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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

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

1101d ago / 7:21 PM UTC

Rand Paul criticizes Roberts for rejecting his question, saying it didn't refer to whistleblower

Sen. Rand Paul criticized Chief Justice John Roberts on Thursday after he refused to read Paul's question out loud, apparently because it included the name of the person right-wing media alleges is the whistleblower who set off the impeachment inquiry. 

Paul, a Kentucky Republican, read the question — and the person's name — at a news conference held after he walked out of the president's impeachment trial following Roberts' decision.

Paul, who has repeatedly called for the whistleblower to be identified publicly, claimed he wasn't trying to out the whistleblower with his question, which asked if the person in question had a close relationship with a House committee staffers and had "worked together to plot impeaching the president."

"I think this is an important question, one that deserves to be asked, and makes no reference to anybody who may or may not be a whistleblower," Paul said. 

Paul said he thought Roberts made "an incorrect finding" by failing to read the question, which he'd wanted both House managers and White House lawyers to respond to.

When NBC News asked if he should be attending the trial, Paul said: "Yeah, I will be there very shortly. Thanks for the question."

John Tye, CEO of the nonprofit law office Whistleblower Aid, issued a statement saying: “Senator Paul’s effort to out the whistleblower is reckless and intended to distract and intimidate, not educate. Attaching any name to the identity the whistleblower, whether accurate or not, puts the named individual at tremendous personal risk.”

 

1101d ago / 6:59 PM UTC

Dershowitz challenges critics to a Lincoln-Douglas-style debate

1101d ago / 6:35 PM UTC

Schiff says Dershowitz argument amounts to 'normalization of lawlessness'

Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the lead House manager in the impeachment trial, said an argument made by Dershowitz amounted to the "normalization of lawlessness" and said the Senate trial has witnessed "a descent into constitutional madness" over the past few days.

Dershowitz faced intense backlash Thursday over an eye-opening argument he made against impeaching his client.

Dershowitz argued Wednesday that if a president engaged in a quid pro quo arrangement for his or her own political benefit, it is not impeachable because all politicians believe that their elections are in the public 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 trial.

Schiff said a lawyer only makes an argument like that "because you know your client is guilty and dead to rights."

"That is an argument made of desperation," he said.

1101d ago / 6:32 PM UTC

Chief justice refuses to read Rand Paul question

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.

1101d ago / 6:27 PM UTC

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.

1101d ago / 5:46 PM UTC
1101d ago / 5:33 PM UTC

'Nonsense,' 'preposterous,' 'absurd': Critics lecture Prof. Dershowitz about trial remarks

Alan Dershowitz faced intense backlash Thursday over an eye-opening argument he made against impeaching his client.

Dershowitz argued Wednesday (and then defended at length on Thursday) that if a president engaged in a quid pro quo arrangement for their own political benefit, it is not impeachable because all politicians believe that their elections are in the public 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.

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.

The backlash to that legal analysis was furious.

Read the story.

1101d ago / 4:15 PM UTC

Pelosi hopes 'senators will have the courage and the ability to handle the truth'

1101d ago / 4:12 PM UTC

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:

1101d ago / 4:02 PM UTC

What if there's a tie vote? Everything you need to know about witnesses and Trump's trial

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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.

Read the story.

1101d ago / 4:00 PM UTC

Article II: Inside Impeachment - Q&A time

In the latest episode of Article II, Steve Kornacki talks to Leigh Ann Caldwell, NBC News correspondent covering Congress, about the first round of the question-and-answer period in the Senate trial.

The two discuss:

  • The Democrats’ effort to convince their fellow senators to call new witnesses in the trial.
  • The Republicans’ strategy to argue that the president’s conduct is not impeachable.
  • Where the math in the Senate stands on witnesses as we head into day two of Q&A.
1101d ago / 3:53 PM UTC
1101d ago / 3:49 PM UTC

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

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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.

1101d ago / 3:41 PM UTC

Bakery sending a message to Republican senators

1101d ago / 3:34 PM UTC
1101d ago / 3:32 PM UTC

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. 

1101d ago / 2:30 PM UTC

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:

1101d ago / 2:01 PM UTC
1101d ago / 1:54 PM UTC

Pompeo to visit Ukraine at height of Trump impeachment trial

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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.

1101d ago / 1:51 PM UTC
1101d ago / 1:50 PM UTC

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.

1101d ago / 1:02 PM UTC

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."