Jan 21, 2020

GAO report poses evidence test in Trump impeachment trial

House Democratic impeachment managers walk to the Senate chamber for impeachment proceedings. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

A Government Accountability Office report accusing President Trump of violating the law is taking on heightened importance at the start of his impeachment trial.

Why it matters: The key argument Trump's legal team plans to make is that the articles of impeachment are deficient on their face because, unlike previous impeachment attempts, they don’t allege that Trump broke the law.

  • But Democrats plan to highlight how the report from the nonpartisan government agency frequently referred to as the "congressional watchdog“ clearly finds that the Trump administration violated the law.
  • “This is a big part of our case,” a Democratic leadership aide told Axios. “It shows the extent to the president went to advance his scheme; he went so far to break the law. It's an important piece of evidence and only adds to the mountain and body of evidence that we already have."

What to watch: Whether new evidence uncovered by the House will be blocked from the Senate trial. The organizing resolution laying out the terms for the impeachment trial, released by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last night, left open the chance that the Senate could decline to review such evidence.

What we're hearing: Sources working with the president’s legal team told reporters Monday that the impeachment of Trump is illegitimate and historically aberrant because it doesn’t accuse Trump of committing a crime.

  • One said: "We’re going to trial on a specific set of charges, spelled out in the charging document. The charging document doesn’t include anything about that GAO report. So in our view that’s not properly part of the accusation that‘s been brought to the Senate.”

Meanwhile, a Democratic aide working on impeachment said: "The president was so eager and so determined to turn the screws and ratchet up the pressure on Ukraine to do his political dirty work, that he was willing to break the law by withholding much needed security assistance from Ukraine.

  • “That’s the reason why they don't want that document” to be considered, the aide said.

The backdrop: The GAO found that the White House Office of Management and Budget violated the law when it withheld military aid to Ukraine.

  • The agency's report, which dropped just hours the Senate impeachment trial began last Thursday, determined that the OMB violated the 1974 Impoundment Control Act, which mandates that the White House and its agencies release funds appropriated by Congress.

Yes, but: The GAO's only tool to hold violators of the ICA accountable is to sue the administration to distribute the funds. OMB already released the aid to Ukraine in September.

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What matters: Trump trial edition

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/Getty Contributor

Yes, we know how this is going to end. But some developments along the way to President Trump’s acquittal will matter more than others and leave a lasting impact long after the trial ends.

The big picture: We’re all going to be flooded with information and distractions over the course of the trial. Here’s what deserves your attention.

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Pelosi slams McConnell trial rules as "deliberately designed to hide the truth"

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) claimed in a statement Tuesday that the rules Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has proposed for President Trump's impeachment trial diverge from the Clinton precedent and show he has "chosen a cover-up" over a fair trial.

Context: McConnell made public an organizing resolution Monday laying out the terms for the trial, which include 24 hours over two days for each side to present their cases. It would block evidence discovered in the House impeachment investigation from being presented without a separate vote, and it would delay a vote on whether to subpoena witnesses and documents until later in the trial.

Go deeperArrowJan 21, 2020

Trump impeachment trial recap, day 3: Schiff argues that "the truth matters"

Lead House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) ended Democrats' second day of opening arguments in President Trump's impeachment trial on Thursday with an impassioned speech arguing for Trump's conviction.

What he said: In a clip that's sure to be played on cable news all morning, Schiff closed by saying, "If you find him guilty, you must find that he should be removed. Because right matters, because right matters. And the truth matters. Otherwise, we are lost."

Go deeperArrowJan 24, 2020