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.

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WASHINGTON (CN) — Every previous day of the Senate impeachment trial, the only people asking questions were the reporters peppering elected officials and newsmakers in the halls.

On Wednesday, it was the senators’ turn — at least in the chamber.

Everywhere else in the Capitol, the officials assumed their traditional roles of answering press inquiries. Joining them today were other prominent newsmakers making their debut appearance in Trump’s impeachment trial – Rudy Giuliani’s now-indicted associate Lev Parnas and his attorney Joseph Bondy.

11:32 p.m., Senator Mitt Romney, R-Utah, While Exiting the Capitol

A closely watched vote on whether the Senate will hear from additional witnesses, Romney told reporters he is not satisfied with the White House’s answer to a question he posed earlier in the day on when the hold on Ukraine military assistance began.

“I’d like more information than they were apparently able to give, given the fact that that information was not in the record.”

11:13 p.m., Senator Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., While Exiting the Capitol

Stabenow took issue with Deputy White House Counsel Patrick Philbin’s argument Wednesday night that simply getting information from a foreign source and using it to influence a U.S. election is not a violation of  campaign finance laws.

“I know that we hear so much and everything now seems like nothing because the president will say anything and there’s such a low bar, but that is illegal. What the White House has now said in the well of the United States Senate is the standard for them, in terms of the president taking information from another country.”

11:10 p.m., Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., While Exiting the Capitol

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Warren said the White House impeachment arguments boil down to one concept — corruption.

“I think that we’re talking about corruption here and everyone on the Republican side is trying to do a shining up —” the Democratic presidential hopeful paused, searching for the end of her thought.

“This is corruption.”

7:16 p.m., Senator John Thune, R-S.D., on the Second Floor of the Capitol

Chief Justice John Roberts has reportedly told senators he would not read aloud the name of the person Republicans have said is the whistleblower whose complaint kicked off the impeachment proceedings. 

This has prevented Senator Rand Paul from posing one of his questions. The Kentucky Republican told reporters who asked about the question that “it’s still an ongoing process. It may happen tomorrow.” 

Thune, the Senate Republican whip, said he did not think a question outing the whistleblower would make it through. 

“You know, I mean, we’ve got members who, as you all have already determined, I think, who have interest in questions related to the whistleblower, but I suspect that won’t happen. I don’t think that happens. And I guess I would hope that it doesn’t.”

7:12 p.m., Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on the Second Floor of the Capitol 

Graham told Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer not to quit his day job after the New York Democrat made a proclamation about the unity of the Republican caucus.  

“I was just told and I may be wrong — so correct me if I am — that Senator Schumer made a statement that he did not believe there were enough votes in the Republican conference to call Hunter Biden if we started calling witnesses. He’s very good at Democratic politics. He’s a lousy Republican whip.”

6:57 p.m., Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Near the Capitol Subway

CNS: The New York Times reporter that you mentioned earlier: His name’s James Risen. Are you aware that James Risen completely contradicted what you’re saying saying – that he said, commenting on this article, that his words have been twisted?

CRUZ: It’s not surprising to see the press engaged in situational ethics right now. One of the reasons that the American people, I think, have lost trust in a lot of the press is because so many of the press are desperately just repeating whatever the Democratic narrative is. The headline in that New York Times story talked about the vice president, his son and prosecuting a corrupt Ukrainian company. And then the New York Times reported the fact that that the prosecutor was investigating [the Ukrainian gas company] Burisma. [Editor’s note: The Times reported that British authorities were investigating Burisma, not Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin, as Trump’s team has it.] Now, I get today the media wants to pretend none of that existed. But if you look at Burisma…

CNS: What was Congress doing back then, senator?

[Editor’s note: When the Times story on Burisma ran in 2015, Cruz was a member of the Republican-controlled Senate, which took no action to investigate. Dogged follow-up coverage by media outlets found that Hunter Biden’s actions, while arguably unseemly, did not involve criminal misconduct. Senators who ignored the issue half a decade ago have made the Bidens’ alleged misconduct a centerpiece of Trump’s defense.]

CRUZ: (Ignoring the question) By the way, Burisma was a company that was through and through corrupt. If you look at how Burisma was founded, the oligarch that founded Burisma was, at the time, the sitting energy minister of Ukraine. So he granted gas licenses to his own company, and got incredibly rich through corruption. Now why is that relevant? Because a everybody knew Burisma was corrupt. This was common knowledge. It was such common knowledge that Chris Heinz, the stepson of John Kerry, terminated doing business with Hunter Biden, and with Devon Archer, his college roommate, because when they went on the board of Burisma, and were taking a million bucks apiece, he said: It’s unacceptable to work for Burisma.  John Kerry’s son-in-law could tell that but yet at the same time, Joe Biden was perfectly happy to remain the decision maker on Ukraine policy.

[Editor’s note: Former Times reporter James Risen’s reflections on his 2015 story can be read here.]

6:48 p.m., Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Ct., Near the Capitol Subway

(CNS photo/CHRISTINE STUART)

During the impeachment trial this afternoon, a Trump campaign aide retweeted the identity of the alleged whistleblower, and multiple senators demanded to know more information about that person. Told about this incident, Blumenthal emphasized such conduct would not be tolerated on the floor of the Senate.

CNS: Earlier today on Twitter, a Trump campaign official identified the alleged whistleblower. If someone tried to do that in the Senate, would you guys have recourse to kind of ask, Chief Justice Roberts to step in and penalize that action?

BLUMENTHAL: I think, a disclosure of a whistleblower would contain legal issues. On the floor of the Senate, there would be some degree of immunity. Certainly under our ethics rules, there will be potential consequences. And I would ask the chief justice to immediately intervene and perhaps apply sanctions. It would be unprecedented. It would be unprecedented for anyone to disclose the identity of the whistleblower on the floor of the Senate. I don’t anticipate any of my colleagues [doing that].

6:38 p.m., Senator Chris Coons, D-Del., on the Second Floor of the Capitol

A member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and sporting a degree from Yale Law School, Coons explained why he does not believe Senators Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney gave themselves an out with their opening question asking what they should do if they believe Trump had a mixture of motives in pressing for the investigations central to impeachment. 

“If you listen to the House managers’ reply, there are comparable circumstances in the criminal law where a mixed-motives analysis doesn’t get you off the hook. The fact that you are asking with corrupt intent and corrupt motives still leads to a conviction. I don’t think it is the get out of jail free card, or off ramp, or hat that they can hang their hat on that some might have hoped for.”

4:03 p.m., Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Second Floor, Reporter Pen

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, walks with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., right, on Wednesday in Washington. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Courthouse News asked Senator Gillibrand what she thought of the seeming contradiction between the White House’s argument that the House should have tried to vindicate its impeachment subpoenas in court and the Justice Department’s argument that courts should stay out of a fight over a separate House subpoena for former White House Counsel Don McGahn.

“Unfortunately, it is very intentional by the president. He doesn’t want to reveal any documents from any witnesses and they’re resting their views on accommodation is also, I think, disingenuous because they could have had accommodation for any witnesses or documents until now. But what they did was create a blanket statement that they have absolute immunity. Absolute immunity has not held up in the court. Immunity is not a settled privilege, it’s actually one that has not found a legal basis. I think we could, after this process look at how we could improve the impeachment process, specifically this issue of fake privilege. No one has an absolute privilege. … It’s so absurd, and I hope the House starts it, and we will finish it.”

3:12 p.m., Lev Parnas and Joseph Bondy, at the Steps of the Capitol

Currently awaiting trial in the Southern District of New York, Lev Parnas has faced questions about the credibility of his allegations against major figures in the Trump White House. When asked that question, his legal team often refers to the corroborating evidence. Both Parnas and his lawyer Bondy tackled the issue head-on below.

While waiting for an elevator inside the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, Lev Parnas and his attorney Joseph Bondy took questions from dozens of reporters who tracked them down on Wednesday.
(CNS Photo/Adam Klasfeld)

REPORTER 1: Why should we trust you?

PARNAS: You don’t have to trust me. You can trust the documents.

REPORTER 2: Are there any more documents or videos or—

BONDY: Let me speak to trust for a second: I don’t see anyone else from the president’s camp standing here and talking to you. I don’t see any of them attempting to be a witness, attempting to be placed under oath, cooperating and providing information. And I note that the information that was provided, the documentary evidence, the facts of the case, that corroborate everything that Mr. Parnas was saying…In terms of trust, that’s how you weigh a witness at a real trial. Take their testimony. You listen to it. You look at the evidence that you have, and then the jury decides.

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11:40 a.m., Senator Tim Kaine, D-Va., in the Senate Studio After the Democrats’ Morning Press Conference

Four 2020 Democratic candidates were called off the 2020 campaign trial for the Senate impeachment trial: Senators Michael Bennet, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders and Elizebth Warren. Senator Kaine, who ran on the 2016 presidential ticket with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, weighed in Wednesday on how it will impact the senators turned jurors run for the White House.

Senator Tim Kaine speaks to reporters on Jan. 23, 2020. (CNS Photo/Adam Klasfeld)

“There’s no more sacred duty than this. I mean, an impeachment trial and a war vote are the two most sacred things that the Article I branch does. And they may be candidates for an Article II position but they’re Article I senators, doing the most important thing that the Constitution vests in the United States Senate right now. And so, it’s an inconvenience, etc. But you know, we’re only here because the times demand that we be here.”

Kaine said he does not anticipate voters will be swayed by Bennet, Klobuchar, Sanders and Warren disappearing from the campaign trial.

“I don’t think voters are going to hold it against people that they were here doing the most important thing that constitution asked them to do.”

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Reporting by Adam Klasfeld, Megan Mineiro & Tim Ryan

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