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) — Acting as prosecutors in the fight to remove President Trump from office, House lawmakers used opening arguments to tackle an array of topics, including Rudy Giuliani’s now-indicted associate Lev Parnas and the 2016 server hack on Democratic National Committee.
Capitol Hill chimed in on these points for this debut installment of a Courthouse News regular feature.
President Trump’s attorney Jay Sekulow, Near the Capitol Subway
Exactly one week before the arrests of Rudy Giuliani’s associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, President Trump’s attorney Jay Sekulow sent an email personally signing off on criminal defense counsel for the soon-to-be-indicted duo. Asked about this email near the Capitol subway during Trump’s trial, Sekulow snapped: “Yeah, well, it’s called professional responsibility and ethics. That’s how you do it. Next question.”
Pressed in a follow-up question about whether he conceded Trump knew the men, Sekulow waxed indignant:
“No, let me be crystal clear: Lawyers — When another lawyer asks you about representation, it doesn’t mean your client knows the person or doesn’t know the person. It’s a question under the Code of Professional Responsibility, how do you respond. You know what was significant in that email? Nothing. It was a response that you give as a lawyer when another lawyer asked you about the matter, because [Trump’s former attorney] John Dowd, remember, represented the president. That’s why you have representation issues that you make sure to comply with ethics. So that’s the end of that question.”
[Editor’s Note: In an Oct. 2 email, Sekulow told Trump’s former attorney John Dowd: “The President consents to allowing your representation of Mr. Parnas and Mr. Furman [sic].” Both men would be arrested one week later.]
Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Near the Capitol Subway
Responding to testimony from ex-National Security Council official Fiona Hill that such theories smack of Russian disinformation, Senator Graham splashed cold water on a premise floated by President Trump that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that hacked the DNC server.
“About the Russian disinformation, that’s something that we should all be concerned about. When Rudy’s running around in Ukraine, people are providing: ‘Hey, let me tell you what they did.’ Everything should go through the intel community because the Russians are trying to blame the Ukrainians and everybody else. I get that. This idea that the server’s in Ukraine. I don’t buy that for a bit. Crowdstrike, that’s got internet lore to it. It was the Russians who hacked into the DNC.”
[White House records quote President Trump as having asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the discredited theory about Crowdstrike, a California-based cybersecurity company, during the leaders’ now-infamous July 25 phone call.]
Senator Mike Braun, R-Ind.: Near the Capitol Subway
Shown a photograph of him smiling in between Rudy Giuliani and his now-indicted associate Lev Parnas, Indiana Senator Mike Braun deadpanned: “Yeah, isn’t that something?” Braun offered some of the backstory behind the picture in a media stakeout.
“So, Rudy was invited into a campaign stop. I’d never met Rudy before, for 15 minutes. Then, you got, it looks like Lev and his sidekick [Igor Fruman] were good buddies of Rudy. And Rudy looks like he’s very cosmopolitan. So, yes, I didn’t even know about that until it shows up. If you want to make a big deal about that, you can, but I know it has no substance.”
[Editor’s Note: Braun asserted that the meeting happened during a campaign stop in his home state. “That’s one of the things,” he said, “you never know when you’re going to get a surprise like that.”]
Senator Tim Kaine, D-Va., Near the Capitol Subway
The Trump-Zelensky call occurred on July 25, just one day after special counsel Robert Mueller testified before Congress. Defending the Democrats’ speedy pursuit of impeachment after a rough transcript of the call was released, Senator Tim Kaine raised the hypothetical analogy.
“How many of us have been pulled over by a cop and said, ‘You’re speeding, but I’m giving you a warning this time.’ That’s happened to me once. When that happens to you, you then drive off really slowly. You drive off and you show: ‘I’m listening to you.’ You do not floor it and squeal rubber just in front of the state trooper. And when the president gets the warning — ‘You cannot do this’ — and guess what? You ducked a bullet. We can’t find that you did it, but you cannot do it. And then, the next day, the next day after the Mueller testimony? Once that happened, and of course, the next day is the July 25th phone call with Zelensky and of course, the House didn’t know about it until September. None of us knew about it because they hid it from us, but once that was put on the table publicly, I think the die was cast.”
[Editor’s Note: Kaine was former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s running mate in the 2016 presidential election.]
Senator Graham, Near the Reporter ‘Pen’
Breaking for dinner, Graham ran up to a gaggle of penned reporters just outside the Senate floor. The reporters asked about Graham’s comments this past October about calling Joe and Hunter Biden as trial witnesses.
“I want to judge them based on the evidence combined, but I do find it a bit rich, when one of the managers said, ‘There’s not one witness here who suggests Hunter Biden hasn’t done anything wrong,’” Graham said. “And there never will be if you can’t call them. They asked for Hunter Biden in the House and they said no. But I don’t want to litigate that before the United States Senate. … I like Joe Biden, this man has been through a lot of tragic events in his life, I have no desire to turn the United States Senate into a circus, but having said that, I’m a Republican from South Carolina. … I can’t go home and say that we should just ignore what happened in the Ukraine because I like Joe Biden.”
Senator Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., Outside the Senate Floor
Alexander hasn’t said where he would land if a vote to call additional witnesses came up in the Senate, but speaking to reporters outside the Senate floor Thursday, Alexander said he’d reserve judgment for the trial’s end.
“My impression is we’ve done a good job of giving House managers an opportunity to present the case. I think they’ve done a good job in presenting the case. But I think my goal was that the House was a circus, the Senate has a constitutional duty to hear the case, hear the arguments, hear the president’s lawyers and ask our questions, to consider the answers, to review the record. As House managers have said, they’ve offered a mountain of overwhelming evidence, so we have a lot to consider. I think if the American people are watching they’ll see the United States Senate taking this very seriously, allowing a fair trial and we’ll see what the result is at the end. I’m listening to the arguments and I’ll make my judgment at the end.”
Reporting by Adam Klasfeld and Jack Rodgers