Trump impeachment trial live coverage: The president's defense delivers closing arguments

After the arguments phase of the trial, senators will turn to questioning the Democratic House managers and Trump's lawyers.
Image: Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the House voted to send impeachment articles against President Donald Trump to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell officially received the House managers on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the House voted to send impeachment articles against President Donald Trump to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell officially received the House managers on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020.Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

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President Donald Trump's lawyers on Tuesday wrapped up their final day of arguments in his impeachment trial, calling the charges against him unfounded and politically motivated.

After previewing their case in a short session on Saturday, Trump’s legal team doubled down on Monday, insisting there was nothing improper about his dealings with Ukraine's government and casting blame on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.

The president's defense largely avoided direct mention of a bombshell report involving John Bolton.

Highlights from the impeachment trial

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Romney's vice, and other things senators are doing during closing arguments

As Tuesday’s session got underway, a number of senators were tardy getting to their seats. Sens. Jerry Moran of Kansas, Tim Scott of South Carolina and a handful of other Republicans trickled in late. 

One person who was seated and ready: Mitt Romney of Utah. He was drinking a glass of chocolate milk, the first senator I’ve seen do so. Students of Romney may know this is his only vice.

Among those appearing especially engaged in their note-taking duties on the final day of defense arguments: Collins, Murkowski, Cassidy and Toomey.

Lamar Alexander was reading and editing something — it wasn't one of the impeachment handouts or other documents the lawyers occasionally pass around. Lindsey Graham was largely absent. 

On the Democratic side, most senators appeared engaged, although Sanders seemed somewhat less so as the defense's arguments continued. 

Sekulow hammers on the significance of removing a sitting president

Trump's lawyer Jay Sekulow, delivering the second of three presentations Tuesday by the president’s legal team, seemed to appeal to Republican senators with a political argument, not a legal one.

Sekulow, raising his voice and pointing his finger,  hammered on the fact that senators were being asked to convict and remove a president — and in an election year.

"I want to focus today, on my section, on what you're being asked to do. You are being asked to remove a duly-elected president of the United States and you're being asked to do it in an election year,” Sekulow said. “In an election year,” he repeated.

Sekulow even mentioned the Democratic senators running for president “in this chamber right now that would rather be someplace else.” 

“Why would you rather be someplace else? Because you're running for president, the nomination of your party. I get it,” he said.

ANALYSIS: Philbin acknowledges limits on Trump’s power

One of the key arguments of the president’s defense has been that it’s the president, not his aides, who set foreign policy. Patrick Philbin made that case on the Senate floor to contend it’s impossible for the president to execute foreign policy that is counter to that of the United States simply because he overrules what Cabinet secretaries and national security officials say is in America’s interests.

That is “fundamentally anti-constitutional,” Philbin said. And he’s right about that. The president is elected, and his assistants, no matter how high their rank are not. 

But Philbin had just acknowledged a truth about policy-making that is equally important and which speaks directly to the view of administration officials that releasing funds to Ukraine was in American interests. 

Philbin noted that the laws passed by Congress limit the president’s power and he sets policies “within those constraints.” One of the laws passed by Congress was a spending measure directing the president to provide aid to Ukraine on a specific timetable. Administration officials urged him to act consistent with that law, which he signed, rather than outside its constraints. The Government Accountability Office has found that the administration violated the law in withholding the funds.

'You did a good job on her': Trump praises Pompeo for confrontation with NPR reporter

President Donald Trump took a moment from presenting his plan for peace in the Middle East on Tuesday to praise his secretary of state — for blasting an NPR reporter.

"That reporter couldn't have done too good a job on you yesterday. I think you did a good job on her, actually," Trump told a chuckling Mike Pompeo during his speech at the White House alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Trump was referring to an interview Pompeo did with NPR's Mary Louise Kelly last week, which the he cut off after she pressed him on why he has never publicly defended former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

After Pompeo abruptly ended the interview, an aide called Kelly back to Pompeo's private living room where the correspondent said he "shouted" and "used the F word."

Read the full story.

Defense's closing arguments to wrap up before 'dinner time'

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said they expect Tuesday’s session to be “several hours” with probably one quick break in the middle.

Deputy White House counsel Pat Philbin started opening arguments and Jay Sekulow will be next, followed by a break, and then White House counsel Pat Cipollone will wrap up arguments, Cipollone said.

"Our goal is to be finished by dinner time and well before," he said.

Romney spotted with a new beverage: chocolate milk

'You can't predict him': Lamar Alexander key in vote for witnesses at Senate trial

His political hero is former Sen. Howard Baker, the Republican Tennessee lawmaker remembered for his impartiality during the Watergate impeachment hearings.

Now, all eyes are on Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., as he could be a pivotal vote on whether there are witnesses in President Donald Trump's Senate impeachment trial.

Alexander hasn't tipped his hand and no one is totally sure of which way he'll go.

'You can't predict him," Tom Ingram, Alexander's former chief of staff, told NBC News. "He will hold his counsel, make his own decision and you won’t be sure of it until he makes it known in due course."

Alexander, who is retiring at the end of this term and has a history of working with Democrats on major issues, has been zeroed in on along with GOP Sens. Mitt Romney, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski as the top targets for Democrats hoping to have witness testimony and documentary evidence at the Senate trial.

Read the full story.

Ex-White House chief of staff John Kelly: 'I believe John Bolton'

John Kelly, the retired Marine general who served as Trump's chief of staff for 18 months, said Monday that he believes the reported allegations made by Bolton in an upcoming book.

"If John Bolton says that in the book, I believe John Bolton,” Kelly said at a lecture series appearance in Sarasota, Fla..

Kelly added, "John’s an honest guy. He’s a man of integrity and great character, so we’ll see what happens,” according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

The former White House chief of staff said "the majority of Americans would like to hear the whole story," adding, "I think if there are people that could contribute to this, either innocence or guilt ... I think they should be heard.”

Bolton reportedly claims in the upcoming book that Trump linked Ukrainian aid with the investigations he sought into the Bidens in an August conversation with his former national security adviser. Trump denies having done so.

Senate GOP to meet Tuesday on calling witnesses

Senate Republicans are expected to meet after the impeachment trial adjourns Tuesday afternoon to discuss whether to call witnesses, four GOP aides told NBC News.

The meeting is for “starting to check the conference on witnesses,” a GOP leadership aide said. Other topics likely will be discussed as well.

The Senate Republican Conference's conversations on witnesses are taking on a new sense of urgency with Trump's defense team's arguments set to conclude Tuesday and the question-and-answer phase expected to start Wednesday. 

Once the 16 hours of senators' questions of the House managers and Trump's lawyers are finished (likely taking two days), there will be up to four hours of debate on whether to consider subpoenas for witnesses.

Read the full story.

Schiff rips Starr, Dershowitz, says defense wants to sweep Bolton testimony 'under the rug'

Lead House manager Adam Schiff ripped into Trump's defense team Tuesday morning, saying they are afraid to let John Bolton testify because "he would tell, in a captivating way that the public would watch, the most pernicious part of the president's scheme — the withholding of hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid to an ally at war in order to coerce these sham investigations.

"They don't want the country to hear it," he continued. "They just want to sweep  it under the rug."

Appearing on appeared on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe," Schiff singled out arguments about Rudy Giuliani, who was central to the Ukraine saga, and those presented by Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz.

"It's hard to know where to begin with the arguments that Giuliani is just a bit player here, even though, of course, the president brought up Rudy Giuliani, I think, more than anyone else in that phone call with Zelenskiy. It was 'talk to Rudy,'" Schiff said. The argument presented by Trump lawyer Pam Bondi that Giuliani is "merely a distraction" wasn't "the least bit credible," he added.

On Starr and Dershowitz, Schiff said, "I was leaning over to my staff counsel and basically saying, 'This is the same Ken Starr that we're talking about, right? This is the same Ken Starr?' And then you've got the debate between 60-year-old Alan Dershowitz and 81-year-old Alan Dershowitz. You know, the weight of their own legal team doesn't believe their legal constitutional theory."

"But I think, at the end of the day, it all boils down to this: You know, they're reading between the lines of their defense," Schiff continued. "It's  basically, 'Yeah, he did it, we know he did it, the president knows he did it. We just don't want the American people to see any more evidence that he did it.'