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.
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.
Chief Justice John Roberts refused to read the second question of the day at the president's impeachment trial, which came from a Republican senator who's tried to out the whistleblower who raised red flags about the president's July phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart.
"The presiding officer declines to read the question as submitted," Roberts said after looking at the question from Sen. Rand Paul, of Kentucky, who'd reportedly tried to get a similar question read on Wednesday.
Immediately after Roberts’ decision, Paul stood and left the chamber.
Politico reported that Roberts had let senators know on Wednesday he would not read questions naming or identifying the whistleblower, whose lawyers have said has been subject of death threats.
A spokesman for Paul, Sergio Gor, tweeted earlier Thursday that Paul planned to keep pushing.
"Senator Paul will insist on his question being asked during today’s trial. Uncertain of what will occur on the Senate floor, but American people deserve to know how this all came about ..." Gor tweeted.
Lofgren: Trump team's rationale for declining to comply with subpoenas an 'excuse'
The first question Thursday was about the House subpoenas in the impeachment investigation. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., answered that the White House argument that the subpoenas were invalid "is wrong" and "an excuse."
Trump's legal team has said the administration did not comply with subpoenas because they were authorized before the House took a full vote to open the impeachment investigation. Lofgren said that under House rules, they did not need such a vote to launch the investigation. She also said several judges have been impeached without a full House vote launching a probe.
The legal team's rationale for not complying is "just an excuse about President Trump's obstruction."
Trump "refused to comply before the [full] House vote and after the House vote," Lofgren said, pointing to Trump saying that he was determined to fight all the subpoenas.
So if Trump withheld nearly $400 million in aid to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations of Democrats to help his campaign, the retired Harvard law professor said it wasn't an impeachable offense because Trump thinks his election would be to the country's benefit. Therefore, his motive was not corrupt.
Dershowitz tweets to critics: 'I did not say or imply that a candidate could do anything to reassure his reelection'
The question on Wednesday, from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was: "As a matter of law, does it matter if there was a quid pro quo? Is it true quid pro quos are often used in foreign policy?"
Dershowitz answered, “The only thing that would make the quid pro quo unlawful is if the quo were, in some way illegal.” He added: “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 responded at length on Twitter Thursday morning to the ensuing criticism:
Taking advantage of the fact most of their viewers didn’t actually hear the senate Q and A, CNN, MSNBC and some other media willfully distorted my answers. More to Come
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. I said nothing like that, as anyone who actually heard what I said can attest.
I gave as an example mixed motive President Lindon’s decision to send troops home from the battlefield to Indiana so that they would vote for his party. He genuinely believed that his party’s victory in Indiana was essential to the war effort, but it also helped him politically.
I did not say or imply that a candidate could do anything to reassure his reelection, only that seeking help in an election is not necessarily corrupt, citing the Lincoln and Obama examples. Critics have an obligation to respond to what I said, not to create straw men to attack.
What if there's a tie vote? Everything you need to know about witnesses and Trump's trial
Ahead of the vote on Friday afternoon on whether to call witnesses at President Donald Trump's impeachment trial, GOP Senate leaders believe they will have just enough votes to block additional testimony and documents.
In order for witness testimony to be approved, four Republicans in the Senate would need to vote alongside all Democrats.
So far, only Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, has indicated he will vote in favor of witnesses, and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, has said it is likely she will, too. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska has hinted at an interest in hearing from witnesses but has not provided a strong indication of how she will vote.
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.