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

Schiff complains about 'duplicity' of Trump lawyer's arguments against Bolton testimony

Asked to correct the record on how House investigators pursued Bolton’s testimony, Schiff complained that Trump and his lawyers were denying that the House Committee had authority to secure testimony from witnesses in court while also insisting in the Senate that the panel hadn’t tried very hard to get such testimony.

“It takes your breath away, the duplicity of that argument," Schiff said. "They’re before you saying, ‘They should have tried hard to get these witnesses, they should subpoena, they should have litigated for years,’ and down the street, in a federal courthouse, they’re arguing, 'Judge, you need to throw them out,'” Schiff said. “Are we really prepared to accept that?”

Sen. Gardner says he will vote against calling witnesses

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., will vote against witnesses, his office confirmed Wednesday.

“I do not believe we need to hear from an 18th witness," Gardner said in a statement released by his office. "I have approached every aspect of this grave constitutional duty with the respect and attention required by law, and have reached this decision after carefully weighing the House managers and defense arguments and closely reviewing the evidence from the House, which included well over 100 hours of testimony from 17 witnesses.”

Third question is a GOP follow-up about Bolton testimony question

The third question, from Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., was aimed as a follow-up at Schiff's response to Schumer's questions about the significance of Bolton's testimony.

"To the president's counsel. Would you please respond to the arguments or assertions the House managers just made in response to the previous question?" Roberts read on behalf of Thune.

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.