Trump impeachment trial live coverage: Senators ask final questions before critical vote on witnesses

The second and final day of questions comes before a critical vote, expected Friday, on whether to call witnesses.
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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Senators on Thursday concluded their final day of questions for House prosecutors and President Donald Trump’s defense team in the president’s impeachment trial before a critical vote, expected Friday, on whether to call witnesses.

The Senate remains divided on the witness issue, with Democrats calling for testimony from ex-national security adviser John Bolton and other top administration officials. Republican leaders are seeking to block additional testimony and documents in a bid for a quick acquittal of Trump.

Senators asked 180 questions Wednesday and Thursday on everything from executive power to the ability to call witnesses — an issue that has lawmakers sharply divided.

Highlights from the impeachment trial so far

Live Blog

FIRST READ: Senate Republicans appear ready to fall in line on impeachment vote despite earlier concerns

It’s so revealing how Republicans’ attitudes about the Ukraine scandal have evolved in just four months.

We’ve gone from Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., saying evidence of a quid pro quo would be “very disturbing,” to GOP senators not willing to hear from John Bolton, who claims in a new book that President Trump told him he was linking Ukraine’s security aid to investigating the Bidens.

We’ve also moved from some GOP senators being opposed to a president asking a foreign leader to dig up dirt on a political rival — “Look, it is not appropriate for any candidate for federal office, certainly, including a sitting president, to ask for assistance from a foreign country,” Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said in September — to Trump lawyer Alan Dershowitz now suggesting that a president could do almost anything to win re-election.

That evolution tells you where we’re likely headed.

Get the rest of First Read.

Bakery sending a message to Republican senators

Early notes on Thursday's session

Thursday's Q&A

Eight more hours to go. Notable moments so far include deputy counsel Patrick Philbin infuriating Democrats with his argument on campaign finance laws and foreign interference; Philbin saying no one from White House counsel’s office knew about the Bolton manuscript before The New York Times reached out for comment on Sunday; Jay Sekulow’s more sharply partisan tone and his call for witnesses, including the Bidens, Schiff and the whistleblower; the Dershowitz argument on quid-pro-quo

Witness watch

The mood in and around West Wing appears more positive than 36 hours ago. Officials still feel cautiously optimistic about deflecting calls for witnesses. Caveat: Any news bombshell between now and Friday night could change the game. 

Just catching up? Here's what you missed.

Senators start their second day of questions and answers after asking more than 90 questions of House managers and Trump's defense team on Wednesday.

Here's a brief recap of the trial so far:

Pompeo to visit Ukraine at height of Trump impeachment trial

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will arrive in Ukraine on Thursday at the height of President Donald Trump's impeachment trial that has dragged the Eastern European country into the maelstrom of U.S. politics.

Pompeo was supposed to visit earlier this month but was forced to postpone his visit because of unrest at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq after deadly U.S. airstrikes.

Some observers predict that due to recent events, this could be a tricky trip.

Read the story.

Trump's Senate trial: Key moments from Day 1 of the question-and-answer phase

House impeachment managers and President Donald Trump's defense team faced questions from senators on Wednesday as Trump's Senate trial entered a new phase.

The first query, from the three GOP senators who are most likely to vote to continue the trial with additional witnesses, may well have been the most pivotal. Senators remained divided over the issue Wednesday, with Republicans working get the vote need to block a call for witnesses.

Here's a look at some of the best — and most important — moments from Wednesday's question and answer session.

Read more here.

Scholars push back on Dershowitz's 'outrageous' and 'preposterous' argument

Constitutional scholars and legal experts pushed back on what they called an "outrageous" and "preposterous" argument Trump defense team attorney Alan Dershowitz made Wednesday.

Dershowitz, a retired Harvard law professor, argued that a quid pro quo arrangement benefiting a president politically is fine because all politicians believe their elections are in the public's interest.

"If a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment," he said during the first day of the question-and-answer period of the Senate impeachment trial.

Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California, Berkeley law school, told NBC News he thought Dershowitz's argument was "absurd and outrageous."

"It means that a president could break any law or abuse any power and say that it was for the public interest because the public interest would be served by his or her election," he said.

Sanford Levinson, a University of Texas law professor, said Dershowitz's argument was "on its face, preposterous."

Levinson said that while candidates for office "make a variety of deals that they would prefer not to in behalf of the good cause" of their election, "we rely on a certain moral compass that will stop at, say, outright bribery" and "suggesting assassinations."

And NBC News/MSNBC legal analyst Neal Katyal, a former acting U.S. solicitor general, called Dershowitz's argument "inane."

"That would allow a president to do literally anything and destroy re-elections as a check on presidential behavior," Katyal said.

Later in Wednesday's session, Dershowitz called the president "irreplaceable" and said constitutional scholars who disagreed with his assessments were "influenced by their own bias" and "simply do not give objective assessments of the constitutional history."

On Thursday, Dershowitz said his comments were being "willfully distorted" by the media.

"They characterized my argument as if I had said that if a president believes that his re-election was in the national interest, he can do anything," Dershowitz tweeted. "I said nothing like that, as anyone who actually heard what I said can attest."