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Heard in the Halls: Impeachment Trial Scenes

As President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial unfolds, Courthouse News will be gathering interviews with senators, members of Congress, attorneys and other newsmakers in the corridors of the Capitol for this regular feature.

As President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial unfolds, Courthouse News will be gathering interviews with senators, members of Congress, attorneys and other newsmakers in the corridors of the Capitol for this regular feature.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Both inside and outside Capitol Hill, President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial picked up pace Friday. House Democrats wrapped up opening arguments as news broke of a recording tying the commander-in-chief to former Guiliani associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.

The report left Republicans unsettled, as Trump has denied knowing both men since their arrest in October.

On Capitol Hill, senators sounded off on topics including the president’s expected defense, the realities of being a juror in a marathon impeachment trial and a breaking story about “take her out,” the command Trump allegedly said of the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch in a conversation with the now-indicted Parnas and Fruman.

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9:05 p.m. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Senate Halls After Schiff’s Closing Argument

Lead House manager Adam Schiff appeared to lose GOP senators midway through his closing argument Friday night when he referenced reports that the White House had told Republicans that if they turn against Trump at trial they would end up with their “head on a pike.” Durbin disagreed. 

“Well, that's one of the worst kept secrets in Washington is what this White House and this president will do to someone who crosses him, and he's made that clear from day one. I mean I've been told by those close to the president he’ll hit ya back twice as hard as you hit him. So, you know that that is no surprise.”

The Democrat Whip said he thought Schiff gave a masterful closing. 

“As a lawyer, he [Schiff] understands he doesn't get the last word. So he went through this inventory of defenses that you would expect to hear and checked off all the boxes. So, I thought it was a powerful piece.”

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7:01 pm Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., on the Second Floor of the Capitol Just off the Senate Chamber

Alexander, considered a possible swing vote in the debate over whether the Senate will hear from additional witnesses, offered a historical lesson to the House Democrats acting as prosecutors in Trump's impeachment trial. 

“I was thinking about the advice that Senator Everett Dirksen once gave to his son-in-law, Senator [Howard] Baker, when he made an overly long maiden speech on the Senate floor. He said, ‘Howard, occasionally you might enjoy the luxury of an unexpressed thought.’ I thought that might be good advice for the House managers."

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6:58 pm John Thune, R-South Dakota on the Second Floor of the Capitol Just off the Senate Chamber 

Thune said his conversations with Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski at Republican breakfasts prior to the daily Senate impeachment trial have bounced between light and substantive conversation. The Senate Republican whip said the strength of the president’s defense will be important, saying attorneys need to “come out of the gate strong.” 

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“I think they need to make good arguments. I think our people are looking for that and are eager to hear the president’s side of the story, which again, will start tomorrow. We’ll look forward to that and then the interactive part of it next week and then we’ll get to the question of witnesses at some point.”

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6:49 pm John Cornyn, R-Texas, on the Second Floor of the Capitol Just off the Senate Chamber

Cornyn said the marathon presentation from the House managers has left him with questions he would like to see President Trump’s defense team answer. The proceedings have also given the former Texas Supreme Court justice a chance to work out the bindings of the history books in search of guidance on impeachment. 

"Part of the problem is that I think we’ve had 19 impeachments in American history and you try to look at precedents. Some of them are very old and things I think that the country’s evolved and our system of laws have evolved. Some of them involve judges and not presidents and I think a lot of considerations, particularly on separation of powers grounds, are different. So it’s too bad we have to do this, but it’s fascinating.”

[Editor's note: President Trump's is the 20th impeachment in U.S. history.]

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3:46 p.m. Senator Mike Braun, R-Ind., Second Floor of the Senate Chamber

When asked about the prospect of censuring Trump if the Senate does not vote to remove him from office, Braun dismissed the idea, saying he first heard it yesterday from reporters staked out in the halls of the Capitol.

“I think in general that’s because there’s a feeling maybe that the case is not going to be made here that we’re hearing now. And I think once you hear the president’s team, I think it’s going to be compelling on some of the counterpoints and then, well, do you censure as opposed to — if there’s an acquittal do you go to a censure? No, I think this is the main act and I don’t think there would be any appetite from any Republican for that.”

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3:35 p.m.: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Second Floor of the Senate Chambers

“There's a lot of information that needs to be followed up. I want to specifically ask about the video that has been released today because President Trump — yeah, recording — President Trump said that he didn't know Lev Parnas, and obviously he's in a conversation with him about taking out one of his ambassadors.

“It just proves another lie by President Trump, and so I hope that we can get access to this recording, and I think it's supposed to be a video, that's what I heard. But we obviously have a right to that information, hopefully we'll have access to it and hopefully can be presented in this trial.”

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12:48 p.m.: Representative Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, Near the Capitol Subway

“This was a year ago. I mean, a year and a half ago. This was like 2018, and the President was wanting to recall Ambassador Yovanovitch, which he did, he subsequently did a year later, which is, you know, totally allowed to do.”

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12:35 p.m.: Senator Chris Coons, D-Del., Near the Capitol Subway

Q: Do you want to hear that recording?

A: Yes, I want to hear the recording. Yes, it’s relevant, and given the arguments made by the House managers yesterday, I think it’s more important.

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12:25 p.m.: Senator Ron Johnson, R-Wis., Near the Capitol Subway

Q: The recording apparently shows President Trump saying of Marie Yovanovitch: “Take her out.” Is this the way the president of the United States should be speaking about a U.S. ambassador?

A: I’m someone from Wisconsin. I’m not a New Yorker.

Q: I don’t know what that means, Senator.

A: Just totally different styles. The American people elected President Trump, and they knew who President Trump was and they understood his style.

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12:13 p.m.: Senator Tim Kaine, D-Va., Near the Capitol Subway 

An explosive report by ABC News quoted from a recording that appeared to show President Trump saying, in the presence of Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, “Take her out,” referring to Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.

Generally, Democrats demanded to examine the tape, and Republicans quickly downplayed the new.

“We’ve got Rudy Giuliani saying I got rid of her, and now there’s a tape apparently that apparently has President Trump saying: ‘Take her out.’ And then months after she has been recalled, and months after she’s been terminated, President Trump is telling the Ukrainian president: ‘She’s going to go through some things.’ I want to know why she was smeared. I want to know why she was fired, and I want to know why she was threatened. And I’m entitled to know that and the American public is too.”

[Editor’s Note: Asked later whether to subpoena the tape, Kaine replied: “The decisions on subpoenas are being made by Democratic leadership, but I would certainly recommend we do.”]

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12:01 p.m.: Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Maneuvering Tight Senate Hallways With a Crowd of Reporters 

Senators have grown restless as the trial drags on. In Graham’s case, reporters have spotted him slipping in and out of the Senate chamber, such as Thursday when House managers rolled tape of arguments he offered in the same role during the 1999 Clinton impeachment trial.

When asked about his jaunts, Graham blamed an uncooperative stomach and warned reporters not to get too close.

"I have been sick as a dog. I've spent more time in the bathroom than I normally do.

“If I had known I was coming up I would have stayed to watch. ... Nobody likes watching me more than me."

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Graham told reporters he still believes impeachment does not need to be a crime from a strictly legal perspective, though impeaching a president without alleging a crime means those seeking to remove a sitting president need to grapple with both matters of law and matters of politics.

"I think I've lost hair. I think I look 15. I think it's fair game. I still believe it.

“So this is where maybe me and [Trump attorney Alan] Dershowitz will depart. I believe that high crimes and misdemeanors can literally be anything people want it to be. It's a vague term and the problem is when there's no statutory violation, it becomes more political.

“This will be the first impeachment where there's no crime alleged. Nixon was involved in a criminal conspiracy to cover up a burglary and to pay people off. Clinton, whether you agreed with it or not, what he did — lost his law license and got disbarred for five years. So in this case there is no statutory crime. They're making the argument that you can abuse power without criminal misconduct. I actually agree with that conception, but the problem is that when you do that, you run into all the arguments we're making here."

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President Donald Trump was in Davos, Switzerland, this week at the World Economic Forum when his Senate impeachment trial got underway. Back in Washington on Wednesday, the president got on the phone with Graham.

Asked by reporters what Trump’s takeaway was so far from the historic proceedings that have stretched late into the night, Graham said:

“He’s bored.

“He didn't like what they say about him and I said I don't blame him. He said he thought Schiff did a bad job. I said ‘No, I thought that he actually did a pretty good job.’ I thought he actually, you know, took the evidence and wove the coherent story. Now we'll see.

“You know, I think he's been articulate. I think all of them have quite frankly. I think Nadler kind of got off to a rough start but I don't hate these people.”

When reporters pressed for more information on Trump’s state of mind, specifically how the president responded when Graham said Schiff did a good job, the senator tapered off.

“[Trump] said ‘I guess so.’ I said ‘I’m talking about from just presenting,’ and he said ‘Yeah.’”

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Reporting by MEGAN MINEIRO, ADAM KLASFELD & TIM RYAN

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