during his trial. But before we get to all that, let’s catch up on what happened yesterday.

Wednesday was a wrap on the House’s role in the impeachment process for all of its members except just over a half dozen of them. Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, on Wednesday morning named seven members of the house to serve as impeachment managers in the trial of Donald Trump. Their mission, presenting the case for the president’s removal from office during his pending trial in the Senate. The job of prosecution will fall to Adam Schiff, Jerry Nadler, Zoe Lofgren, Hakeem Jeffries, Val Demings, Jason Crow, and Sheila Garcia. We’ll take the time to introduce them all properly in tomorrow’s episode. But Pelosi said that she chose them for their experience with the law, including as litigators and inside the courtroom. Pelosi’s choices were a lot more diverse than the 13 white men named during Clinton’s impeachment. The managers include four men, three women, two Black members, a Hispanic member, two freshmen and two committee chairs. She even made sure to get folks in from Colorado, Texas, and Florida to keep it from being too focused on New York and California.

Chairman Jerry Nadler, of the judiciary committee, was already ready to start a fight at the press conference announcing the managers, calling out Republican senators who want to rush to an acquittal.

Jerry Nadler:

Senate is intended by the constitution to conduct a fair trial. The American people know that in a trial you permit witnesses, you present the evidence. If the Senate doesn’t permit the introduction of all relevant witnesses and of all documents that the House wants to introduce because the House is the prosecutor here, then the Senate is engaging in an unconstitutional and disgusting coverup. So the question is, does the Senate, the Senate is on trial as well as the president. Does the Senate conduct the trial according to the constitution to vindicate the Republic or does the Senate participate in the president’s crimes by covering them up?

Hayes Brown:

After the managers were announced, the House then briefly debated a resolution officially confirming the managers in their roles and approving the transfer of the documents to the Senate. It passed, duh. Now, here’s a new vocab word for some of you, engrossment. It’s the final version of a legal document and that’s exactly what the House produced of the two articles of impeachment against the president. Here’s what Pelosi said. As she signed off on that final version,

Nancy Pelosi:

Today we will make history. When the managers walk down the hall we will cross a threshold in history, delivering articles of impeachment against the President of the United States for abuse of power and obstruction of the House.

HB:

Then the house managers very solemnly carried the folder containing the pages over to the Senate side of the Capitol. It was a very real moment, but they’ll have to do it all over again today when the Senate is actually ready for them. Meanwhile, Lev Parnas, Rudy Giuliani’s alleged right-hand man on Ukraine turned tea spiller, had an interview with MSNBC’S, Rachel Maddow. So, let’s see what he had to say.

Lev Parnas:

The message that I was supposed to, that I gave Sergey Schafer, was a very harsh message that was told to me to give it to him in a very harsh way, not in a pleasant way.

Rachel Maddow:

Who told you to give it to him in a harsh way?

Lev Parnas:

Mayor Giuliani, Rudy told me. After meeting the president at the White House, he called me. The message was, it wasn’t just military aid, it was all aid. Basically the relationships would be sour, that we would stop giving him any kind of aid, that-

Rachel Maddow:

Unless?

Lev Parnas:

Unless that there was an announcement made. Well several things. There were several demands at that point. A, the most important one was the announcement of the Biden investigation.

HB:

Wow.

Rachel Maddow:

What do you think is the main inaccuracy or the main lie that’s being told that you feel like you can correct?

Lev Parnas:

That the president didn’t know what was going on. President Trump knew exactly what was going on. He was aware of all of my movements. I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president. I have no intent, I have no reason to speak to any of these officials. I mean, they have no reason to speak to me. Why would President Zelensky’s inner circle or Administer [Vochov 00:05:04], or all these people, or President Poroshenko meet with me? Who am I?

Rachel Maddow:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Lev Parnas:

They were told to meet with me and that’s the secret that they’re trying to keep. I was on the ground doing their work.

HB:

Well, that is pretty definitive, huh? So grain of salt there. Parnas was arrested in October for alleged campaign finance violations and chose to flip, apparently after the president went on TV and claimed not to know him after Parnas was already in the clink. So it’s probably not like he’s saying all of this out of a love of the constitution or whatever, but the documents for the most part backup his story. The House, on Wednesday, released more nuggets of knowledge taken from Parnas’s home and phone after his arrest, including texts and iMessages, WhatsApp messages and voicemails. The net effect, a sharper look than ever at how the only way he and Giuliani were able to make the connections they did in trying to track down dirt on Joe and Hunter Biden was through using the President’s name.

Okay, that was the news, this was the noise. When signing the engrossment, Pelosi did a thing that’s normal for DC weirdos like me and super strange to apparently most of the rest of the country. She used an assortment of pens to affix her signature. Pelosi then proceeded to hand out those pins as keepsakes to commemorate this historic moment. It’s something you see presidents do when signing major legislation into law. But from the way Twitter exploded, you’d think she had stabbed a baby with one of those pens and then scribbled all over the Declaration of Independence with another. And there was immediately some scoffs out there about the doling out of memorabilia given the Democrats previous messaging, this was a sad, somber, overall depressing time for the country. To that I say, nah, we’ve kind of got bigger problems. And now we have today’s reading from our Nixometer.

On our scale a zero is a normal day in a normal White House and 10 is President Richard Nixon resigning and flying away in Marine One. And this morning we’re at an 8.2. Things are mad tense right now and starting next week a lot of people are going to be tuning into impeachment for the first time in weeks if, you know, ever. It’s a trial, it’s live almost daily and it’s a big deal. So we’ll see how things swing over the next however long this thing lasts.

Okay, after the break we talk to Politico’s, Darren Samuelson about Trump’s defenders in the coming weeks. Stay put or continue your commute. Just keep listening, please.

Hayes Brown:

All right. It is time for, This Fucking Guy. It’s where we zoom in on a person, place or thing that’s shaping the impeachment. Today it’s a bevy of guys, all of whom will be serving as the president’s defense team during the Senate trial that’s now getting underway. Joining us via phone from DC to dive into who these guys are and their strategy is Politico reporter Darren Samuelson. Hello Darren.

Darren Sammuels:

Thanks for having me.

HB:

So let’s get this out of the way early. Rudy Giuliani, will he be taking part in the Senate trial like he clearly wants to do?

DS:

Short answer is, no, he will not be anywhere near the Capitol, according to everyone that I’m speaking with, as much as he would like to be there. And I guess he could show up like any member of the public and sit in the visitor gallery or talk to reporters in the hallway outside, but the word I’m hearing is there will be no Rudy on the floor defending the president. I’m sure he’ll be on Fox and other places, so doing the Rudy thing, but actually officially defending the president, the answer is, no.

HB:

Okay, so just who then will be taking the lead in the defense of the president?

DS:

The person we’re going to see the most of, besides obviously the president who will be defending himself on Twitter, will be Pat Cipollone, the White House Counsel. That is a job that we might remember was held by Don McGahn, to start the Trump administration. Mr McGahn, being of course a front and center witness in the Mueller investigation and the obstruction of justice probe. But Pat Cipollone, came on board at the end of 2018 replacing Don McGahn. He has been there throughout all of last year defending the president, fighting back against the oversight that the Democrats have had and Pat Cipollone has drawn the card to lead the defense of President Trump here at the trial. That means he’ll be delivering the opening arguments from the defense. When his turn is up, that will come after the House Impeachment Managers have presented their case. So he’ll get here on the Senate floor, watch house impeachment managers first go through the articles of impeachment and then Cipollone will come along.

DS:

He’s a corporate lawyer. He is someone who has known Trump world since the 2016 campaign. He was introduced through Laura Ingraham, they have a longer friendship that we could discuss that goes back quite a bit. Mr Cipollone is a devout Catholic who introduced Laura Ingraham to Catholicism. Mr Cipollone’s daughter actually does work for Laura Ingraham’s show, so they do have a relationship that’s pretty tight. Way back in the day during the George H W Bush administration, in that last year as Bill Clinton was running against him, Mr Cipollone was an advisor to the. Attorney General of the United States, a gentleman by the name of William Barr.

HB:

Oh gosh.

DS:

So they have a relationship as well with the current attorney general that goes back quite a bit.

HB:

So is that normal to have the White House Counsel so out front an impeachment trial? I mean, as if normal’s a really big sample size here. I thought that the White House Counsel was the White House’s lawyer for the office, not the individual.

DS:

No, it’s not unusual. In the Bill Clinton impeachment trial, the White House Counsel, Charles Ruff, did deliver the opening defense of President Bill Clinton, and in fact the other two lawyers that came from the White House Counsel’s office to defend President Clinton was a gentleman by the name of Greg Craig, who you might know recently survived Justice Department prosecution and was acquitted last year over some lobbying work that he did in the Ukraine or alleged lobbying work that was boiled up and wrapped up into the Robert Mueller probe and his ties to Paul Manafort. So way back in the Clinton trial, Greg Craig was an associate counsel and he was on the floor defending Bill Clinton, as was Cheryl Mills, who was a very close, now we know her more recently as being an advisor to Bill, excuse me, to Hillary Clinton.

DS:

But in 1999 you had this combination, a hybrid of White House lawyers who did represent the presidency, the executive office of the president, but that nonetheless brought them to the Senate floor. And then Bill Clinton did have his personal counsel, David Kendall, who was also on the floor defending Bill Clinton, the man and not the president, but they tag teamed him and I think we’re going to see the exact same thing here where Pat Cipollone will be handling things, but also Jay Sekulow.

HB:

That’s a great transition. What can you tell our listeners about Jay Sekulow, and his part in the defense? Because it’s a name that some people might recognize, but I’m guessing not a lot.

DS:

Yeah, anyone who’s been living in this world, like myself, and anyone who’s sort of been enmeshed in the Mueller investigation previously or had been following the Trump presidency knows Jay Sekulow. He’s a conservative attorney who made a name for himself fighting on a first amendment religious rights cases, I think about a dozen cases before the Supreme Court, is something that he boasts of having. And Mr Sekulow came on board, I think it was summer of 2017 as one of the early personal counsels for the president during the Muller probe. It was only weeks after the Muller probe started and after Rod Rosenstein had appointed Mueller, was Jay Sekulow hired as a personal counsel. You saw him stumble very early on, on television doing some of the early defenses of the president then and he has nonetheless remained president’s TV lawyer, the other TV lawyer besides Rudy Giuliani, and Sekulow has, in the world of conservative radio he is widely known. He has a radio show that you can listen to at noon eastern standard time.

DS:

And consistently, Jay Sekulow has been defending the president on his radio show. I mean, it’s awkward in that the president’s lawyer has a radio show. His son, Jordan Sekulow often cohost the show or hosts it as a guest host because his father is off doing business defending the president United States in a personal capacity. That’s where Sekulow has been for the last two years. He’s credited with helping keep Donald Trump from being nailed with a perjury charge and the Mueller investigation because Donald Trump didn’t have to sit under oath the way Bill Clinton did in the Monica Lewinsky, Paula Jones investigation. Sekulow and Rudy, for that matter, were able to get Trump to only answer written questions in the Mueller investigation,

HB:

And even then, apparently he might not have told the full truth per the Muller report, which is a whole other ball of wax.

DS:

It is, yeah.

HB:

Are there any one-on-one matchups that you’re looking out for between, I guess, the defense and members of the house managers? We don’t know for sure as of the time we’re recording, but could be an interesting matchup.

DS:

Yeah, I mean, suddenly anytime Adam Schiff, who I think will have a prominent role to play, someone who the Trump team has really kind of hammered on a personal level. They’ve really done everything they can to demean him, add nicknames too. And I think anytime you have Schiff going up against Cipollone or Sekulow for that matter, that’s going to be maybe the most fascinating dynamic to watch. The way that I’ve been reporting this, is what the Trump team said was that they could handle whomever the House Democrats throw at them, whether it be a Val Demings, a former sheriff from Florida or an Adam Schiff or a Jerry Nadler. They’re kind of ready and I don’t know that they are going to adjust based on who they’re dealing with. There’s a possibility that Justin Amash, impeachment manager and what that dynamic could play out.

DS:

I guess maybe more than anything or think about the fact that the Trump lawyers sat out the entire House impeachment process. They chose not to send any representatives to those hearings, to the debate. And so this will really be the first time they will have an opportunity to square off.

HB:

Right.

DS:

So, really it doesn’t matter who the Democrat is and I’m sure if it’s Schiff, that’ll be fascinating to watch. If it’s Nadler, who doesn’t quite have the same TV presence necessarily that Schiff does, it’s going to be fascinating to watch any of them. And maybe it’s not going to be great TV and maybe it’s going to be more exciting for the lawyer, legal-

HB:

Us nerds. Yes, you can say it.

DS:

Us lawyer nerds who do live and breathe by this stuff. And there have been sufficient warnings already kind of been coming out from people who remember the Clinton trial, that it was dry and the networks were quickly looking to scramble and cut away after the first couple of days and hours. But this is democracy in action and so I’ll be enjoying it, I’ll tell you that much.

HB:

So last question. Are there any wildcards? There’s been talk about having maybe GOP members of the House defend the president in the Senate, which says all sorts of things about the separation of power, but we won’t get into that. So, Jim Jordan, may haps, will he be on the Senate floor?

DS:

Yeah, that is a great question. There has been a lot of talk of that happening. I think the president really doesn’t want the Jim Jordan’s of the world, or John Ratliff, who nearly got the intelligence job and then that didn’t happen, congressman from Texas, former federal prosecutor. I think it’s possible you can see a couple, maybe one or two House members on the floor. I think that the Senate Republicans do not want that to happen. They would prefer to sort of have this official process without the firebrands of the House Republicans. Another wildcard is Alan Dershowitz, the constitutional retired Harvard lawyer and frequent Trump Fox TV defender. There is still talk that, that could happen and I think it wouldn’t be surprising to see that. There is a comparable here and it wasn’t Alan Dershowitz, but in the Clinton trial they did have a ringer at the very end, Dale Bumpers, who had recently retired as a, he had just left the Senate.

DS:

He was an Arkansas Democratic Senator. He was well known by his colleagues and Bill Clinton, hired him without really paying him, and he delivered the final closing argument to his former colleagues in the Senate. Bumpers had gone way back with Bill Clinton to the days of Clinton as governor and really tried to sort of draw a personal connection for what they were about to do in terms of voting to remove a president from office. And so I don’t know the Dershowitz has that background and that history with Donald Trump, but that is someone who understands the constitution. He’s got some controversial arguments that he has made, including that the Supreme Court could toss out this case, which is something we’ve heard Rudy Giuliani say. Watch for Dershowitz. I think the idea of a West Wing TV moment where Donald Trump jumps in the car and comes on up to the Capitol and storms onto the Senate floor, that’s probably not going to happen but it could. So that’s why we have to watch.

HB:

Yes, and we will be watching very closely. And Darren, thank you so much for giving us all this prep on what to look out for. I really appreciate you taking the time.

DS:

Thanks for having me.

HB:

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. So, you might be wondering why at the top of the show I said that today is day one of Trump’s trial, but Hayes, you say, there was nobody presenting evidence or yelling objection, or looking to Benson and Stabler with worried eyes or anything a trial is supposed to look like. Well sorry, we are definitely in the trial portion now. Just doing some housekeeping first. That’s what today is going to be for, getting things all set up in terms of what the legal profession calls the boring parts. That includes the stuff we’ve been mentioning throughout the week, including swearing everyone in, sending the president a summons to answer the charges and other assorted miscellanea. Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, has said that the Senate will vote on the format of the first part of the trial on Tuesday following the MLK day holiday on Monday, because fate of democracy or not, they are not losing that long weekend. All right, that’s it for today’s edition of Trial Watch 2020.

All right, that is it for today. Tomorrow we’ve got a real humdinger of a show for you as we’re going to dive deep on the guy at the very beating heart of this whole impeachment shebang. 45th president of these United States, Donald John Trump. We’ll be talking about him and how this little impeachment thing is affecting his reelection campaign. Be short subscribed to Impeachment Today on the the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you go to hear my disembodied voice. And please leave us a rating and a review, please. Also tell your friends about the show as we all figure this out together.

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