A recording of President Trump saying “take her out,” in an apparent reference to the American ambassador to Ukraine, Marie L. Yovanovitch, has emerged, ABC News reported on Friday.
According to ABC News, the recording dates to spring 2018, when Mr. Trump and two associates of his private lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani were dining at the Trump International Hotel in Washington.
“Get rid of her” says the voice that appears to be Mr. Trump, according to the ABC report. “Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. O.K.? Do it.”
One of the associates at the dinner, Lev Parnas, who is under federal indictment, said in an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that Mr. Trump ordered Ms. Yovanovitch removed at the dinner. ABC did not air the recording, but it said it had reviewed it.
A new voice recording of Mr. Trump like this could generate more calls from Democrats for additional witnesses to be called in the impeachment trial and for new evidence to be sought. The Senate appears likely to consider next week whether to call more witnesses, with nearly all Republicans opposed. The Senate has long been expected to acquit Mr. Trump.
House Democrats will rest their case on Friday and, despite bipartisan praise for their presentation, it does not appear to have accomplished its chief objective of persuading enough Republicans that they need to hear from live witnesses and see withheld documents.
Both Republicans and Democrats said that the seven Democratic impeachment managers had done a commendable job, singling out Representative Adam B. Schiff, the lead prosecutor, in particular. But even Democrats were not optimistic there had been a breakthrough.
“Mr. Schiff was phenomenal,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, “but I’m skeptical he moved any votes.”
Many Republicans simply said they had heard enough — and heard it over and over.
“It became mind-numbing after a while,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina.”
“We have heard plenty,” said Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, the No. 3 Senate Republican.
Those two would never have voted for witnesses in any regard. And the jury is still out on whether the other senators considered in play — Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee — would join with Democrats.
But the increasing expectation in the Senate on Friday was that a vote sometime next week to call witnesses would fall short, moving the trial into its end game.
President Trump’s White House lawyers will begin their defense of the president at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, announced at the start of proceedings Friday afternoon.
The early start will give the White House legal team more time to begin making its case on Saturday, though it is not clear whether that will happen. Mr. McConnell said only that he expected the proceeding to go “for several hours” on Saturday. And Jay Sekulow, one of the president’s lawyers, has been cagey about how many hours his team would use to defend Mr. Trump.
One thing is clear: The president would prefer his defense be presented during the week, when more people are watching. In an early morning tweet, Mr. Trump said Saturdays are “Death Valley” for television.
With President Trump’s acquittal all but certain, Republican leaders have narrowed their focus to one overriding strategic goal: ensuring that the Senate does not vote in favor of calling new witnesses or allowing in evidence that could prolong the impeachment trial and scramble the ultimate outcome.
In the hallways of the Capitol, Republican senators were trying out at least a half dozen arguments, all of them apparently aimed at a handful of fellow Republicans who have expressed openness to gathering additional evidence. Here’s a look at some of their most common refrains:
A vote for witnesses would surely result in a protracted legal fight to secure testimony, prolonging the trial and paralyzing the government indefinitely.
Calling witnesses now would reward the House for rushing its case.
The House impeachment managers have claimed to have all the evidence they need to prove Mr. Trump is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors, so why bother with more information?
“The number of times they have made it very clear that they have clear and convincing evidence and that the evidence is all clear and convincing,” said Senator Mike Rounds, Republican of South Dakota. “Time and time again, they have told us how much they’ve gotten.”
A fight over access to witnesses could force the courts to settle tricky questions about the scope of the president’s executive privilege, which could result in rulings that could weaken the presidency.
“I don’t want to call John Bolton because they could have chosen to call him and they refused to,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. He was referring to House Democrats, who did not subpoena Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser after it became clear he would refuse to appear. “I’m not going to destroy executive privilege, I’m not going to let the House put me in this box,” Mr. Graham added.
Be careful what you wish for.
Some Republicans are playing hardball, threatening to call witnesses pleasing to Mr. Trump, like Hunter Biden or the anonymous whistle-blower whose complaint prompted the impeachment inquiry, that could turn the trial into a circus. The idea, in part, is to send a warning to moderate Republican senators who have signaled they might be open to witnesses that they should not go down that path.
Complaining they were tired of listening to the Democratic impeachment managers repeat the same arguments day after day, and piqued by closing remarks made by Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Republican senators close to President Trump began urging his defense team to mount a vigorous rebuttal focused on the substance of Democrats’ case, not just the process.
Seizing on the House managers’ decision to talk at length about former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son, Hunter Biden, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, called on the White House defense team to “make a compelling case that there is something, based on good government and foreign policy, to look at here.”
Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, said in an interview that he would encourage the president’s lawyers “to clarify some of these videos” of witness testimony “that have been played that are clipped in ways that don’t really tell the whole story.”
“This will be the first time that the president’s story will be able to be told,” Mr. Barrasso said.
Senator Lamar Alexander, one of four Republicans who have signaled an openness to calling witnesses in President Trump’s impeachment trial, said on Friday that he wouldn’t make up his mind on the matter until after senators had had a chance to question House Democratic impeachment managers and the president’s team.
The Democratic prosecutors are scheduled to complete their oral arguments against Mr. Trump on Friday, and the president’s lawyers are slated to begin up to 24 hours of his defense as early as Saturday. Under trial rules adopted this week, those presentations will be followed by a question-and-answer period for senators.
“After all of that, I think the question is, do we need more evidence,” Mr. Alexander said on his way into a briefing on Capitol Hill. “Do we need to hear witnesses? Do we need more documents? And I think that question can only be answered then.”
Mr. Alexander, who is retiring from the Senate, is regarded as a potential defector on the question of witnesses who might feel compelled by his reverence for the institution to press for a more thorough airing of evidence in the impeachment trial.
But on Friday, he suggested he may have heard as much as he needs to.
“As the House managers have said many times, they’ve presented us with a mountain of overwhelming evidence, so we have a lot to consider already,” Mr. Alexander told reporters.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine next week during a trip to Ukraine and four other countries in Europe and Central Asia,the State Department said on Friday. It will be the first meeting between a member of President Trump’s cabinet and Mr. Zelensky since the impeachment inquiry against Mr. Trump began in the fall.
Mr. Pompeo has twice canceled planned trips to Ukraine in recent months. The first trip had been planned for November, when American officials were testifying in the House about the Ukraine affair, and the second had been intended for this month. When Mr. Pompeo canceled that trip on Jan. 1, the State Department said that he was staying in Washington because of anti-American protests at the embassy in Baghdad. During that period, Mr. Trump, Mr. Pompeo and other top officials were planning a drone strike on Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, Iran’s most powerful general.
The State Department said Mr. Pompeo planned to arrive in Kyiv on Thursday, where he would seek “to highlight U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” It said he also planned to take part in a wreath-laying ceremony “to honor those who have fallen” in Donbass, where the Ukrainian military is fighting a yearslong insurgency that is supported by Russia. The American military aid at the center of the impeachment proceedings against Mr. Trump is intended to bolster the Ukrainians in that war and to help deter Russian aggression.
As discussion of possible witnesses heats up in the Capitol, there continues to be a widespread misconception about whom precisely Democrats most want to hear from at President Trump’s trial.
While much of the news media is focused on John R. Bolton, Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Senate Democrats and the House impeachment managers privately say they are more interested in Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff.
Their reasons are pretty simple, but have been obscured somewhat since Mr. Bolton volunteered this month that he would be willing to testify at the trial. Unlike Mr. Bolton, whom witness testimony suggests watched with alarm as the pressure campaign on Ukraine unfolded, Mr. Mulvaney appears to have been intimately involved at every step.
“All of the testimony seems clear that this entire thing was run through Mulvaney,” said Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut. “Mulvaney was the one talking to Trump on a regular basis.”
Speaking to reporters Friday morning, Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the minority leader, called Mr. Mulvaney “the chief cook and bottle washer in this whole evil scheme.”
Representative Adam B. Schiff, the former federal prosecutor who has steered the House impeachment investigation into President Trump, secured his place as a liberal rock star — and villain to conservatives — with the fiery closing argument he delivered Thursday night, imploring senators to convict and remove Mr. Trump because “you know you can’t trust this president to do what’s right for this country.”
By Friday morning, the phrase #RightMatters — from the last line of Mr. Schiff’s speech — was trending as a hashtag on Twitter, which was lighting up with reaction from across the philosophical spectrum. “I am in tears,” wrote Debra Messing, the “Will & Grace” actress and outspoken Trump critic. “Thank you Chairman Schiff for fighting for our country.”
Even some Republicans are giving Mr. Schiff, Democrat of California and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, grudging respect for delivering a masterful performance. But they also view him as nothing more than a shrewd political operator, and say that his words made clear that for Democrats, impeachment is about undoing the results of the 2016 election — and preventing the president from winning in 2020.
“Adam Schiff is already disputing the results of the 2020 election. Impeachment 2.0?” wrote Senator Marsha Blackburn, Republican of Tennessee.
Mr. Schiff is known on Capitol Hill for his serious demeanor and dry laconic wit. But on Thursday, he was filled with passion, his voice rising and his face reddening as he made a late-night appeal to a tired and bitterly divided audience of senators, which he was promoting with a video clip on his own Twitter feed on Friday.
“You know you can’t trust this president to do what’s right for this country — you can trust he will do what’s right for Donald Trump,” he said, adding, “This is why if you find him guilty, you must find that he should be removed. Because right matters. Right matters and the truth matters. Otherwise we are lost.”
Friday is the moment of truth for House managers in the Senate impeachment trial as they seek to convince a handful of Republican lawmakers to support their demand for additional witnesses and documentary evidence. So far, there is little apparent evidence that they will succeed.
On Thursday, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the top Senate Democrat, declined to say he was optimistic but said he still had “hope.”
Democrats have accused Republicans of abetting a cover-up by Mr. Trump by refusing to subpoena documents that the Trump administration did not hand over during their inquiry and by refusing to demand testimony from additional witnesses like John R. Bolton, the president’s former national security adviser, and Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff.
In their third day presenting their case, the managers will focus on the second article of impeachment, in which they accuse Mr. Trump of obstructing Congress by blocking witnesses and documents from being provided to the House impeachment inquiry.
For Democrats, that argument — which is expected to once again take the Senate trial late into the evening — could be the ideal backdrop to pressure potentially wavering Republicans who might be willing to break from their party to support the Democratic demands for witnesses.
But the potential targets, a handful of Republican senators, are staying quiet for now. They include Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.
On Saturday, Mr. Trump’s White House lawyers will take over for up to three days as they present their defense. Both sides will get an additional two hours to sum up their argument on the issue of witnesses and documents sometime next week. But for the House managers, Friday’s presentation may be their last, best hope.
Democrats, looking ahead to President Trump’s State of the Union address, announced on Friday that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan will deliver the Democrats’ response to the president’s speech, scheduled for Feb. 4 — even though his impeachment trial may still be underway.
Representative Veronica Escobar of Texas, who made history as one of the first two Latinas from that state to serve in Congress, will deliver the Spanish-language response to the speech, according to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, who issued a joint statement about the selections.
The two praised Governor Whitmer, a lawyer, educator and former prosecutor, as a get-things-done type of leader, “whether it’s pledging to ‘Fix the Damn Roads’ or investing in climate solutions,” as Mr. Schumer said.
The response to the State of the Union is generally reserved for rising stars in the opposition party, offering a chance for the minority to lay out its own agenda, in contrast to the president.
With the impeachment trial set to begin at 1 p.m., senators are attending a bipartisan briefing on coronavirus, with Senator Dan Sullivan, Republican of Alaska, telling reporters he hoped to learn about preventive measures being taken. The virus is spreading and has sickened hundreds, mostly in Asia.
But senators were also stopping to weigh in on impeachment, as reporters, cordoned off behind velvet ropes, shouted questions about witnesses and the length of the Saturday session of the trial.
Republican moderates are in the spotlight on Friday as House managers conclude their oral arguments and senators turn to the question of whether to call witnesses and seek new documents in the impeachment trial. All four of the senators opposed Democratic motions for witnesses and documents at the beginning of the trial, but have said they might be open to switching their stances after opening arguments have been completed.
So far, however, none have committed to do so.
Here are the Republican senators to watch:
Mitt Romney of Utah has not said much since the trial started. But earlier, he indicated he would be open to new witnesses, and said he wants to hear from John R. Bolton, the president’s former national security adviser.
Susan Collins of Maine is usually a swing vote in the Senate. Facing re-election this year, she is facing brutal blowback in her state for voting to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh for his seat on the Supreme Court. She has strongly suggested that she will ultimately vote to call witnesses. Doing so could help her mend fences with moderate voters she needs to keep her seat.
Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is an independent voice in the Senate. She was the only Republican to oppose Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation and has indicated she could be open to having the Senate examine additional evidence in the impeachment case.
Lamar Alexander of Tennessee is retiring after a long career in the Senate. He has not given clear answers to whether he might support additional witnesses and is extremely close with Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader. But Democrats hope his institutionalist impulses might prompt him to be the fourth vote they need.
There has been additional focus on a fifth senator, Cory Gardner of Colorado. Mr. Gardner is a first-term senator who is facing a tough re-election race this year in a politically competitive state. He will need support from independent voters and even some Democrats to win, but Mr. Garnder has so far been mum on the question of witnesses, and has criticized the impeachment inquiry as a politically motivated exercise.
Even as the Senate geared up for the third day hearing from prosecutors in the impeachment trial, a different kind of political clash was gathering outside the Capitol.
People attending the annual March for Life — and counterprotesters who support abortion rights — were already arriving Friday morning for an event that is expected to feature an address by President Trump, the first time a sitting president has attended.
People wearing “March for Life” sweatshirts crossed the Capitol grounds on the way to the march, along with others sporting red “TRUMP2020” baseball caps. Nearby, a separate group of counter protesters wearing sweatshirts that said “Literally, no one asked you” chanted “We love abortion, abortion is cool!”
The annual event protesting abortion started after the 1973 Rove v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in the United States.
Other Republican presidents have addressed the gathering by video, but none has attended. Mr. Trump tweeted on Tuesday: “See you on “See you on Friday … Big Crowd!” Friday…Big Crowd!”
The cameras in the Senate are government controlled by the Senate staff, and photographs are not allowed — limiting what viewers can see as lawmakers consider the case against President Trump. To get a more complete picture of the proceedings, here are two alternatives.
The Senate chamber may be familiar to viewers of C-SPAN, but the room has undergone some significant changes to accommodate the proceedings.
President Trump complained Friday that his lawyers would begin his defense on Saturday, a day the president said in the world of television was “called Death Valley,” as he unleashed dozens of tweets and retweets attacking the Senate trial.
The president began his social media assault just after 6 a.m. by retweeting Greg Jarrett, a conservative Fox News analyst, who was attacking the Democrats’ case. In one post, Mr. Jarrett accused Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the lead House manager, of lying about the evidence.
Over the next several hours, he retweeted articles by breitbart.com; Lou Dobbs, the Fox Business Network host; Ben Ferguson, a conservative commentator; Dan Bongino, the host of a conservative radio talk show; and several Republican lawmakers, including Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the minority leader in the House.
Later in the morning, Mr. Trump started tweeting his own attacks on the impeachment trial. In addition to complaining about the expected weekend start for his lawyers, Mr. Trump said he had “to endure hour after hour of lies, fraud and deception by Shifty Schiff, Cryin’ Chuck Schumer and their crew.”
The House managers prosecuting the case against President Trump will wrap up their arguments on Friday with a focus on the second article of impeachment: the accusation that the president obstructed Congress by blocking witnesses and documents in an attempt to cover up his misconduct.
It will be their last opportunity to appeal to a handful of moderate Republican senators on the question of seeking additional witnesses and documents before the president’s lawyers take center stage. Debate on that vital question is expected to happen early next week, after the conclusion of the arguments and a period of questions about the case from senators.
In the meantime, the Senate trial has tested the patience of senators, who have sat restlessly in their seats for more than 16 hours over two long days. Despite being admonished that they must remain silent and at attention “upon pain of imprisonment,” some have doodled, traded notes, whispered with their neighbors, or even nodded off.
Mr. Trump’s legal defense team is scheduled to begin their presentation on Saturday, angering the president, who complained on Twitter on Friday morning that “my lawyers will be forced to start on Saturday, which is called Death Valley in T.V.”
There have been discussions in the Capitol that senators could start the Saturday session earlier than the usual 1 p.m., which could give them the chance to leave earlier, especially if the White House lawyers decide to reserve more of their presentation for Monday.