Impeachment TV: Broadcast Networks Cover The Trial — But It’s Certainly Not Gavel To Gavel

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UPDATE, 3:50 PM PT: By the second hour in the Senate chamber on Monday, some members started slumping down in their chairs for the long day ahead, as President Donald Trump’s legal team presented their side of the impeachment case. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) stood up and stretched his legs, scribbling notes as he did so, while Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) sat with his hands in an A-frame in front of him.

Then, there was a break around 3 p.m. ET — not just for the Senate, but for some of the broadcast networks. In Washington, D.C., the ABC station went to Hot Bench; the CBS station had on Inside Edition, turning away from the proceedings earlier than they did most of last week. NBC went to an optional feed for affiliates at 5 PM ET, with Chuck Todd taking over for anchor Lester Holt.

The broadcast networks have pre-empted regular daytime programming throughout the trial — which has been important coverage but not exactly scintillating.

Last week, they broke in for reports from Tuesday through Friday. But to little surprise, there is a limit to how much of the trial they will cover, particularly as the marathon sessions start to bump up against affiliates’ local newscasts (and their own advertising time) and, later, into the higher-rated primetime hours. The networks are leaving gavel-to-gavel coverage to their streaming services, including ABC News Live, CBSN and NBC News Now.

Among cable news networks, CNN and MSNBC have been sticking to the proceedings, while Fox News has been going to its nighttime schedule, starting with The Five, at times going back to the speaker on the Senate floor or to a split screen. On Monday, The Five waited to start until after Pam Bondi, one of Trump’s lawyers, finished her argument. She tried to make the case that Trump was right to seek an investigation of Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

PREVIOUSLY: Ken Starr, the former Fox News commentator best known as the independent counsel who pursued President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, warned senators that there is a new “age of impeachment,” in that it’s being used as a political weapon.

Starr criticized Democrats for not getting bipartisan support for their impeachment efforts and for doing so so close to an election year.

“We are living I think through what can be aptly described as the age of impeachment,” Starr said, as he went through the history of impeachment and what he believes the framers intended.

As many Republicans have warned that Democrats are setting a low bar for impeachment, many of Clinton’s supporters argued the same back in 1998-99, when he was impeached for lying under oath about the Lewinsky affair. He was acquitted by the Senate.

John Dean, who was White House counsel under President Richard Nixon, tweeted during Starr’s remarks, “If we are in the ‘Age of Impeachment,’ as Ken Starr argues he is the progenitor of that age when he launched the impeachment of Bill Clinton. His argument is filled with holes. He has no basis the say the House is doing what HE did to Clinton! This is pure bogus diversion!”

In speaking to the Senate, Starr noted that “those of us who lived through the Clinton impeachment” saw how much it was divisive for the country.

Starr is among the attorneys arguing for Trump’s team. Their arguments are expected to last through Monday and perhaps into Tuesday. Starr was a contributor to Fox News’s impeachment coverage until he was named as a member of Trump’s legal team earlier this month.

On NBC News, Chuck Todd said, “It is astonishing that Ken Starr is lamenting that it has become too easy to use impeachment when, by any measure, the Clinton impeachment is something that a lot of people have debated left and right about, did it sort of define impeachment downward?…I think the argument would have been more legitimate had they not had Ken Starr making the argument.”

What the Trump team did not mention was the Bolton scoop. “The way they have decided to deal with it is to not deal with it at all — is basically to ignore it,” said Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace.

The Senate opened with a prayer for Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, who were killed along with seven others in a helicopter crash on Friday.

PREVIOUSLY: News networks began another day of impeachment coverage on Monday with an obvious focus on former national security adviser John Bolton’s bombshell book, one that injects a new level of uncertainty into the Senate trial.

After President Donald Trump’s team presented the opening hours of their argument on Saturday, it looked like the trial was headed to an all-but-certain outcome: Not only would Trump be acquitted, but it would likely happen by this coming weekend.

Now the timing is unpredictable. The New York Times‘ scoop on Sunday — that Bolton’s upcoming book includes a claim that the president told him Ukraine aid was tied to the country’s help on investigations of his political rivals – could lead to more Republicans voting to call for the former national security adviser to testify. That would add to the length of the trial, especially if Bolton’s testimony leads to calls for other witnesses.

On CNN, chief national correspondent John King said that the Times revelation would be hard for Republicans to ignore. It also seems to minimize the argument that the House should have pursued Bolton’s testimony. Otherwise, he said, “it is like the fire department coming to your house and saying, ‘That started on the night shift. We are not going to put it out.'”

Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace said that “there was a lot of talk that this trial was going to be over by Friday. That may still happen, but it seems to me it’s much, much less likely because the main argument that the defense has made is that there is no firsthand evidence that the president specially conditioned support for Ukraine on political investigations of the Democrats and Joe Biden.”

Two Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah, signaled that they are likely to call for witnesses. If all of the Democrats and two independents stay together, it would take four Republicans to make that happen. A vote, however, will not take place until later this week.

At a press conference on Monday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D- NY) said that Bolton’s claim is “stunning. It goes right to the heart of the charges against the president.”

Bolton, a former Fox News commentator, has said that he is willing to testify in the impeachment trial if called by the Senate. His revelation was included in a manuscript of his upcoming book The Room Where It Happened. The manuscript had been submitted to the National Security Council for review at the end of last month. The book was made available for pre-order on Amazon shortly after the Times story. It has a publication date of March 17 and quickly zoomed to the top of political science bets sellers.

“Between President Trump and Ambassador Bolton, only one of them is willing to testify in the Senate under oath,” Schumer said.

Trump denied Bolton’s account. He tweeted on Monday, “I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens. In fact, he never complained about this at the time of his very public termination. If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book.”

The impeachment trial resumes at 1 p.m. ET on Monday.

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