Pelosi Pushes for a Real Impeachment Trial With Witnesses and Cross-Examination

In a historic move, the House of Representatives presented articles of impeachment against President Trump to the Senate Wednesday. It marks only the third presidential impeachment trial in all of U.S. history. Earlier Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held a news conference with the seven impeachment managers. The House vote to send articles of impeachment to the Senate comes as The Washington Post reports explosive new information at the center of the impeachment inquiry. New material released by House Democrats shows text messages between former Giuliani associate Lev Parnas and Robert Hyde, a Republican congressional candidate from Connecticut, in which the two have threatening exchanges about Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. In the text messages, Parnas and Hyde discuss how Yovanovitch was under surveillance. Yovanovitch has repeatedly said she felt threatened by Trump, who called her “bad news” in his now-infamous July 25 call with Ukrainian President Zelensky. For more, we’re joined by Elie Mystal, justice correspondent for The Nation. “Pelosi at least thinks or hopes that there will be witnesses, there will be cross-examination, and this will be something more approaching a real trial situation as opposed to kind of just a show,” Mystal says.

TRANSCRIPT

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The House of Representatives has formally delivered to the Senate articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, setting the stage for just the third impeachment trial of a U.S. president in history.

LAURA DOVE: Mr. President, a message from the House of Representatives.

CHERYL JOHNSON: Mr. President, I have been directed by the House of Representatives to inform the Senate the House has passed H. Res. 798, a resolution appointing and authorizing managers for the impeachment trial of Donald John Trump, president of the United States.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY: The message will be received.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The articles were delivered by the impeachment managers who were named earlier in the day by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI: So, today, we will make history. When we walk down — when the managers walk down the hall, we will cross a threshold in history, delivering articles of impeachment against the president of the United States for abuse of power and obstruction of the House.

AMY GOODMAN: The House impeached President Trump in December for pressuring Ukraine to investigate his political rival Joe Biden. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi waited until now to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate. Since the House voted to impeach Trump, more evidence has come to light about the actions of Trump and his associates. On Wednesday, a key figure in the impeachment saga spoke publicly for the first time about his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden. Lev Parnas, a Soviet-born businessman and former associate of Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that the president was fully aware of his activities.

RACHEL MADDOW: What do you think is the main inaccuracy or the main lie that’s being told that you feel like you can correct?

LEV PARNAS: That the president didn’t know what was going on. President Trump knew exactly what was going on. He was aware of all of my movements. He — I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we’re joined by Elie Mystal, justice correspondent for The Nation, author of the magazine’s new monthly column, “Objection!”

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Elie. It’s great to have you with us.

ELIE MYSTAL: Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: This was an historic day in Washington, D.C. Can you lay out what exactly took place?

ELIE MYSTAL: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Take us through the day.

ELIE MYSTAL: It’s all going down now, isn’t it? I think that, look, Nancy Pelosi named the impeachment managers. She formally submitted the impeachment articles to the Senate. Trump is impeached, as Nancy Pelosi put it, forever. Right? Impeachment now, impeachment tomorrow, impeachment forever. That is on Trump’s résumé for the rest of history. I hope he sleeps well tonight.

With the naming of the managers, however, I think we have a sense of Pelosi’s strategy here. If Nancy Pelosi really thought that this was just going to be a fait accompli in the Senate, that it was just going to be 51 votes to acquit Trump, nothing was going to change that, and it was just kind of for show, I think she might have named impeachment managers that were more for show. Right? Justin Amash, the Republican-turned-“I now get it” guy, like he might have been thrown in there. You might have thrown in Eric Swalwell, who is great on television and great at making speeches. You might have even thrown in Rashida Tlaib, just to be like, “Let’s do this.” Right? Instead, she went in a different direction. She picked people with real courtroom trial experience, right? Jason Crow from Colorado, that’s a litigator that she threw up in there. Val Demings from Florida, that is a law enforcement officer that she —

AMY GOODMAN: She was the police chief.

ELIE MYSTAL: — you know, that she — that’s a cop that she sicced on Trump, right? So, that suggests to me that Pelosi at least thinks or hopes that there will be witnesses, there will be cross-examination, and this will be something more approaching a real trial situation as opposed to kind of just a show.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Can you explain, Elie, what exactly is the role of the managers? And also, in the Clinton impeachment trial, there were 13 managers, whereas in this one there’s seven. Why is that?

ELIE MYSTAL: Thirteen all-men managers, which, you know, is not what’s happening right now.

Look, the roles of the managers are going to be so determined by the Senate’s own rules. The Senate is not just the jury in this trial. They are the judge; they are potentially the executioner. They set the entire tempo and temperament of the thing. So, what the managers get to do will depend largely on what Mitch McConnell says they can do and wants them to do. If there are witnesses, arguably, the impeachment managers would be the one cross-examining witnesses, although, technically, Mitch McConnell can — doesn’t even have to let them do that if he doesn’t want to. So, the Constitution says that the Senate will take this up. It doesn’t say how. It doesn’t say — it doesn’t provide for process. So McConnell still has a lot of cards to play.

One of the ways that I like to think of the situation, having followed Mitch McConnell for quite some time now, is that I try to think of what the worst person in the world would do, and then see if that helps McConnell, because if the worst person in the world would do it and it helps Republicans, then McConnell is going to do it. So, one of the things I’m worried about, for instance, is it looks like there are 51 votes to call witnesses, seems like Romney, Murkowski, Collins, Lamar Alexander — seems like they’re all kind of, you know, squeamish enough that they might vote to call witnesses. But let’s say that happens. McConnell doesn’t have to put that on television. There’s nothing in the Constitution that says he does. Could he —

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Is the trial going to be public, entirely public?

ELIE MYSTAL: Doesn’t have to be. I mean, there’s nothing in the Constitution that requires — you’ve got to remember, there is nothing in the Constitution that requires McConnell to be any better than he is. And he is one of the worst people.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to Nancy Pelosi and then McConnell. Speaking from the House floor, Nancy Pelosi addressed her reluctance to pursue an impeachment inquiry against Trump, to begin with.

SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI: For a long time, I resisted the calls from across the country for impeachment of the president for obvious violations of the Constitution that he had committed. But recognizing the divisiveness of impeachment, I held back. Frankly, I said, this president isn’t worth it. But when he acted the way he did in relationship to withholding funds from Ukraine in return for a benefit to him that was personal and political, he crossed a threshold. He gave us no choice.

AMY GOODMAN: And now I want to go to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaking on Wednesday.

MAJORITY LEADER MITCH McCONNELL: Presidential impeachment may be the gravest process our Constitution contemplates. It undoes the people’s decision in a national election. Going about it in this subjective, unfair and rushed way is corrosive to our institutions. It hurts national unity. And it virtually guarantees — guarantees — that future houses of either party will feel free — free — to impeach any future president because they don’t like him. You don’t like him? Impeach him. That’s the message coming out of this.

AMY GOODMAN: Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The articles of impeachment have been transferred to the Senate. They’ve been delivered. Today, the Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts will swear in the jurors. They are the senators of the United States, taking off, by the way, the senators who are running for president, Klobuchar and Warren and Sanders, off the campaign trail, because they’ll have to sit through this period of who knows how long the trial will be. But let’s talk about the witnesses and this whole controversy, the reason — one of the reasons Nancy Pelosi held back the articles of impeachment, when Mitch McConnell said he wasn’t going to have witnesses. One after another Republican senator have voiced concern now, for example, Utah Senator Mitt Romney.

ELIE MYSTAL: Yeah. So, first of all, let’s give it up to Speaker Pelosi. She withheld those articles. And over the past month we’ve seen Republicans finally start to fall, finally start to break ranks and get towards bringing witnesses. I think this is nothing other than a win for Nancy Pelosi. But yeah, it looks like Romney, Murkowski, Lamar Alexander in Tennessee, perhaps Susan Collins — I mean, Susan Collins, I mean, it really depends on which way the wind is blowing that day, but, like, whatever. So it looks like that we have enough for witnesses. And if there are witnesses, there are people that we need to hear from. Obviously, the big fish is John Bolton, the former national security adviser. He seems to have been through it all. He seems to have seen it all. He seems to want to testify. I, for one, would like to know what he has to say.

AMY GOODMAN: And he called what happened in Ukraine, apparently, a drug deal.

ELIE MYSTAL: A drug deal. Right?

AMY GOODMAN: And Lev Parnas, this new — he’s not new. He’s indicted. He’s under federal indictment. But he’s now talking everywhere, has said that he is key. And Lev Parnas, apparently, all that he has now just gotten from the court has been included in the articles of impeachment that were transferred to the Senate.

ELIE MYSTAL: What you want, I think, is people with firsthand conversations with Donald Trump. In the House inquiry, because — and this is so important for people to remember, especially if you’re like fighting with Republicans on Twitter. In the House inquiry, Trump blocked those firsthand people. Right? Like, all of this, like, “Oh, it was so unfair! Totally unfair!” It’s because Trump, the defendant, blocked the witnesses from testifying. He blocked McConnell. He blocked Mulvaney. The House would like to have spoken to them during their investigation. Trump didn’t allow that to happen. So we had Gordon Sondland, we had Hill, Fiona Hill, people who saw it but didn’t speak directly to the president. Only Sondland spoke directly to the president, throughout the House inquiry.

Now, in the Senate trial, we should be able to hear from people who spoke directly to the president. That includes Bolton. And, to me, that includes Mick Mulvaney. Mick Mulvaney is the one who put the stop on the money. If Trump had a good reason for that, Mick Mulvaney is the one who can say so — or not. So, these are the people that I want to hear from. These are, I think, the people that the American people deserve to hear from. And on the flipside of this, I mean, you brought up, off air, the Cruz, the Ted Cruz, what he thinks is a poison bill, like —

AMY GOODMAN: Reciprocal witnesses?

ELIE MYSTAL: “If you get to call your guys, then we get to call Hunter Biden.” Man, bring it on! Hunter Biden, come on down! I’m not — you want to trade Hunter Biden for Bolton and Mulvaney? Please, bring it. I have no problem with Hunter Biden being forced to testify. Hunter Biden is just going to have to take one for the team. Right? It’s not relevant. It’s not appropriate. It’s part of the Republican shell game that they’re running. But, like, Hunter Biden can — I will make that trade every day and twice on Sunday.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think Lev Parnas?

ELIE MYSTAL: I would love to see Lev Parnas. And again, whatever reciprocation the Republicans — go ahead. Call Joe Biden. Call Tito Biden. Call Elmo Biden. I don’t care, because it’s not going to change. The Bidens did nothing wrong. And no amount of testimony is going to change that fact. The person who did something wrong is Donald Trump. And the people who know that Donald Trump did something wrong are John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney, Lev Parnas and all of them. So, call all of them, and you can have — you can take your potshots at Hunter Biden all you want. We’ll get him a nice watch. He’ll be fine.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ll certainly see what happens and whether any witnesses are called at all, though the call for them is growing very loud. I want to thank you, Elie Mystal, Nation’s justice correspondent, author of the magazine’s new monthly column, “Objection!”

When we come back, we’ll look at the shake-up in Moscow. Russia’s prime minister, the entire Cabinet, has resigned. Stay with us.