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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

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

Live Blog

McConnell concludes Tuesday's trial by laying out Q&A rules

The White House defense team used just under 10 hours to give their defense.

McConnell then said that a deal has been made on the Q+A period of the trial, which will include:

  • WEDNESDAY: At 1 p.m, 8 hours alternating between majority and minority sides.
  • THURSDAY: Up to 8 hours alternating between sides for up to eight hours.
  • Chief Justice Roberts said he will go with the 1999 precedent of giving 5 minutes per response.

Schiff rejects Sekulow claim that Bolton allegations are irrelevant

Schiff, responding to an argument Sekulow made that Bolton's claims about Trump and Ukraine are inadmissible, said, "Once again, the president’s team, in only a way they could, have further made the case for calling John Bolton."

Earlier Tuesday, Sekulow dismissed Bolton's claim that Trump had admitted to tying Ukraine aid to the Biden investigation, an assertion made in an unpublished manuscript by Bolton as reported by The New York Times on Sunday, saying the claims were inadmissible at trial.

"Are you going to allow proceedings on impeachment to go from a New York Times report about someone that says what they hear is in a manuscript?" Sekulow said. "Is that where we are? I don't think so. I hope not."

Schiff also responded to Sekulow's argument that the issues surrounding Ukraine are merely due to a policy disagreement.

"I suppose that’s the difference: Americans don’t believe as a matter of policy the president should be able to behave as corruptly as he chooses," Schiff said.

He added that "there’s a subtext here which is essentially the president’s defense team saying, yes, he’s guilty, we know he’s guilty, and we have to fall back on the fallback of all time, which is, 'So what?'"

GOP Sen. Braun on Trump's conduct: 'We knew what we were getting'

Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., during a brief break in the trial, said of Trump's behavior: Well, this is what we signed up for.

"I've been a Trump supporter for the agenda," Braun, who was elected in 2018, told NBC News. "I've come here to work on health care, I was one of the first guys to join the Climate Caucus. I think it's a big deal."

"When it comes to the president's behavior and style, we knew what we were getting here," he added, saying Trump was elected to shake up the establishment.

It's an interesting argument to make as the president faces impeachment over his behavior, pushing Ukraine to probe the Bidens and Democrats as he withheld aid and an official White House visit to the country's president. Democrats alleged he abused his power and obstructed Congress' investigation.

Cipollone delivers last defense presentation: 'I think we’ve made our case'

White House counsel Pat Cipollone began the last presentation of the Trump defense team by telling senators, “I think we’ve made our case.”

“All you need in this case is the Constitution and your common sense,” Cipollone said. 

“You know what the right answer is in your heart. You know what the right answer is for your country. You know what the right answer is for the American people,” he added.

Cipollone, whose presentation lasted only about 10 minutes, then played a video of several members of the House who spoke during the impeachment of President Bill Clinton in 1998 — including Rep. Jerry Nadler and then-Rep. Chuck Schumer, both New York Democrats. 

Cipollone then wrapped up his remarks.

"This should end now, as quickly as possible," he said. 

OPINION: Trump's impeachment trial defense hinges on six arguments. They can all be rebutted.

President Donald Trump’s lawyers began their impeachment arguments on Saturday with what football fans might call a “prevent” defense. Under that strategy, a team with a lead late in the game plays cautiously to avoid giving up a big play.

And now we know why.

Trump’s defense team is now offering its closing arguments. Over the course of the past few days, the group has offered six predictable defenses, each of which can be rebutted. It now appears that their goal was to simply provide Republican Senators with sufficient talking points and avoid changing anyone’s mind.

But on Sunday, that strategy appeared to backfire when it was reported that former national security adviser John Bolton’s upcoming book contradicts at least one of Trump’s defenses. By avoiding witness testimony that could have been high risk or high reward rather than addressing those facts head-on at his trial, Trump is now seeing the facts trickle out in other forums where it is difficult to control.

Read the opinion piece.

More on the view from the White House ...

Dershowitz and Trump spoke today

Alan Dershowitz tells NBC News that Trump called him this morning and they had a long talk. Without getting into specifics, he indicated the president was pleased with his presentation. Dershowitz himself thought things went okay yesterday but emphasized the Middle East peace plan announcement (the reason why he was at the White House today) was more a priority.

View from the West Wing

There’s less confidence than before the Bolton book revelations that this trial will end this week; a senior administration official still thinks there’s a “strong chance” it happens but acknowledges everyone is watching for the Senate Q&A to determine more.

On the upcoming Senate Q&A

A source close to the defense team says preparations are happening for a “variety of questions” from Democrat side that they think will be “largely predictable,” but acknowledges those questions could still contain curveballs, so lawyers want to prep to make sure they can address them factually. The source says that on the Republican side, the questions will likely aim to provide greater clarity on “areas of interest” that senators have talked about privately.

John Kelly on Bolton 

An administration official aimed to downplay the comments made by John Kelly about John Bolton, telling NBC News: “We don’t even know exactly what Bolton said. John Kelly doesn’t know what Bolton said.” More on that here.


What's next for the trial

As the defense makes its way through closing arguments, senators and observers are preparing for the next phase of the trial: the question and answer portion.

After speaking to aides and looking at historical precedent, here’s what we are currently expecting:

  • The organizing resolution allows for 16 hours of Q+A. That’s not specified to be equally divided, but we expect the questions to alternate between parties.
  • The questions must be written and are delivered, one-by-one, from either McConnell or Schumer on a piece of paper (via a clerk) to the Chief Justice at the dais.
  • The Chief Justice will then read the names of the senator or senators offering the question, the specific trial team to which the question is directed, and then the question itself.
  • In 1999, the person answering the question had 5 minutes to respond, and each question was to be directed to only one side.
  • If one side runs out of questions, then the other party with questions keeps going.
  • Hypothetically, if both sides come to the conclusion that they no longer have questions before the 16 hours has concluded then they could agree to conclude early.
  • There’s no specification of how many days this will take. In 1999, it was done over three days, but that third day also included a debate and vote on the second organizing resolution to establish witness depositions.
  • There is no rebuttal baked-in to the rules, but the 1999 trial allowed for some responses. 
  • There can be bipartisan questions. In fact, in 1999 Sen. Susan Collins was part of the only bipartisan question submitted as a part of that trial.

Senate Democrats were asked to submit their questions to Schumer’s office by midnight on Friday (that doesn’t preclude new questions from being introduced after Friday, though.)

Senators are not expected to begin the Q&A portion on Tuesday.

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Sekulow compares impeaching Trump over request for Biden probe to limiting free speech

Sekulow compared impeaching Trump over asking Ukraine to investigate the Bidens to the limiting of free speech on college campuses.

"Do we have like a Biden-free zone? Was that what this was?" Sekulow said. "That it was — it's a — you mention someone or you're concerned about a company and it's now off-limits? You can impeach a president of the United States for asking the question?"

Trump asked Ukraine to probe the Bidens and Democrats as he withheld Ukrainian aid and an official White House visit with Zelenskiy. 

Meanwhile, Sekulow said the impeachment amounted to a "policy difference" and "disagreement" with Trump withholding the aid.

The Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan government watchdog, assessed that Trump violated the Impoundment Control Act through his administration's monthslong withholding of the aid.