Senate opens Trump impeachment trial as fresh Ukraine revelations emerge

click to enlarge Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, attends a Keep America Great rally in Manchester, N.H., Aug. 15, 2019. - ANNA MONEYMAKER/THE NEW YORK TIMES
Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times
Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, attends a Keep America Great rally in Manchester, N.H., Aug. 15, 2019.
By Michael D. Shear
The New York Times Company

WASHINGTON — The Senate formally opened the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on Thursday as senators accepted the promise to deliver “impartial justice” and installed Chief Justice John Roberts as the presiding officer.

In a somber ceremony that has only happened twice before in the nation’s history, Roberts vowed to conduct Trump’s impeachment trial “according to the Constitution and the laws.” He then administered the same 222-year-old oath of impartiality and adherence to the Constitution to the senators, setting in motion the final step in a bitter and divisive effort by the president’s adversaries to remove him from office.

Even as the antiquated ritual unfolded, new evidence was trickling out about Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine that is at the heart of the charges against him.

A trove of newly released text messages, voicemail messages, calendar entries and other records handed over by Lev Parnas — an associate of Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer — offered fresh detail about the scheme. And the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan federal watchdog, found that Trump’s decision to withhold nearly $400 million in military aid from Ukraine was an illegal breach of a law that limits a president’s power to block the spending of money allocated by Congress.

Two hours before the oath-taking on the Senate floor, seven House members made a solemn march to the chamber to read aloud the charges against Trump. The charges detailed the case against the president: that Trump pressured Ukraine for investigations into his political rivals, withholding $391 million in military aid as leverage, and that he obstructed Congress by blocking the inquiry into his conduct.

Just hours before the formal start of the trial, the GAO said the decision by the White House Office of Management and Budget to withhold the aid violated the Impoundment Control Act, concluding that “faithful execution of the law does not permit the president to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law.” Trump directed the freeze on the Ukraine aid, and administration officials testified during the course of the impeachment inquiry that they had repeatedly warned that doing so could violate the law, but their concerns were not heeded.

Aides said Trump was not watching the ceremonial events on television as the trial got underway.

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