EVENT ENDED

Trump impeachment trial live coverage: Senators probe prosecution, defense

Senators have a total of 16 hours over two days to probe House impeachment managers as well as the White House defense team.
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 grilled both the House managers and the defense team on Wednesday during the first day of the question-and-answer period of President Donald Trump's impeachment trial.

Senators have a total of 16 hours over two days to probe House impeachment managers as well as the White House defense team, which have had three days each to deliver their arguments.

Senators are still divided on whether to hear from witnesses.

Highlights from the impeachment trial so far

Live Blog

Top Democrat reveals private call with Bolton that contradicts Trump claims

Rep. Eliot Engel pushed back on President Donald Trump's claims that John Bolton didn't complain about the president's conduct toward Ukraine as the Foreign Affairs Committee chairman revealed a September call with Bolton in which the former NSA chief told him to examine the ouster of the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

"President Trump is wrong that John Bolton didn't say anything about the Trump-Ukraine scandal at the time the President fired him," Engel, D-N.Y., said in a statement. "He said something to me."

Engel said that he reached out to the former national security adviser on Sept. 19 to ask if he would speak before the Foreign Affairs Committee regarding U.S. foreign policy. Engel said the two then had a call days later, on Sept. 23, when Bolton "suggested to me — unprompted — that the committee look into the recall of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch."

"He strongly implied that something improper had occurred around her removal as our top diplomat in Kyiv," Engel continued. 

Read the story.

Second question, from Schumer, is about importance of testimony from Bolton

The question, from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., was directed to the House managers.

"John R. Bolton's forthcoming book states that the president wanted to continue withholding $391 million in military aid to Ukraine until Ukraine announced investigations into his top political rival and the debunked conspiracy theory about the 2016 election. Is there any way for the Senate to render a fully informed verdict in this case without hearing the testimony of Bolton, Mulvaney and the other key eyewitnesses or without seeing the relevant documentary evidence?" Roberts stated.

Schiff, before launching into a lengthy answer, first replied, "The short answer to that is no."

First question comes from key GOP cohort of Collins, Romney and Murkowski

The first question came from Sen. Susan Collins of Maine — who announced that she was asking on behalf of herself as well as two fellow Republicans, Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Collins introduced her question but the question itself, directed at Trump’s defense team, was read by Chief Justice John Roberts:

“If President Trump had more than one motive for his alleged conduct, such as the pursuit of personal political advantage, rooting out corruption and the promotion of national interests, how should the Senate consider more than one motive in its assessment of Article One?"

Collins, Murkowski and Romney are among the small list of GOP senators who could vote in favor of calling witnesses in the Senate trial. 

Deputy White House counsel Patrick Philbin answered that a mixed motive — one involving both personal and public interests — "can’t possibly be an offense."

"Because it would be absurd to have the Senate trying to consider, 'Well, was it 48 percent legitimate interest and 52 percent personal, or was it the other way? Was it 53 percent and 47 percent? You can't divide it that way."

Philbin added, "If there is something that shows a possible public  interest, and the president could have that possible public interest motive, that destroys their case. So once you're into mixed-motive land, it's clear that their case fails, there can't possibly be an impeachable offense at all."

Lev Parnas, the indicted associate of Giuliani, tries to attend Trump impeachment trial

Lev Parnas, the indicted associate of President Donald Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani who has said he wants to testify in the president's impeachment trial, showed up at the Senate on Wednesday attempting to gain entry.

Parnas, however, can't enter the Senate gallery because he is wearing an electronic monitoring device on his ankle — and no electronic devices are allowed in the Senate chamber during the trial.

Before he made his way to the Senate chamber, Parnas told reporters that if he were ever allowed to testify in the trial, he's not sure it would change the minds of Republican senators, because they live in the "cult" of "Trump world."

Parnas reiterated that he wanted to testify under oath at Trump’s trial — and that he also would like to see Trump, and other key cabinet members, testify.

Read what Parnas said.

Trump to senators at White House event: 'Maybe I’m just being nice to them because I want their vote'

Impeachment was clearly on President Donald Trump's mind Wednesday during a Rose Garden event celebrating the signing of the U.S. trade deal with Canada and Mexico.

In the middle of rattling off a list of senators to thank for their work on the deal, Trump noted: "Maybe I’m just being nice to them because I want their vote. Does that make sense? I don't want to leave anybody out."

As the crowd, including a number of members of Congress, laughed, Trump referred to the largely party-line House impeachment vote, saying: "Hey, congressman, I already got your vote. ... To hell with you, I think I have to mention some senators."

Trump also referred to the work a number of senators were doing on impeachment as he called them out, saying Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was anxious to get back to the Capital to ask questions: "He’s got some beauties, I bet." 

On Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., Trump said, "He's saying just read the transcript."

When he got to Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., he asked, "Why are you not over there, Rick?" and added that Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., wasn't attending because he was holding a news conference.

As Trump handed out pens to members of Congress after signing the deal, he joked to the crowd: "See how nice I'm being to senators? I don't care about anybody else." 

Toomey suggests he's in the 'nay' column on calling witnesses

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who reportedly raised possibility of trying to strike a one-for-one deal on witnesses after news of the Bolton book broke, is now sending signals that he's leaning against calling for witness testimony.

Toomey said Wednesday morning that he is “very, very skeptical” that new witnesses would change his mind on the verdict, his spokesman Steve Kelly confirmed to NBC. Toomey's remarks were reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer. 

Graham 'concerned' attacks on Bolton will only increase calls for him to testify

Sen. Lindsey Graham said Wednesday that he is "concerned" that attacks on John Bolton's credibility could increase demands for him to he testify in President Donald Trump's impeachment trial — a statement that came shortly after Trump ripped into Bolton on Twitter.

“The House managers’ claim that the sole reason President Trump temporarily paused the aid was purely personal and political, not public, does not withstand scrutiny," Graham, a South Carolina Republican and close Trump ally, claimed in a statement. “However, I am concerned when John Bolton’s credibility is attacked, it makes it more likely some will feel the need to call him as a witness."

Graham, who is up for re-election this year, added that if Bolton is called, “it would be important for the president and his team to call witnesses on other issues.”

In his statement, Graham said he thinks additional testimony from witnesses is "unnecessary."  

“For the sake of argument, one could assume everything attributable to John Bolton is accurate and still the House case would fall well below the standards to remove a president from office," he said, referring to reports that Bolton's upcoming book contradicts a key part of the president's impeachment defense.

Graham also claimed there was "ample evidence for the president to be concerned about conflicts of interest on behalf of Hunter Biden and that Vice President Joe Biden’s failure to take appropriate action was unacceptable. This combination, in my view, undercut America’s message on reforming corruption in Ukraine." 

What to watch on Wednesday

A source on the legal team says they are 'prepared” for whatever comes, with another source familiar with the thinking telling NBC News that they’re ready for a wide range of questions, including, of course, some on Bolton. The team is expecting Democrats to focus the bulk of their Q&A on trying to build the case for witnesses. Another source familiar with the matter predicts the questions on the Republican side will likely try to provide greater clarity on “areas of interest” that senators have talked about privately (our read: like, presumably, Bolton.) 

Witness update

The White House is largely deferring senator-wrangling to Mitch McConnell. But a source familiar with the legal team’s thinking tells NBC News that they believe the witness vote will be “close.” Another source acknowledges there’s less confidence now than before the Bolton book leak about a quick wrap-up to the trial, but still thinks there’s a strong chance they get an acquittal by the end of the week. 

Giuliani associate Lev Parnas arrives, takes selfies at Capitol

Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani, poses for a selfie with protester outside of the Capitol on Jan. 29, 2020.Yuri Gripas / Reuters