Trump's Senate trial: Key takeaways from senators' questions as witness vote in doubt

The senator's questions of House managers and President Donald Trump's defense team Thursday offered both sides ample opportunity to clash ahead of a pivotal vote Friday on whether to call witnesses in Trump's impeachment trial.

They included queries about when the president ordered the hold on Ukraine aid, why he lifted the hold and who was paying for his personal lawyer's trips abroad. The chief justice refused to read one question, from Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has sought to out the whistleblower whose complaint led to the impeachment charges against Trump.

Here are seven key takeaways from Thursday's question-and-answer session.

ANALYSIS: In Senate trial, Trump may have gained power but lost political case

President Donald Trump's Senate impeachment trial promises to leave him more powerful in Washington — and possibly more vulnerable to defeat on the campaign trail.

That's in part because a handful of pivotal Senate Republicans chose to condemn Trump's behavior in office while protecting him from both official sanction and the potential jeopardy of witnesses unraveling his impeachment defense under oath. As a result, Trump is on the verge of emerging from the trial with a tacit green light to defy Congress without fear of reprisal, and also safe in the knowledge that elected representatives will push only so far to find out whether he tells the truth to the public.

"It’s arguable that he’s the most politically powerful president in American history," presidential biographer Jon Meacham said on NBC News during a break in the trial Friday.

Read more here.

Marie Yovanovitch retires from the State Dept.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, a figure at the center of President Trump’s impeachment trial, has retired from the State Department after three decades in the foreign service. A person familiar with her plans confirms today was her last day.

The retirement was first reported by NPR.

Yovanovitch had most recently been serving as a Senior State Department fellow at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service although she was not teaching classes this semester.

All four Democratic amendments during trial fail

As expected, all four amendments offered by Democrats failed, largely on party lines. Collins and Romney broke with the GOP on the two amendments involving Bolton.

The amendments were: 

1.      Schumer amendment to subpoena Mulvaney, Bolton, Duffy, Blair and White House, OMB, DOD and State Department document failed with a vote of 53-47.

2.      Schumer amendment to Subpoena John Bolton failed 51-49 with Collins and Romney joining Democrats.

3.      Schumer amendment to subpoena Bolton, provided further that there be one day for a deposition presided over by Chief Justice, and one day for live testimony before the Senate, both of must occur within 5 days of adoption of the underlying resolution, failed 51-49 with Collins and Romney joining Democrats.

4.      Van Hollen amendment to require the chief justice to rule on motions to subpoena witnesses and documents, and to rule on any assertion of privilege, failed with a vote of 53-47.

Roberts makes it clear he will not be a tie-breaking vote in impeachment trial

Chief Justice John Roberts said on Friday that he would not intervene in a hypothetical tie-breaking vote as the presiding officer of Trump's impeachment trial, saying it would be improper as an unelected member of a different branch of government. 

His remarks were prompted by a question from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., regarding the role of the chief justice in the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson. In that trial, Schumer said, the chief justice made deciding votes after a deadlocked vote from lawmakers. 

"Is the Chief Justice aware that in the impeachment trial of President Johnson, Chief Justice Chase as presiding officer cast tie-breaking votes on both March 31st and April 2nd, 1868?," Schumer asked.

"I am, Mr. Leader. The one concerned a motion to adjourn, the other concerned a motion to close deliberations. I do not regard those isolated episodes 150 years ago as sufficient to support a general authority to break ties," Roberts responded.

"If the members of this body, elected by the people and accountable to them, divide equally on a motion, the normal rule is that the motion fails. I think it would be inappropriate for me, an unelected official from a different branch of government, to assert the power to change that result so that the motion would succeed."

With Roberts clarifying his role, Trump now appears headed for an all-but-certain acquittal after Republican Senators, who hold the majority, rejected the Democrats’ efforts to call more witnesses.

Senators voting on Democratic amendments, final rules

Senators are now voting on the four Democratic amendments to McConnell's organizing resolution.

We expect these to all fail. After that, senators will take up the organizing resolution.

  1. Schumer amendment to subpoena Mulvaney, Bolton, Duffy, Blair and White House, OMB, DOD and State Department documents
  2. Schumer amendment to Subpoena John Bolton
  3. Schumer amendment to subpoena Bolton; provided further that there be one day for a deposition presided over by Chief Justice, and one day for live testimony before the Senate, both of must occur within 5 days of adoption of the underlying resolution
  4. Van Hollen amendment to require the Chief Justice to rule on motions to subpoena witnesses and documents, and to rule on any assertion of privilege

Senate to conduct final vote on Trump's fate next Wednesday

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Friday Democrats rejected the majority's push for a vote on the articles of impeachment tonight and instead pushed for the trial to wrap up over the next several days after the chamber voted earlier against hearing witnesses, according to a spokesperson. 

"Sen. McConnell and Republicans wanted to rush through an acquittal vote tonight. But Democrats wanted votes on witnesses and documents, for the House Managers to be able to make closing arguments, ample time for every member to speak, and to prevent GOP from rushing this through," the Schumer spokesperson said. 

The new organizing resolution will include:

  • Four votes, including debate, on Democratic amendments on Friday;
  • Closing arguments from both sides will convene on Monday at 11 a.m. with up to 4 hours equally divided;
  • Speeches from senators on the Senate floor Monday to Wednesday; and
  • The final vote will be at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, a day after Trump delivers his the State of the Union in the House. 

Schumer said that Democrats will still oppose McConnell's resolution because it does not include witnesses and documents.

Here's what the next days of the impeachment trial may look like

GOP Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri and Mike Braun of Indiana told NBC News that they expect the Senate trial to conclude on Wednesday, though nothing has been finalized. 

Tonight, on Friday, the Senate is slated to vote on a new organizing resolution to establish the following procedure:

MONDAY: Senators arrive, potentially as early as 11 a.m., and then there will be closing arguments from both sides.

TUESDAY: Senators will take to the Senate floor to gives speeches, which could take somewhere between 10 to 15 minutes for each lawmaker.

WEDNESDAY: The floor speeches continue and then there will be a vote on the articles of impeachment.  

The Senate impeachment trial will likely not be in session on the weekend. 

'They will lose the war': Carper criticizes Republicans on vote against witnesses

Schumer calls vote against witnesses 'a grand tragedy'

Schumer called the Senate's 51-49 vote against calling witnesses "a grand tragedy."

"No witnesses, no documents in an impeachment trial is a perfidy. It is a grand tragedy. One of the worst tragedies that the Senate has overcome. America will remember this day, unfortunately, where the Senate did not live up to its responsibilities," Schumer said.

"The Senate turned away from truth and went along with a sham trial," he added. "It's a tragedy on a very large scale."

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn, told MSNBC it "was a terrible, terrible vote for the country."

Senate vote on calling witnesses fails, ushering in trial endgame

The Senate voted not to call witnesses in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial Friday afternoon, ushering in the final phase of the proceedings, with an all-but-assured vote to acquit Trump possibly coming as late as Wednesday.

The vote was 49 to 51.

Democrats sought testimony from ex-national security adviser John Bolton on Trump's alleged conditioning of Ukraine aid on investigations into Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden. But they failed to get a majority to back their efforts after Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, two key Republican swing votes, announced that they would not back the move.

Read the story.

Sanders reacts to witness vote: 'A sad day in American history'