As it happenedended1579555746

Trump impeachment news: President gives 'chilling' defence as his legal team lay out furious response to Senate trial

On eve of trial, counsel and prosecution teams dispute grounds for removal as gun rights rally throttles Virginia

Donald Trump denies knowing Lev Parnas 13 times

The day before his impeachment trial is set to begin, Donald Trump's lawyers are urging the Senate reject the charges against him and are calling the hearings an "illegitimate partisan effort to take him down" by Democrats.

Meanwhile, the prosecution team from the House has filed a stern reply to the president's legal team, following their response to a summons request calling the impeachment articles "constitutionally invalid." House managers replied, calling the president's assertion that he can't be removed from the presidency "chilling" and "dead wrong".

House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff, who is on that prosecution team, has warned that the CIA and National Security Agency could be holding on to further key evidence regarding the Ukraine scandal that led to the president's impeachment, ahead of the commencement of the Senate trial on Tuesday.

The results of a CNN poll, released the day before the trial begins, revealed that 51 per cent of Americans support the president's removal, and nearly 70 per cent want witness testimony.

Lawyers preparing to defend Mr Trump took to the talk show circuit on Sunday to argue that he cannot be removed from office on abuse of power grounds, a position dismissed as “absurdist” and “arrant nonsense” by Mr Schiff and fellow leading Democrat Jerrold Nadler, who together have helped build the case against him.

Meanwhile, as Mr Trump prepared to leave for Switzerland to participate in the World Economic Forum, the White House had no scheduled events to recognise Martin Luther King Jr's memorial and birthday, breaking once more from previous administration's tradition of service and volunteering to honour the civil rights leader.

The president instead voiced his support for thousands of gun rights advocates carrying weapons in Virginia in protest of upcoming gun control legislation, while White House advisor Kellyanne Conway argued that Dr King would not support impeachment, which she said has "dragged Americans through the process" of considering the president's removal from office.

On Twitter over the weekend, President Trump continued to attack 2020 candidate Michael Bloomberg, revealed a surprise appreciation for Hollywood Golden Age star Cary Grant and tweeted an astonishing claim from Fox News host Mark Levin that: “In the House, the president got less due process than the 9/11 terrorists.”

Follow coverage as it happened:

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Hello and welcome to The Independent's rolling coverage of the Donald Trump administration.

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Trump lawyers Dershowitz and Ray branded 'absurd' for dismissal of impeachment case

Lawyers preparing to defend Donald Trump at his Senate impeachment trial took to the talk show circuit on Sunday to argue the president could not be removed from office over abuse of power, a position dismissed as “absurdist” and “arrant nonsense” by Democrats Adam Schiff and Jerrold Nadler, their leading opponents.

Alan Derschowitz - a Harvard professor who has previously defended such controversial clients as OJ Simpson, Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein - made the claim to George Stephanopoulos on ABC's This Week and on CNN's State of the Union...

...as did federal prosecutor Robert Ray on Fox's Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo:

"Criminal-like conduct is required," insisted Dershowitz, who said he will be making the same argument to the Senate and if it prevails, there will be "no need" to pursue the witness testimony or documents that Democrats are demanding.

But Schiff and Nadler were quick to shoot down his "no crime, no impeachment" approach in no uncertain terms, the pair fresh from leading a trial brief that called Trump's behaviour the "worst nightmare" of the country's founders. In their view, the standard of "high crimes and misdemeanors" is vague and open-ended in the Constitution and meant to encompass abuses of power that aren't necessarily illegal.

The White House is pushing an "absurdist position," Schiff told Stephanopoulos. "That's the argument I suppose you have to make if the facts are so dead set against you."

Nadler, a fellow impeachment prosecutor, called it "arrant nonsense" on Face the Nation and said evidence of Trump's misconduct is overwhelming.

President Trump's Senate impeachment trial over his actions towards Ukraine is due to get underway in earnest on Tuesday when Congress returns to work following the public holiday for Martin Luther King Jr Day. By then, both sides will have submitted briefs and four Democratic presidential candidates will have been forced back to Washington from the early nominating states to join every other senator in silence, sans phones, on the Senate floor.

What they're likely to hear in this extraordinary setting is the House Democrats' impeachment articles that charge Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress over his pressure on Ukraine for political help. From the White House, the senator-jurors are expected to hear that Trump committed no crime, the impeachment articles are invalid and he's the victim of Democrats who want to overturn his election.

Here's Phil Thomas's report.

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President hails China trade deal, claims support from hard-hit farmers and rants about impeachment in Texas

The president himself was in Austin, Texas, yesterday taking a victory lap over his new trade deal with China, thanking attendees at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual convention for backing his stand-off with the economic superpower despite their being hardest hit by it.

"We did it," Trump said, recalling his campaign promises to improve America's trading relationships with other countries and claiming to have strong support among farmers.

When Trump spoke at the same event last year, he urged America's farmers to continue supporting him even as they suffered financially in the fallout from his trade war with China and a partial shutdown of the federal government. His follow-up speech on Sunday in Austin gave him a chance to make the case to farmers that he kept promises he made as a candidate to improve trade with China and separately with Canada and Mexico.

He thanked farmers for staying "in the fight." "You were always with me," Trump said. "You never even thought of giving up and we got it done." The president is seeking to shore up support among his base ahead of November's election, where this very demographic is likely to be integral.

Trump also announced he is taking steps to protect the water rights of farmers and ranchers by directing the Army Corps of Engineers to immediately withdraw a new water supply rule and allow states to manage water resources based on their own needs and what the agricultural community wants. "Water is the lifeblood of agriculture and we will always protect your water supply," he said.

Trump signed a preliminary trade deal with China at the White House last Wednesday that commits Beijing to boosting its imports of US manufacturing, energy and farm goods by $200bn (£154bn) this year and next. That includes larger purchases of soybeans and other farm goods expected to reach $40bn (£31bn) a year, the US has said, though critics wonder if China can meet the targets. In Austin, Trump described the trade agreement with China as "groundbreaking" and said, "We're going to sell the greatest product you've ever seen."

Also last week, the Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), a successor to the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The administration designed the new agreement to return some factory production to the United States, mostly automobiles.

Trump said in Austin that US farmers will also benefit under USMCA, which he said will "massively boost exports" for farmers, ranchers, growers from "North to South" and "from sea to shining sea." NAFTA had triggered a surge in trade among the three countries, but Trump and other critics blamed it for US job losses brought about when American factories moved production south of the border to take advantage of low-wage labor in Mexico.

The House passed the US-Mexico-Canada deal in December. Trump said he would sign it after he returns from a trip to Europe this week. In his remarks to farmers, the president claimed his administration is doing things no other administration has ever done.

"And what do I get out of it? I get impeached," he said. "That's what I get. By these radical-left lunatics, I get impeached. But that's OK. The farmers are sticking with Trump."

Additional reporting by AP

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Trump renews Twitter attack on Mike Bloomberg and endorses claim he 'got less due process than 9/11 terrorists'

On Twitter over the weekend, President Trump continued to attack 2020 candidate Michael Bloomberg, revealed a surprise appreciation for Hollywood Golden Age star Cary Grant and tweeted an astonishing claim from Fox News host Mark Levin that: “In the House, the president got less due process than the 9/11 terrorists.”

He also claimed to have personally saved The New York Times from bankruptcy, attacked Washington Post reporters Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig over their damning new book A Very Stable Genius and again made the extraordinary and bogus accusation that the real reason for his impeachment trial was a Democratic ploy to drag Bernie Sanders away from the 2020 campaign trail.

He further suggested that proposals to build a sea wall to shield New York City from Atlantic storms are "costly, foolish and environmentally unfriendly", which is unbelievably rich from this guy, of all people.

Here's Maya Oppenheim on that last slice of lunacy.

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Adam Schiff says NSA, CIA withholding Ukraine documents

During his appearance on ABC yesterday, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said he believed the National Security Agency (CIA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) were withholding key information on Ukraine.

"They appear to be succumbing to pressure from the administration," Adam Schiff told George Stephanopoulos. "The NSA, in particular, is withholding what are potentially relevant documents to our oversight responsibilities on Ukraine but also withholding documents potentially relevant that the senators might want to see during the trial."

Schiff, one of Speaker Nancy Pelosi's lead impeachment managers, added that there are signs that the "CIA may be on the same tragic course" before calling on the intelligence community to "resist" pressure from an administration that fears documents on Ukraine "incriminate" it. 

On impeachment, Schiff said he and his peers would be "fighting for a fair trial" and did not rule out calling on Rudy Giuliani Lev Parnas to testify following his run of explosive revelations about the Ukraine plot last week.

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Damning Trump, Alan Dershowitz attacks on Ken Starr resurface

As we've seen so many times from Trump in the past, there's always a historic tweet to expose the hypocrisy or otherwise undermine the premise of whatever point he's currently arguing.

And given that the president has been in the public eye for so many decades in his previous guise as purveyor of glitzy Manhattan apartment complexes, there's also often a damning interview clip to go along with it.

That was the case over the weekend, when a vintage MSNBC interview in which he attacked Ken Starr, his new celebrity defence attorney, resurfaced on Twitter over his integral role in the Bill Clinton impeachment of 1999:

But Trump is by no means the only one to attack Starr from his own side.

Politico reports that the aforementioned Dershowitz was also highly critical of the Starr Report in a 1998 book of essays on constitutional matters entitled Sexual McCarthyism.

“Starr is quickly destroying the credibility and integrity that alone justifies having an independent counsel,” Dershowitz wrote in one entry originally composed in May 1996 when Starr was investigating Bill and Hillary Clinton's Whitewater deal.

Even more damningly, he asked in another essay from 1998 on the Monica Lewinksy scandal: “Which is more dangerous to our liberties, a president who may have had a sexual encounter with a willing intern and then tried to cover it up? Or a prosecutor who may have leaked secret grand jury testimony in an effort to get potential witnesses to change that testimony, and who hid his conflict of interest from the court?”

He concluded that piece by writing: "Most Americans correctly believe that the allegations against Kenneth Starr are far more serious, and his alleged misconduct - if it occurred - far more dangerous to our liberties."

This clip of Dershowitz discussing the Clinton impeachment at the time has not aged well either, given his current line of defence.

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George Conway mocks 'legal odd couple' defending Trump in Washington Post op-ed

The husband of top White House adviser Kellyanne Conway (something of a hero of the MAGA resistance) wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post yesterday in which he said it was hard to see how either Starr or Derschowitz could help Trump's cause.

Conway expressed some admiration for the former but said that while the latter “may be a genius in some ways,” he is “not necessarily the advocate you want on your side”.

“Judges have told me they find him condescending in manner and tone - not the approach you want before a court consisting of 100 US senators. And he’s wont to make off-the-wall arguments,” Conway wrote, adding: “Dershowitz’s recent assertion that the Supreme Court could order the Senate not to conduct an impeachment trial illustrates the point. Not only is that claim indefensible - it’s also ridiculous.”

“Any litigator will tell you that adding to your legal team on the eve of trial most likely will not produce better lawyering but, rather, chaos. In that sense, at least, Trump will be getting the representation he deserves,” he added. 

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House Democrats may call new impeachment witnesses if Senate Republicans decline to

“We would be remiss in the House of Representatives not to follow this trail to its conclusion. And [Lev] Parnas has emerged as an important figure in this criminal conspiracy to force or coerce a foreign government to help Trump's re-election campaign.”

So said Georgia Democrat Hank Johnson over the weekend, according to The Hill, apparently opening the door for the lower chamber of Congress to resume its investigative efforts into the Ukraine scandal if Senate Republicans refuse to play ball.

“We're not going to just say, ‘OK, we've disposed of it and now the ball’s in their court and there’s nothing left for us to do.’ I think quite the contrary,” Eliot Engel of the House Foreign Affairs Committee added. “The more we hear, and the more things come out, the more resolute we are to make sure that we're dealing with the truth, and that it’s not being swept under the rug.”

Suprise impeachment manager Jason Crow meanwhile cranked up the pressure on Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell when he told State of the Union yesterday: "If the Ukraine call was perfect, then call the witnesses."

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Trump administration mocked for 'woodland camouflage' Space Force uniforms

The Trump administration was roundly mocked over the weekend after unveiling its official Space Force uniforms for the first time, with critics wondering why cadets would need a "woodland" camo pattern in deep space.

The United States badges on its arms also appear to be attached by Velcro rather than sewn on, presumably in case the wearer needs to hastily change allegiance in the event of being conquered by hostile extraterrestrials.

Maya Oppenheim has more on this farce.

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Trump's newest Russia adviser 'escorted from White House' amid security investigation

The president's latest Russia expert Andrew Peek was reportedly escorted from the White House over the weekend amid claims of a security-related investigation and has been placed on administrative leave pending an inquiry, according to Axios.

He is the third head of European and Russian affairs at the National Security Council to leave the post in the past year. Peek's two predecessors, Tim Morrison and Fiona Hill, both gave evidence at the impeachment hearings held by the House of Representatives last year.

Phil Thomas has more.

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