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Hakeem Jeffries Impeachment Trial Opening Argument Transcript: Opening Argument at January 24 Trump Trial

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Mr. Chief Justice, distinguished members of the Senate, president's council, the American people, once again, we are gathered here. Not as Democrats or Republicans, not as. The left or the right, not as progressives or conservatives. But as Americans. Doing our constitutional duty. During this moment of presidential accountability. And as house managers, we thank you for your courtesy, your attentiveness and your hospitality. At the heart of Article 2. Obstruction of Congress.
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Is a simple, troubling reality. President Trump tried to cheat. He got caught. And then he worked hard. To cover it up. The president tried to cheat. He got caught. And then he worked hard. To cover it up. Patrick Henry, one of the nation's great patriots, once said that the liberties of a people never were nor ever will be secure. When the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them. Let's now address the effort by President Trump and his team to cover up his wrongdoing.
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By July of twenty nineteen, White House officials were aware of serious allegations of misconduct by President Trump. Regarding Ukraine. But instead of halting the president's corrupt scheme. They worked overtime to conceal it from the American people. As additional evidence of the president's wrongdoing mounted, White House lawyers redouble their efforts to prevent Congress and the American people from learning of the president's misconduct. At the same time, top administration officials, including Secretary of State Pompeo, Secretary of Defense Esper and National Security Adviser John Bolton tried to convince President Trump to lift the hold on the security assistance.
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They fail. President Trump was determined to carry out his corrupt scheme.
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The military and security aid was only released on September 11th after the hold became public, after the House launched an investigation and after Congress learned about the existence of a whistleblower complaint, the three hundred and ninety one million dollars in security aid was only released because President Trump was caught red handed.
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The actions of President Trump. And high level White House officials allowed his abuse of power to continue. Beyond the watchful eye of Congress. And most importantly, the American people. As we have discussed at length on July 10th, Ambassador Solin told the Ukrainians and other U.S. officials that he had a deal. With Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney to schedule the White House meeting, President Zelinsky wanted if the new Ukrainian leader committed to the phony investigations that President Trump sought.
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As you've seen in testimony sharing shown during this trial. Following that meeting. National Security Council officials Dr. Fiona Hill and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Venkman immediately reported this information to John Aisenberg. The legal advisor for the National Security Council and a deputy counsel to the president. According to Dr. Hill, Mr. Eisenberg told her that he was also concerned about that July 10th. Meeting. On the screen is Dr. Hill's deposition testimony. Which she explains Mr. Eisenberg's reaction, saying, I mean, he wasn't aware that Sunland Ambassador Solin was kind of running around doing a lot of these meetings and independently we talked about the fact that Ambassador silence.
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said he'd been meeting with Giuliani and he was very concerned about that. And he said that he would follow up. On this. Eisenberg was very concerned about that. And said that he would follow up. On this. Dr. Hill further testified that Mr. Eisenberg told her that he followed up with his boss, the distinguished White House counsel, Pat, sit alone. However. Because the president blocked Mr. Eisenberg from testifying in the House. We do not know what, if anything, he or Mr.
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SIP alone did in response to this deeply troubling information. What we do know is that President Trump's effort to cheat continued with reckless abandon by failing to put the brakes on the wrongdoing after that July 10th meeting. Even after one note, after they were notified by concern, national security officials. The White House attorneys allowed it to continue. Unchecked. Right around the same time that July 10th meetings at the White House took place, the Office of Management and Budget began executing President Trump's illegal order.
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To withhold all security assistance from Ukraine. On July 12th, Robert Blair, an assistant to the president, communicated the hold to the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, Russell Vaught, on July 18th and Office of Management and Budget official communicated the whole to other executive branch agencies, including the Department of State and the Department of Defense. And a week later, on July 25th, President Trump had his imperfect. Telephone call. But President Zelinsky.
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And directly pressured. The Ukrainian leader. To commence phoney political investigations as part of his effort to cheat and solicit foreign interference in the 2020 election. The July 25th call marked an important turning point. If there was any question. Among senior White House officials and attorneys about whether President Trump was directly involved in the Ukraine scheme. As opposed to just a rogue operation being led by Rudolph Giuliani or some other underlings. After July 25th. There can be no mistake.
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The president of the United States. Was undoubtedly calling the shots. Thereafter, the complicity of White House officials with respect to the cover up. Of the president's misconduct intensified. Immediately after the July 25th call, both Lieutenant Colonel Venkman and his direct supervisor. Tim Morrison reported their concerns about the call to Mr. Eisenberg and his deputy, Michael Ellis. In fact, within an hour after the July 25th call. Lieutenant Colonel Venkman returned again a second time to Mr.
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Eisenberg and reported his concerns. I was concerned by the call. What I heard was inappropriate. And I reported my concerns to Mr. Eisenberg. It is improper for the president of the United States to demand a foreign government, investigate a U.S. citizen and a political opponent. I was also clear that if Ukraine pursued an investigation, it was also clear that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the 2016 elections, the Bidens and Bremer, it would be interpreted as a partisan play.
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This would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing bipartisan support, undermining US national security and inventing Russia's strategic objectives in the region region. I want to emphasize to the committee that when I record my concerns are July 10th relating to Ambassador SOLMAN and then July 25th relating to the President, I did so out of a sense of duty. I privately report my concerns in official channels to the proper authority in the chain of command. My intent was to raise these concerns because they had significant national security implications for our country.
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I never thought I'd be sitting here testifying in front of this committee and the American public about my actions when I report my concerns. My only thought was to act properly and to carry out my duty. Timothy Morrison, the National Security Council's senior director for Europe and Russia, also reported the call to Mr Eisenberg and asked him to review the call, which he feared would be damaging if leaked.
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Mr Morrison, shortly after you heard the July 25th call, you testified that you alerted the NSC legal adviser, John Eisenberg. Pretty much right away, is that right? Correct. And you indicated in your opening statement, at least from your deposition, that you went to Mr Eisenberg out of concern over the potential political fallout if the call record became public and not because he thought it was illegal. Is that right? Correct. But you would agree, right, that asking a foreign government to investigate a domestic political rival is inappropriate?
00:11:05
Would you not? It's not what is on what we recommended the president discuss. July twenty fifth call. Was at least the second time that National Security Council officials had reported concerns about President Trump's pressure campaign to White House lawyers the second time. Who now clearly understood the gravity of the ongoing misconduct. But because the president blocked Mr Eisenberg from testifying without any justification. The record is silent as to what, if any, actions he. Well, the White House council took to address.
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President Trump's brazen misconduct and abuse of power. We do know, however, that instead of trying to halt the scheme.
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White House lawyers facilitated it. By taking affirmative steps to conceal evidence of President Trump's misconduct. For example. After Lieutenant Colonel Venkman, men and Mr Morrison reported their concerns related to the July 25th call to the National Security Council lawyers. They tried to bury the call submarine. They tried to bury it. 10A Colonel Jim and testified that the National Security Council lawyers. Believed it was, quote, appropriate to restrict access to the cause summary. For the purpose of the leaks.
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And to preserve the integrity of the transcript. According to Lieutenant Colonel the Men, Mr Eisenberg gave the go ahead to restrict access to the call summary. Morrison testified that he learned in late August. After he raised concerns that the call record might leak and politically damage the president, that the call summary had been placed on a highly classified National Security Council server. The call record was placed on a server. That is reserved for America's most sensitive national security secrets and covert operations, not routine calls.
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With foreign leaders. Apparently, Mr. Eisenberg claimed at the time that burying the call transcript on a highly classified server. Was a mistake. Now, in a second meeting with Mr. Eisenberg. What did you recommend that he do to prevent the call record from leaking?
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I recommended we restrict access to the package.
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Had you ever asked the NSC legal adviser to restrict access before? No. Did you speak to your supervisor, Dr. Kupperman, before you went to speak to John Eisenberg? No. Did you subsequently learn that the call record had been put in a highly classified system? I did. And what reason did Mr. Eisenberg give you for why the call record was put in the highly classified system? It was a mistake. He said it was just a mistake.
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It was an administrative error. Mr Morrison's view. The July 25th call record did not meet. The requirements to be placed on a highly classified. Server. At his deposition, Morrison testified that the call record was placed on the server by mistake.
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However, even after this alleged mistake was uncovered. The July 25th call summary. Was not removed from the classified system. Because someone was trying to hide it. It was not until the launch of the House impeachment inquiry in late September and after intense public pressure that the rough transcript of the July 25th call was released.
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Again, because Mr. Eisenberg and Mr. Ellis refused to testify in the House, we do not know exactly how the July twenty fifth call record ended up on this highly classified National Security Council server. What we do know is that Mr. Eisenberg ordered access restricted after multiple officials. Like Dr. Fiona Hill. And Lieutenant Colonel Venkman advised him of the scheme to condition a White House meeting on phony political investigations.
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This strongly suggests that there was an active attempt to conceal the clear evidence of the president's wrongdoing. Instead of addressing the president's misconduct. Mr. Eisenberg seemingly tried to cover it up. Why did Mr. Eisenberg place the July 25th call summary on a server for highly classified material? Did anyone senior to Mr Eisenberg direct him to hide the call record? Why did the call record remain on the classified server even after the so-called Erra was discovered? Who ordered the cover up?
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Of the call record. Who ordered the cover up of the call record? The American people. Deserve to know. Following July 25th, call, the president's scheme to pressure Ukraine for political purposes intensified. Apparently unchecked by any effort to stop it. From the White House counsel's office after the July 25th call, Ambassador Solin and Voelker worked with the president's personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, to procure a public statement from President Zelinsky. To announce phony investigations into Joe Biden and the crowd strike conspiracy theory being peddled by President Trump.
00:17:53
At the same time, President Trump continued to withhold a White House meeting and security assistance from Ukraine. In a manner that broke the law. As these efforts were ongoing, White House attorneys reportedly received yet another warning sign. That the president was abusing his power. According to a published report in The New York Times, the week after July 25th call. An anonymous whistleblower reported concerns that the president was abusing his office. For personal gain. The whistleblower complaint landed in the CIA general counsel's office.
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Although the concerns related directly to the president's own misconduct, the CIA's general counsel, Courtney Elwood, alerted Mr Eisenberg. Over the next week, Ms. Elwood, Mr. Aisenberg and their deputies reportedly discussed the whistleblower's concerns. And they determined, as required by law, that the allegations had a reasonable basis. So. By early August. White House lawyers began working along with attorneys at the Department of Justice. To cover up the president's wrongdoing. They were determined to prevent Congress and the American people from learning anything about.
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The president's corrupt behavior, although senior Justice Department officials, including Attorney General Bill Barr.
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Were reportedly made aware of the concerns about corrupt activity. No investigation into President Trump's wrongdoing. Was even open. By the Department of Justice. As White House. And Justice Department lawyers were discussing how to deal with the whistleblower's concerns. On August 12th. Another important date, the whistleblower filed a formal complaint with the inspector general for the intelligence community. In accordance with federal law on August 26, the inspector general transmitted the whistleblower complaint to the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph McGuire.
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Along with the inspector general's preliminary conclusion that the complaint was both credible and related to a matter of urgent concern.
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Urgent. Concerned. But instead of transmitting the whistleblower complaint to the House and to this Senate Distinguished Intelligence Committee as required by law.
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The acting director of national intelligence notified. The White House. Well, Dirk, I'm just I'm still trying to set a chronology, so you first went the Office of Legal Counsel and then you went to White House counsel. We went to the beach and then to the. Repeat that, please, sir. I'm just trying to send the chronology. You first went to the Office of Legal Counsel and then you went to the White House counsel. No, no, no, sir.
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No, sir. No. We went to the we went to the White House first to determine, to ask.
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OK. That's all I wanted to was Colonel. She went to the White House first. So. You went to the subject of the complaint. For advice first about whether you should provide the complaint to Congress. There were issues within this couple of things. One, it did appear that it has executive privilege. If it does have executive privilege, it is the White House that determines that. I cannot determine that as the director of national intelligence. Under federal law, the acting director of national intelligence was required to share the whistleblower complaint with Congress.
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Period. Full stop. If that had occurred, the president's scheme to withhold security assistance and a White House meeting being sought by the new Ukrainian leader to pressure Ukraine for his own personal political gain would have been exposed. To prevent that from happening. The president's lawyers and top level advisers adopted a two prong cover up strategy. First. BLOCK Congress and the American people from learning about the whistleblower complaint. Second, try to convince President Trump to lift the hold on the security assistance before anyone can find out about it and use that evidence.
00:23:02
Against them. As to the first prong, sometime after the acting director of national intelligence told the White House counsel's office about the complaint on August 26. Mr. Simp alone. And Mr. Eisenberg reportedly briefed the president. They likely discussed with President Trump whether they were legally required to give the complaint to Congress. They stated that they were consulting with the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice. The acting director of national intelligence testified that he and inspector general consulted with the Office of Legal Counsel who opined without any reasonable basis.
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That he did not have to turn over the complaint to Congress. On September 3rd, the day after the statutory deadline for the director of national intelligence to provide the complaint. To this body. And to the house. The Office of Legal Counsel issued a secret. Opinion concluding that contrary to the plain language of the statute. The acting director of national intelligence was not required to turn over the complaint. The cover up was in full swing. The Office of Legal Counsel opined that the whistleblower complaint did not qualify.
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As an urgent concern. And therefore, did not have to be turned over. What can be more urgent than a sitting president trying to cheat in an American election by soliciting foreign interference? What can be? More urgent than that. That's a constitutional crime in progress. But they concluded. It wasn't an urgent. mattter. Acting director of National Intelligence, McGuire testified that the Office of Legal Counsel opinion did not actually prevent him from turning over the complaint to Congress.
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Instead, based upon his testimony, it is clear that he withheld it on the basis that the complaint might deal with information that he believed could be covered by executive privilege. But President Trump never actually invoked executive privilege. He never actually invoked executive privilege.
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Nor did he inform Congress. That he was doing so with respect to this complaint. Instead, the White House secretly instructed the acting director of national intelligence to withhold the complaint based on the mayor possibility. That executive privilege could be invoked. By doing so, the White House was able to keep the explosive complaint from Congress. And the American public. Without ever having to disclose the reason why it was withholding this information. But truth crushed to the ground will rise again.
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There's a toxic mess. At sixteen hundred Pennsylvania Avenue. And I humbly suggest. That it's our collective job. On behalf of the American people to try to clean it up. President Trump tried to cheat. He got caught. And then he worked hard. To cover it up. Many great presidents. Throughout the history of this republic, great Republican presidents. And great Democratic presidents. Perhaps one of the greatest presidents is Abraham Lincoln. He once said.
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That any man. Can handle adversity. But if you want to test a man's character. Give them some power. America is a great nation. We can handle adversity better than any other country in the world. Whenever America has found itself in a tough spot, we always make it. To the other side. We were in a tough spot during the civil war. When America was at risk of tearing itself apart, but we made it. To the other side.
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A tough spot in October of 1929 when the stock market collapse plunging us into the Great Depression. But we made it. To the other side, we were in a tough spot in December of 1941 when a foreign power struggle plunging us into a great conflict with the evil empire of Nazi Germany. But America made it. To the other side. We were in a tough spot in the 1960s dealing with the inherent contradictions. Of Jim Crow. But we made it.
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To the other side. We were in a tough spot. On September 11th. When the towers was struck. And young men and women like Jason Crowe. Was sent to Afghanistan to fight the terrorism there. So we didn't have to fight the terrorists here. And we made it. To the other side. America is a great country. We can handle adversity better than any other nation in the world. But what are we going to do?
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About our character. President Trump. Tried to cheat. And solicit foreign interference in an American election. That is an attack. On our character. President Trump. Abused his power and corrupted the highest office in the land. That is an attack. On our character. President Trump. Tried to cover it all up. And hide it from the American people. And obstruct Congress. That's an extraordinary attack. On our character. America is a great nation. We can handle adversity.
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Better than any other country in the world. But what are we gonna do? About our character.