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
- Dershowitz says Trump pursuing quid pro quo to help re-election isn't impeachable.
- Trump defense attorney says Burisma probe in the U.S. interest.
- Nadler argues Giuliani's role proves Trump was not concerned about corruption in Ukraine.
- Former Nixon WH counsel: 'Dershowitz unimpeached Richard Nixon.'
Protesters near Capitol hold up signs on witnesses and GOP votes
Senator speaks to areas where Trump may have waived privilege
ANALYSIS: Witnesses are fine, as long as there’s no venue
In the House, the White House counsel’s office argued that impeachment was a sham and President Trump refused to participate in the investigation in any way. He issued a blanket prohibition on his aides complying with requests for testimony and his agencies producing documents.
In federal court, his Justice Department has argued the House does not have standing to pursue subpoenas.
In the Senate, White House lawyers are currently arguing the House should have interviewed witnesses or gone to court to force them to testify. The House did both, only to face opposition from the administration.
“There’s a proper way of doing things and an upside-down way of doing things,” deputy White House counsel Patrick Philbin said Wednesday in advising the Senate that it is not the right venue for witnesses either.
Dem. senator asks if Roberts has authority to rule on witnesses, executive privilege
A recent question from Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., aimed at the House managers, touched on Chief Justice John Robert's ability to help resolve issues regarding witnesses in an impeachment trial in the Senate.
"Some have claimed that subpoenaing witnesses or documents would unnecessarily prolong this trial. Isn't it true that depositions of the three witnesses in the Clinton trial were completed in only one day each? And isn't it true that the chief justice as presiding officer in this trial has the authority to resolve any claims of privilege or other witness issues without any delay?" Carper asked in a question read by Roberts.
"Mr. Chief Justice, the answer is yes," said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.
Roberts could in theory break a tie among senators on the issue of calling witnesses, legal experts have said.
Some experts have also said that Roberts has the authority to make rulings that pertain to executive privilege.
Asked to correct 'falsehoods' from White House lawyers, Lofgren contests several of their major points
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., asked the House managers if they “care to correct the record on any falsehoods or mischaracterizations in the White House's opening arguments?"
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said in response that Trump’s defense team argued six facts and that “all six of those so-called facts are incorrect.”
Among them, Lofgren said, were the defense’s claim that nothing improper occurred on the July 25 call between Trump and Zelenskiy — a claim she said was disproved by “all of this evidence” presented by the House managers “that makes us understand that phone call even more clearly.”
Another item Lofgren mention was the claim by Trump’s defense that Zelenskiy “never felt pressured” to open the investigations desired by Trump.
“Of course they didn’t say that publicly,” Lofgren said. But she pointed out that Zelenskiy had said that he didn’t want to be involved in U.S. domestic politics and that he “resisted announcing the investigations.”
Another claim Lofgren contested was the claim made by the defense that “Ukraine didn’t know Trump was withholding the security assistance.”
“Many have contested that,” she said.
Dershowitz says a quid pro quo in Trump's political interest is fine and not impeachable
Alan Dershowitz argued that a quid pro quo involving a president's political benefit was fine because all presidents believe their elections are in the public's interest.
Essentially, if Trump withheld nearly $400 million in aid to pressure Ukraine into announcing investigations of Democrats to help his campaign, that's fine because Trump thinks his election is to the country's benefit.
"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.
Dershowitz said there were three possible motives for a quid pro quo in foreign policy: the first is the public interest; the second, personal political interest; and the third, personal financial interest.
In the end, only the latter instance is corrupt, he said.
"Every public official I know believes that his election is in the public interest," Dershowitz said.
Schiff was given the chance to respond to Dershowitz's argument, one he said he thought was providing "carte blanche" for such quid pro quos in the future. The lead House manager used a hypothetical scenario to make his point. What if former President Barack Obama told Russia that he would withhold aid to Ukraine only if they launched an investigation into his 2012 Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.
"Do any of us have any question that Barack Obama would be impeached for that conduct?" he asked.
White House may have little chance of blocking Bolton testimony
If the Senate voted to hear John Bolton's testimony during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, the White House would face long odds in trying to get a court to prevent it.
The president has already suggested Bolton's testimony might violate executive privilege.
"The problem with John is that it's a national security problem," Trump said last week in comments in Davos, Switzerland. "John, he knows some of my thoughts, he knows what I think about leaders. What happens if he reveals what I think about a certain leader and it's not very positive, and then I have to deal on behalf of the country? It's going to be very hard, it's going to make the job very hard."
The first challenge for the White House is a procedural one. Without an order from a court blocking Bolton from testifying, he's free to do whatever he wants. That's the opposite of the way these disputes normally play out, when administration officials are prevented by the White House from appearing before Congress unless a court orders them to do so.
Leahy asks about White House claim there was no wrongdoing because aid was released
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., asked the House managers about the administration’s claim that, because the aid to Ukraine was eventually released, there was no wrongdoing.
“The president's counsel argues that there was no harm done, that the aid was ultimately released to Ukraine, the president met with Zelenskiy at the U.N. in September and that this president has treated Ukraine more favorably than his predecessors. What is your response?" Leahy’s asked in a question stated by Roberts.
Rep. Val Demings, R-Fla., replied by referring to the Ukrainians who had died in the country’s war with Russia during the Trump administration’s watch, and said that the withholding of the aid, no matter how long, was not “legitimate” and sent a bad signal to Russia.
“Holding the aid for no legitimate reason sent a strong message that the relationship between the United States and Ukraine was on shaky ground,” Demings said.
An hour in, no questions from Democratic presidential candidates
We are more than an hour into today’s question-and-answer session of the Trump impeachment trial.
And despite the rapid-fire pace, there have still been no questions from any of the senators who are running for the Democratic presidential nomination (Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and Michael Bennett of Colorado).
Does a impeachable offense need to be a crime?
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., asked the House managers if an impeachable offense had to be a crime, with a pointed illustration of what precedent that would set: "Does this reasoning imply that if the president does not violate a criminal statute, he could not be impeached for abuses of power such as ordering tax audits of political opponents, suspending habeas corpus rights, indiscriminately investigating political opponents or asking foreign powers to investigate members of Congress?"
House manager Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, said that "the simple answer is a president can be impeached without a statutory crime being committed.”
She went on to note that criminality was not required of impeachment by the Constitution or its framers, as well as future courts and impeachments.
“A strong majority of impeachments voted by the House since 1789 have included one or more allegations that did not charge an allegation of criminal law,” she said.
White House objects t publication of Bolton's book, demands classified info be removed first
In a letter to former national security adviser John Bolton's attorney, the White House said Bolton's upcoming book contains classified information that must be removed before it can be published.
In the letter to the lawyer, Charles Cooper, dated Jan. 23, a National Security Council aide wrote: "Based on our preliminary review, the manuscript appears to contain significant amounts of classified information. It also appears that some of this classified information is at the top-secret level."
"The manuscript may not be published or otherwise disclosed without the deletion of this classified information," added Ellen Knight, NSC senior director for records, access and information security management.
Feinstein asks managers about Trump team's insistence there's 'no evidence' aid and investigations were linked
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif, asked House impeachment managers: "The president's counsel stated that, quote, 'There is simply no evidence anywhere that President Trump ever linked security assistance to any investigations.'"
"Is that true?" she added.
Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., responded, saying it was not and adding there was "overwhelming evidence" that Trump withheld the aid until Ukraine announced the investigations into Democrats that he sought.
Crow cited testimony from Gordon Sondland, Trump's ambassador to the European Union, who detailed a September phone call with the president in which Trump denied any quid pro quo but then outlined that alleged quid pro quo. He also pointed to acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who said in October that aid was partially tied to an investigation of so-called Ukrainian electoral interference in 2016. Mulvaney walked those remarks back soon after.
Crow said that if senators have "any lingering questions about direct evidence, there is a way to shed additional light" — call Bolton as a witness "and ask him directly."
The former national security adviser reportedly claims in a manuscript of his upcoming book that Trump linked aid and investigations during an August conversation. That contradicts the president's impeachment defense, as Trump and allies have said the hold on military aid and investigations were not linked.
Trump denied such a conversation with Bolton took place.
ANALYSIS: Senators aren't taking any chances, yet
So far, all of the questions have been softballs from Democrats to the House managers and from Republicans to the president’s lawyers. The senators are looking to highlight the main points that were made ad nauseam through the six days of presentations of the opposing counsels.
The only way to draw blood — at the risk of losing a fight — is to ask a pointed question of the other side. When Democrats put the White House lawyers on the spot or Republicans dig into the House managers, things might get interesting. Until then, they're circling the chamber under a caution flag.
Sen. Mike Lee asks if president has right to conduct foreign policy
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, asked of the Trump defense team:
"The House managers have argued aggressively that the president's actions contravened U.S. Foreign policy. Isn't it the president's place, certainly more than the place of career civil servants, to conduct foreign policy?"
Philbin replied, saying, "It is definitely the president’s place to set foreign policy, and the Constitution makes this clear."
The question seemed geared at making the point that Trump can conduct whatever foreign policy he sees fit — and that "career civil servants" lack the authority to take actions to contradict that policy if they disagree.
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.
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.
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.)
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
Just catching up with the trial? Here's what you missed.
Wednesday marks a new phase of the impeachment trial, as senators turn to asking questions of the prosecution and defense. Trump's team wrapped up their arguments on Tuesday.
Here's a brief recap of the trial so far:
- Senate passes McConnell impeachment rules after nearly 13 hours of debate.
- What happened on day two: Democrats begin opening arguments.
- What happened on day three: Prosecution's presentation continues.
- What happened on day four: Democrats wrap up case.
- What happened on day five: Trump's legal team begins its defense.
- What happened on day six: Defense team's presentations continue.
- What happened on day seven: Trump's defense wraps up arguments.
- Senate moves to questions and answers on day eight.
Parnas can attend Trump's impeachment trial, but judge won't let him take off ankle monitor
A federal judge ruled Tuesday that Lev Parnas, one of Rudy Giuliani's indicted associates, can attend President Donald Trump's impeachment trial — but he won't be able to take off his ankle monitor, so he most likely won't be permitted on the Senate floor.
Attorney Joseph Bondy asked U.S. District Judge Paul Oetken of New York for a modification to Parnas' bail conditions, including the removal of his GPS monitoring device, because it wouldn't be permitted in the Senate Gallery. The proposal was for Parnas to travel from New York to Washington on Wednesday and attend the trial from 12:30 to 2:45 p.m.
Manchin says he thinks Hunter Biden is a relevant witness
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Wednesday that he thinks former Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden is a relevant witness in the impeachment trial.
"You know, I think so. I really do," Manchin said. "I don't have a problem there because this is why we are where we are. Now I think that he can clear himself of what I know and what I’ve heard."
"But being afraid to put anybody that might have pertinent information is wrong no matter if you’re a Democrat or a Republican," he continued.
The Mountaineer State senator added that if Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial, agreed that the younger Biden is "pertinent," Manchin would vote to call him.
Manchin's state overwhelmingly voted in favor of Trump in 2016 and then reelected Manchin in 2018.
Democrats have contended that Hunter Biden is not a relevant witness to Trump's impeachment trial, since he has no direct knowledge of what Trump was charged with — abusing his power and obstructing Congress.
Manchin said he favors approving witnesses in the case, and Republicans have said they will seek to bring witnesses like the Bidens and the whistleblower forth if witness testimony is approved.
Trump rages at Bolton, says former adviser would have caused 'World War Six'
President Donald Trump berated his former national security adviser John Bolton on Wednesday, bashing his former top aide after the aide reportedly contradicted a key element of the president's impeachment defense in an upcoming book.
Trump suggested that if Bolton, a conservative war hawk, were still in the White House, the U.S. "would be in World War Six by now."
Those comments came hours after another tweet in which Trump asked: "Why didn't John Bolton complain about this 'nonsense' a long time ago, when he was very publicly terminated. He said, not that it matters, NOTHING!"
Bolton asserts he was not fired.
Exclusive: Dutch Trump superfan who claimed he surveilled Ambassador Yovanovitch told people he was DEA
The Dutch man who claimed to have Marie Yovanovitch under surveillance when she was the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine has been masquerading as a U.S. federal law enforcement officer and told people he was starting a tech company that could track movements electronically, according to interviews and documents obtained by NBC News.
And despite saying he had "no connection" to Ukraine, the man, Anthony de Caluwe, was romantically involved with a Ukrainian woman, who returns regularly to her home country, at the same time in early 2019 that he sent text messages about Yovanovitch's purported whereabouts in Kyiv, according to two people who know de Caluwe and photographs obtained by NBC News.
Here’s what you need to know about the Q&A phase of impeachment
WASHINGTON — It's question time for the Senate in President Donald Trump's impeachment trial.
The move to the new phase of the trial Wednesday comes after Trump's legal team finished up its opening argumentsTuesday and ahead of a decision on whether to hear from witnesses. It also gives Republican senators who've complained about the lead House manager, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a chance to force him to answer their questions.
Here's what we know about how the question-and-answer session will work.
ANALYSIS: Trump defense team makes compelling case for Bolton testimony
DES MOINES, Iowa — President Donald Trump's defense lawyers rested with more of a whimper than a bang Tuesday — resigned, perhaps, to the possibility that their boss's time in the crucible of a Senate impeachment trial will not come to an immediate end.
Trump's lawyers even appeared to undermine their own assertions that former national security adviser John Bolton, whose forthcoming book reportedly corroborates the allegation that the president tied U.S. aid for Ukraine to political investigations, should not testify.
Trump accuses Democrats of 'deranged partisan crusades' as impeachment trial heats up
President Donald Trump doubled down his attacks against Democrats and his impeachment trial at a New Jersey campaign rally Tuesday night, accusing them of pursuing "deranged partisan crusades" and reminding supporters of the importance of winning back the House of Representatives in November.
"The congressional Democrats are obsessed with demented hoaxes, crazy witch hunts and deranged partisan crusades," Trump said, speaking at the Wildwoods Convention Center by the New Jersey shore.
"Americans of all political beliefs are sick and tired of the radical, rage-filled left socialists,” Trump continued. "Really, the Democrat Party is the socialist party and maybe worse. Voters are making a mass exodus from that party and we are welcoming them to the Republican Party with wide open arms."