The U.S. Senate plunged into President Donald Trump's impeachment trial with Republicans abruptly abandoning plans to cram opening arguments into two days but solidly rejecting for now Democratic demands for more witnesses to expose what they deem Trump's "trifecta" of offenses.
Trump himself said Wednesday he wants top aides to testify, but qualified that by suggesting there were "national security" concerns to allowing their testimony.
"We have a great case," Trump said at a global economic forum in Davos, Switzerland. In a press conference before returning to Washington, Trump said his legal team was doing a "very good job."
He appeared to break with Republicans efforts to block Democratic motions to immediately call witnesses and subpoena documents. Instead, Trump said he'd like to see aides, including former national security adviser John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, testify as witnesses
Trump said he'd leave the "national security" concerns about allowing their testimony to the Senate.
Tuesday's daylong session started with the setback for Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell and the president's legal team, but it ended near 2 a.m. Wednesday with Republicans easily approving the rest of the trial rules largely on their terms.
With the rules settled, the trial is now on a fast-track. At issue is whether Trump should be removed from office for abuse of power stemming from his pressure on Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden and Biden's son Hunter as Trump was withhold aid to the country, and for obstructing Congress' ensuing probe.
Chief Justice John Roberts gaveled open the session, with House prosecutors on one side, Trump's team on the other, in the well of the Senate, as senators sat silently at their desks, under oath to do "impartial justice." No cellphones or other electronics were allowed.
As the day stretched deep into the night, lawyerly arguments gave way to more pointedly political ones. Tempers flared and senators paced the chamber. Democrats pursued what may be their only chance to force senators to vote on hearing new testimony.
After one particularly bitter post-midnight exchange, Roberts intervened, taking the rare step of admonishing both the Democratic House managers prosecuting the case and the White House counsel to "remember where they are."
"I think it is appropriate at this point for me to admonish both the House managers and the president's counsel in equal terms to remember that they are addressing the world's greatest deliberative body," the usually reserved Roberts said. He told them that description of the Senate stemmed from a 1905 trial when a senator objected to the word "pettifogging," because members should "avoid speaking in a manner and using language that is not conducive to civil discourse."
Over and over, Republicans turned back Democratic amendments to subpoena documents from the White House, State Department, Defense Department and budget office. By the same 53-47 party-line, they turned away witnesses with front-row seats to Trump's actions including acting White House chief of staff Mulvaney and Bolton, the former national security adviser critical of the Ukraine policy.
Only on one amendment, to allow more time to file motions, did a single Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, join Democrats. But it, too, was rejected, 52-48.
Motions from the Trump legal team were due Wednesday morning, but the attorneys weren't filing any, said Jay Sekulow, one of the president's lawyers. That means there will be no motion to dismiss the case as some Republicans had discussed.
As the visitors' gallery filled earlier with guests, actress-and-activist Alyssa Milano among them, and Trump's most ardent House allies lining the back rows, the day that began as a debate over rules quickly took on the cadence of a trial proceeding over whether the president's actions toward Ukraine warranted removal from office.
"It's not our job to make it easy for you," Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee leading the prosecution, told the Senate. "Our job is to make it hard to deprive the American people of a fair trial."
White House counsel Pat Cipollone, the president's lead lawyer, called the trial "a farce." He scoffed that the House charges against Trump were "ridiculous."
The White House legal team did not dispute Trump's actions, when he called Ukraine and asked for a "favor," which was to investigate Biden as he withheld military aid the ally desperately needed as it faced off with hostile Russia on its border. But the lawyers insisted the president did nothing wrong.
"Absolutely no case," Cipollone said.
Schiff, the California Democrat, said America's Founders added the remedy of impeachment in the Constitution with "precisely this type of conduct in mind — conduct that abuses the power of office for a personal benefit, that undermines our national security, and that invites foreign interference in the democratic process of an election."
Said Schiff: "It is the trifecta of constitutional misconduct justifying impeachment.''
Sekulow, the other lead lawyer on Trump's team, retorted, "I'll give you a trifecta," outlining complaints over the House Democrats' impeachment inquiry process.
In Davos, Trump repeated his attacks on Democratic House managers serving as prosecutors in the trial, saying that he'd like to "sit right in the front row and stare at their corrupt faces" on the Senate floor during the trial but that his attorneys might have a problem with it.
And he said he wants to deliver the State of the Union as scheduled on Feb. 4 even if the trial is ongoing, calling the address "very important to what I am doing" in setting his administration's agenda.
The impeachment trial is set against the backdrop of the 2020 election. All four senators who are Democratic presidential candidates were off the campaign trail, seated as jurors.
"My focus is going to be on impeachment," Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, told reporters.
McConnell stunned senators and delayed the start of proceedings with his decision to back off some of his proposed rules. He made the adjustment after encountering resistance from Republicans during a closed-door lunch meeting. Senators worried about the political optics of "dark of night" sessions that could come from cramming the 24 hours of opening arguments from each side into just two days.
Collins and Sen. Lisa Murkowksi of Alaska, who often buck party leadership, along with a substantial number of other Republicans, wanted to make the changes, according to people familiar with the situation.
It was only when the clerk started reading the dry language of the resolution that the hand-written changes to extend debate to three days became apparent. It also allowed the House impeachment record to be included in the Senate.
The turnaround was a swift lesson as White House wishes run into the reality of the Senate. The White House wanted a session kept to a shorter period to both expedite the trial and shift more of the proceedings into late night, according to a person familiar with the matter but unauthorized to discuss it in public.
Trump's legal team, absent its TV-showcase attorneys, Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr who were not in the chamber, argued that in seeking new evidence the House was bringing a half-baked case.
But Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, one of the House managers and the first woman to argue for the prosecution in a presidential impeachment trial, said the House wasn't asking the Senate to do the job for them. "The House is asking the Senate to do its job, to have a trial," she said. "Have you ever heard of a trial without evidence?''
The White House had instructed officials not to testify in the House inquiry, and refused to turn over witnesses or documents, citing what is says is precedence in defiance of congressional subpoenas.
Democrat Schiff displayed video of Trump himself suggesting there should be more witnesses testifying.
One by one, the House managers made the case, drawing on their own life experiences.
Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., a former police chief, said she never saw anyone take "such extreme steps to hide evidence.'' Rep. Jason Crow, a former Army Ranger who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, seemed to capture senators' attention when he told them near he knew the hour was late, but it was morning in Ukraine where soldiers were waking up to fight Russia, depending on U.S. aid.
It was when Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the House Judiciary Committee chairman also leading the prosecution, said the White House lawyers "lie" that Cipollone and Sekulow retorted that Nadler should be embarrassed and apologize, leading to Roberts' admonition.
No president has ever been removed from office. With its 53-47 Republican majority, the Senate is not expected to mount the two-thirds vote needed for conviction.
The Trump administration is barring Iranian investors and business people from entering or staying in the United States on certain types of visas.
In new regulations published in the Federal Register on Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security said Iranians and their families are no longer eligible to apply for or extend what are known as E-1 and E-2 visas. The ban will take effect on Thursday, according to the notice from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Those visas allow foreign "traders" and "substantial investors" in U.S. companies to live and work in the United States. CIS said the change is a result of the U.S. withdrawal last year from a 1955 treaty with Iran that had sought to promote commercial and economic ties between the countries.
Iranians in the United States on the affected visas will be required to leave the country when their visas expire, it said, although the new regulation does not bar Iranians from applying for or extending other types of visas for which they are eligible.
The number of Iranians in the U.S. on those types of visas was not immediately clear although it is believed to be relatively small. Out of more than 10 million U.S. non-immigrant visas issued annually, only about 48,000 E-visas are issued to people of from all nations.
Chief Justice John Roberts drew little attention to himself in the beginning 12 hours of his first impeachment trial. But it was just before 1 a.m., as tempers on the floor had started to wear thin, that he reminded senators, House impeachment managers and President Donald Trump's defense team who was in charge.
"I think it is appropriate at this point for me to admonish both the House managers and the president's counsel in equal terms to remember that they are addressing the world's greatest deliberative body," Roberts said, after a particularly tense exchange between House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler and the president's lawyers.
Roberts asked them to "avoid speaking in a manner and using language that is not conducive to civil discourse."
He did not say what prompted his comments, but they came after Nadler told senators that voting to deny certain witnesses in the trial, as many GOP senators had, was a "treacherous vote" and a vote against the United States. Trump's defense team then said Nadler should be embarrassed and should apologize to the president and the American people.
Roberts' new role presiding over the trial is one of two jobs he is juggling as the impeachment session gets underway. On Tuesday morning, he donned his black robe and oversaw two arguments at the Supreme Court before heading across the street to the U.S. Capitol where he is presiding over the trial in the Senate chamber. His busy schedule meant he didn't have time to join his fellow justices for a group lunch, a high court custom following arguments.
And he was scheduled to be back again in the Court on Wednesday morning — just hours after the first day of the trial adjourned at 2 a.m.
Just before the day ended, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell thanked Roberts for his service.
"I want to say on behalf of all of us, thank you for your patience," McConnell told him, as senators clapped.
Over the past 14 years, Roberts has gotten comfortable in the role of chief justice of the United States, but presiding over Trump's trial is a new, public role for Roberts, who is used to proceedings that aren't televised as they are in the Senate.
It is only the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history, coming just weeks before the first primaries of the 2020 election season and as voters are assessing Trump's first term and weighing the candidates who want to challenge him in the fall.
House Democrats impeached the president last month on two charges: abuse of power by withholding U.S. military aid to Ukraine as he pressed the country to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden, and obstruction of Congress by refusing to comply with their investigation.
Trump's legal team has argued that the Republican president did "absolutely nothing wrong" and urged the Senate to swiftly reject the "flawed'' case against him.
Roberts' added responsibilities shouldn't affect the work of the court. That's because the justices generally finish their joint business in the mornings, giving Roberts time to preside over oral arguments and lead the justices' regularly scheduled private conferences before beginning his Senate duties in the afternoon.
Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said in written responses to questions from reporters that it's expected to be "business as usual" at the court during the trial.
And if there's a good time in Roberts' schedule to take on added responsibility, this is it, since it's a relatively quiet time at the court. After one more oral argument scheduled for Wednesday, the court is taking its standard break from oral arguments until late February.
It's not until later in the spring that it gets to be crunch time for opinion writing for the justices, who finish their work in June before adjourning for the summer. The court did acknowledge it scheduled only one argument Wednesday instead of the more standard two in anticipation of a possible impeachment trial. That made Roberts' day at the court shorter.
Trump's trial could be over by the time oral arguments resume at the Supreme Court on Feb. 24 — but maybe not. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pushing for a quick conclusion, though there could be delays. If the trial stretches into five weeks, Roberts would be expected to be with his fellow justices in the morning and lawmakers in the afternoon.
In the unlikely scenario Roberts had to leave an oral argument, the most senior associate justice, Justice Clarence Thomas, would handle duties like calling the cases and telling lawyers to begin their arguments. But the chief justice would still participate in voting on those cases.
At the Capitol, the chief justice is using the ceremonial President's Room as an office. It's the same space used by Chief Justice William Rehnquist in 1999 during former President Bill Clinton's impeachment trial. One of Roberts' four law clerks, Megan Braun, will join him every day when he travels to the Senate, Arberg said.
Roberts' colleagues will have to plan one celebration around his new schedule. The chief justice's 65th birthday is Monday, and the justices generally make time to celebrate birthdays at the court. They get together to sing "Happy Birthday" and have a toast.
No word if the senators will do the same.
President Donald Trump on Wednesday minimized the severity of head injuries sustained by US troops during an Iranian missile strike on an Iraqi air base as he was pressed on why he'd claimed no troops had been injured in the attack.
"I heard they had headaches and a couple of other things ... and I can report it is not very serious," Trump said at a press conference in Davos, Switzerland, arguing that potential traumatic brain injuries are less severe than, say, missing limbs.
"No, I don't consider them very serious injuries relative to other injuries that I've seen," the Republican president said. "I've seen what Iran has done with their roadside bombs to our troops. I've seen people with no legs and with no arms. I've seen people that were horribly, horribly injured in that area, that war."
"No, I do not consider that to be bad injuries, no," he added.
In addition to the 11 service members who were flown out of Iraq on Jan. 10 and Jan. 15 for further examination of concussion-like symptoms, defense officials said that about 10 more were flown to Germany in recent days. Most were being treated for symptoms related to possible traumatic brain injury; a smaller number may have been suffering from psychological trauma, according to two defense officials who discussed the matter on condition of anonymity.
The exact nature and severity of the apparent brain injuries has not been publicly released.
Trump has repeatedly claimed that no Americans were harmed in the Iranian missile strikes on Jan. 8, which came in retaliation for a U.S. drone strike that killed Qassem Soleimani, Iran's most powerful military general.
The question of American casualties was especially significant at the time because Trump cited the fact that no Americans were killed or inured as driving his decision not to retaliate further and risk a broader war with Iran.
But in the days following the attack, medical screening determined that some of the U.S. troops who took cover during the attack were suffering from concussion-like symptoms. Last week, 11 U.S. service members were flown from Iraq to U.S. medical facilities in Germany and Kuwait for further evaluation of concussion-like symptoms. This was not reported to Defense Secretary Mark Esper until the day it was publicly announced, last Thursday; this comports with the usual practice of not reporting injuries to the Pentagon unless they involve the loss of life, limb or eyesight.
Trump told reporters he was informed of the concussion issue "numerous days" after the attack.
U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, said in a statement Tuesday evening that given the nature of the reported injuries, "it is possible additional injuries may be identified in the future."
The U.S. Senate early Wednesday voted to pass the Republican-proposed resolution laying out rules guiding the ongoing impeachment trial against President Donald Trump, after a marathon debate killed 11 amendments introduced by Democrats.
The resolution, adopted on a 57-43 party-line vote by the Republican-controlled Senate, will postpone a decision on whether to call additional witnesses until the opening arguments from the two opposing sides are heard.
The witness issue was a key sticking point that saw House managers -- comprised of Democrats who act as prosecutors in the trial -- and Trump's legal defense team wrangling for over 12 hours.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer offered 11 separate amendments to the resolution Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed -- all rejected by the chamber as senators mostly voted along party lines.