While the drama of the impeachment trial continues, we have a surge of new polling data. The Democratic primaries are generating a lot of new data. But I want to focus for the moment on the general election, impeachment and the President’s approval.

Two things are happening, which may seem to be inconsistent, but likely are not. The first is that impeachment and removal from office is getting more popular. Indeed, 538’s average of polls which focus specifically on impeachment and/or removal from office has now moved to just over 50% — 50.8% as of this morning.

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National Security Advisor of the United States John Bolton (L) and US Charge d'Affaires a.i. in Ukraine, Ambassador William Taylor lay wreaths of red carnations at the memorial wall which commemorates those who perished in fighting in Donbas in Mykhailivska Square, Kyiv, capital of Ukraine, August 27, 2019. Ukrinform.
Where Things Stand: Explosive Bolton Allegations Complicate Trump’s Defense
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on July 12, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium.

As we wrote this morning, new allegations outlined in an unpublished manuscript of former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s new book obtained by the New York Times claim that President Trump explicitly told Bolton the Ukraine military aid was directly tied to Trump’s push for investigations into the Bidens.

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What Just Went Down

President Trump’s defense opened Saturday with a swift 2-hour session that crammed everything but the kitchen sink into an argument that was designed first and foremost to undermine Adam Schiff’s reliability as a narrator. In a stinging irony, the White House lawyers maintained a sustained attack on the House managers for, of all things, hiding evidence.

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Inside The Chamber As Trump’s Team Began Its Defense

I made sure to be in the Senate chamber right as President Trump’s legal team began to see how their tactics shifted the dynamics in the room.

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Inside The Chamber During Schiff’s Closing

It was the end of four long days of impeachment proceedings, and for once, all the senators were still.

For the bulk of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff’s speech closing the House’s presentation of evidence, every seat was filled (except for that of Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS), who was watching from a public balcony with a guest).

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Keep An Eye On This

News is out this morning that there’s a tape recording of President Trump ordering the firing of Marie Yovanovitch. On its face this doesn’t tell us dramatically more than we already know. The April 2018 dinner in question, where Lev Parnas and his business partner Igor Fruman met the President, has been reported on extensively. Even the gist of the conversation has been reported.

Obviously the existence of a tape adds some punch and drama. But that’s not the real significance.

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Where Things Stand: Now On To Obstruction
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House impeachment managers will spend their third day in the spotlight arguing that President Trump obstructed Congress by stonewalling congressional investigators’ requests for documents and witness testimony while the House was conducting its impeachment inquiry.

At the end of the day, the baton will be tossed to Trump’s legal team, who will begin their opening arguments on Saturday. The ever ratings-obsessed Trump is reportedly not happy that his lawyers’ first stab at his defense is taking place over the weekend, rather than during the week. Here’s more on that and other stories we’re following:

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Expert On Call: Why Are Impeachment Managers Spending So Much Time Explaining Ukraine Politics?

House impeachment managers dedicated a great deal of time today to explaining the current and historic political climate in Ukraine. Its prompted questions: Is this an effective strategy for Democrats? Or are we getting too far into the weeds?

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A Peek At The Impeachment Drama’s Supporting Cast

There’s been much attention to what the senators have been doing during the long days of the impeachment proceedings: How are they reacting? Are they paying attention? Are they staying in their seats? Are they sleeping? What are they drinking?

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A Key, Clarifying Point

Much of what we’re hearing in these impeachment arguments against the President really is repetitive. We’ve heard most of it in conversations going back months and in testimony from late last year. But there are key parts, especially in Chairman Schiff’s discussions, which are new or clarifying.

One of the key examples is the issue of the President departing from “US policy” or his prepared talking points in discussions with foreign leaders. This point often did get muddled in the hearings late last year – at least muddled enough to give some opening for tendentious arguments from the President’s defenders.

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Where Things Stand: Davos Was The Only Thing Keeping Trump Quiet
This is your TPM mid morning briefing.

President Trump set a new personal record last night with the most posts to his Twitter feed in any single day. As we noted in our liveblog coverage, as of 8:30 p.m. ET, he’d tweeted or retweeted 140 posts about a litany of topics, from the impeachment trial, to immigration, to attacks on a favorite nemesis — Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA). The majority of these tweets were posted during the span of time that he was en route back from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

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Why Was Ron Johnson Shaking His Head?

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), a witness to the late stages of Trump’s hold on Ukraine military assistance, visibly shook his head in apparent disagreement as Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) described the major points of that phase of the pressure campaign.

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This Is Super Big and It’s Not Impeachment

Everything today is impeachment. We sit here listening to Adam Schiff make the House’s opening statement. But even with that I want to flag your attention to this story about the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and the hacking of Jeff Bezos’s cell phone.

At one level it is a tabloid story. Bezos’s phone was allegedly hacked and the hackers discovered evidence of an affair. Evidence was later shared with The National Enquirer. They published it. Bezos’s was embarrassed and he and his wife announced they were divorcing.

But this is a much, much bigger deal than the marital embarrassment of the richest man in the world.

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Where Things Stand: Senate GOP Appears To Lean Toward Acquittal At Trial
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After a late night of proceedings in the Senate, in which the majority party shot down each and every one of the minority’s amendments to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) rules for the impeachment trial, we were expecting Senate Republicans to file procedural motions this morning, including a possible motion to dismiss. It’s just after 10 a.m. ET and we’ve seen nothing, meaning Senate Republicans likely lack the votes to support an outright dismissal. Here’s more on that and other stories we’re following:

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What We Think Sekulow May Have Been Referencing With ‘Lawyer Lawsuits’ Tirade
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 21: Jay Sekulow, an attorney for President Donald Trump, arrives to the Capitol for the impeachment trial of Trump on Tuesday, January 21, 2020. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

A very amped-up Jay Sekulow ended his argument against Sen. Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) latest amendment with a diatribe against what Rep. Val Demings (D-FL) had said about “lawyer lawsuits.” His repeated comments about “lawyer lawsuits” appeared to prompt confusion on the House managers table in the well of the chamber, where the House members are joined by lawyers who have been working on the House inquiry.

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So far, I would say Chairman Schiff has done a good job at putting Senate Republicans on trial. As I’ve suggested previously, I don’t expect this will shift their views. But it will put their participation in this cover-up in stark relief. And that is a story for the November election. Read More

Where Things Stand: Trump Will Have Loudest Cheerleaders On His Team During Sham Trial
This is your TPM mid-morning briefing.
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 20: Rep. Elise Stefanik, (R-NY),  left, and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), right, speak with reporters following the testimony of Gordon Sondland, the U.S ambassador to the European Union, before the House Intelligence Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill November 20, 2019 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony during the fourth day of open hearings in the impeachment inquiry against U.S. President Donald Trump, whom House Democrats say held back U.S. military aid for Ukraine while demanding it investigate his political rivals. (Photo by Alex Edelman/Getty Images)

The Senate impeachment trial will officially begin this afternoon with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) officially placing his rules for the trial on the Senate floor. The rules are designed to push the proceedings through the upper chamber quickly, with each side getting just 24 hours to make their opening arguments within two calendar days. McConnell is also barring any House evidence from entering the record automatically — everything must be approved by vote.

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Looking Back at the Trump/Stephanopoulos Interview in Context

This isn’t new news. But I at least had not really put the two things together until this afternoon. Remember back last summer ABC’s George Stephanopoulos did a White House interview with President Trump. It got a lot of attention because of a number of things the President said. But the biggest was the President saying that he would in fact work with a foreign government again trying to intervene in a US election. Even Trump’s staunchest allies and toadies had a hard time defending the comment.

“It’s not an interference, they have information — I think I’d take it,” Trump told Stephanopoulos. “If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI — if I thought there was something wrong. But when somebody comes up with oppo research, right, they come up with oppo research, ‘oh let’s call the FBI.’ The FBI doesn’t have enough agents to take care of it. When you go and talk, honestly, to congressman, they all do it, they always have, and that’s the way it is. It’s called oppo research.”

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A Quick Explainer on Last Night’s News, Robert Hyde and Anthony de Caluwe

I updated you last night on the latest Parnas document dump. They are hard to make sense of – particularly the new information about apparent surveillance of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. So now that I have a better understanding of the details I wanted to walk you through them. They’re important.

On the first round we got those WhatsApp text messages from Robert Hyde to Lev Parnas, apparently passing on updates about surveillance he was running on Yovanovitch. We later learned that Hyde has a history of erratic behavior and was actually involuntarily committed to a psychiatric facility a month or so after the texts were sent. So we had to consider the possibility that these claims were simply made up, wildly embellished or even the product of delusions.

Last night’s document dump makes clear that there was at least some truth to the claim Ambassador Yovanovitch was being surveilled by some group of feral Trumpers.

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