Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial hit a snag when Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah objected to how Democrats characterized a phone call from the president when the Capitol insurrection was raging.
After exchanges over the matter that seemed to confuse everyone, the Democratic House impeachment managers agreed to strike their words from the record and move on. They said the episode was not vital to their case that Trump incited the mob Jan. 6. But their account Wednesday night was correct to begin with.
Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, an impeachment prosecutor: “Sen. Lee describes it. He had just ended a prayer with his colleagues here in the Senate chamber, and the phone rang. It was Donald Trump. And how Sen. Lee explains it is that the phone call goes something like this. ‘Hey, Tommy,’ Trump asks. And Sen. Lee says, ‘This isn’t Tommy.’ And he hands the phone to Sen. Tuberville. Sen. Lee then confirmed that he stood by as Sen. Tuberville and President Trump spoke on the phone. And on that call, Donald Trump reportedly asked Sen. Tuberville to make additional objections to the certification process. That’s why he called.”
LEE, asking that remarks about the phone call be removed from the record of the proceedings: “Statements were attributed to me moments ago by the House impeachment managers (that) were not made by me, they’re not accurate.” He added: “They are not true. I never made those statements.”
THE FACTS: By his own admission, Lee made the statements directly attributed to him. He did not publicly characterize what was said on the phone call — but Democrats did not claim that he had done so.
Cicilline said that on the call, Trump “reportedly” asked that Senate Republicans delay the certification of Joe Biden as the next president. Indeed, published new reports said just that, citing anonymous sources. The Associated Press has not confirmed those reports.
But there’s no question, as the Democrat said, that Lee took a call from Trump, realized the president was intending to call Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville and handed his phone to his colleague, standing nearby as Trump and Tuberville talked. We know this because Lee himself has described that scene.
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He recounted it in text messages to Bryan Schott, a reporter for The Salt Lake Tribune.
“I went and found Senator Tuberville, handed him my phone, and explained that the president would like to speak to him,” Lee texted. “I stood nearby for the next five or ten minutes as they spoke, not wanting to lose my phone in the middle of a crisis.
“Then the Capitol Police became very nervous and ordered us to evacuate the chamber immediately. As they were forcing everyone out of the chamber, I awkwardly found myself interrupting the same telephone conversation I had just facilitated.
‘“Excuse me, Tommy, we have to evacuate. Can I have my phone?’
“Senator Tuberville promptly ended the call and returned my phone to its rightful owner.”
The House prosecutors produced a number of public statements by Trump as he openly stirred the anger of his supporters over the Congress’s action to affirm Biden’s election victory. They said this phone call was not central to their argument. But they said they might come back to it.
After the insurrectionists had been cleared from the Capitol, lawmakers certified Biden’s Electoral College victory. Lee did not vote to object to the certification. Tuberville was one of six Republican senators who voted to sustain an objection raised against Arizona’s electoral votes.