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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

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

White House, Bolton lawyer spar over questions about classified info

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."

Cooper responded to the White House in a letter dated Jan. 24, which he released on Wednesday.

In the letter, Cooper said that Bolton is "preparing" to testify and that he would likely discuss some of the material contained in a chapter of his book on Ukraine. Cooper said he did not believe any of the material was classified but wanted to White House to review it "as soon as possible."

Cooper said Wednesday he had yet to hear back from the White House.

After 4 hours, a 2020 Dem finally submits a question

More than four hours after the start of Wednesday's question-and-answer phase of Trump's impeachment trial, a Democratic presidential candidate has finally asked a question. 

Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota was among a group of Democratic senators who submitted a question about witnesses.

The other three senators still running for the Democratic presidential nomination have not asked a question yet: Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Michael Bennet of Colorado.

Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey, two former 2020 candidates, have asked questions.

OPINION: Getting John Bolton to testify at Trump's impeachment trial is only half the battle

Former national security adviser John Bolton’s potential first-hand evidence — allegedly chronicled in his forthcoming book about his time in the administration and hinted at in a phone call with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Elliot Engel in September — about President Donald Trump’s actions at the heart of the abuse of power impeachment article mean that two battles will most likely be fought in the Senate this week.

While the focus has been on the crucial first fight over whether the Senate will subpoena Bolton (and other witnesses) at all — sources said Wednesday that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has admitted he doesn’t have the votes to prevent — an equally critical fight will then ensue over the ground rules under which any witnesses would testify.

More here.

Philbin answers about timeline of Trump's interest in Biden, Ukraine corruption

Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine asked the deputy White House counsel whether the president ever mentioned the Bidens in the context of corruption in Ukraine before Joe Biden declared his candidacy for president in spring of 2019, and if so, when and to whom. 

Pat Philbin referred to Biden's anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine, which sought to oust a top prosecutor there who had said he was investigating Burisma, where Hunter Biden was a board member. Philbin then said the election of President Zelenskiy in Ukraine in April 2019 opened up “an opportunity” to start looking at anti-corruption issues because that was the platform that he ran on. Philbin added that Rudy Giuliani began asking questions about Ukraine in the fall of 2018 and in November 2018, and was given tips about what to look into. Philbin said that in March 2019, Giuliani gave a dossier of information to the State Department and Biden announced his White House bid the following month. 

Philbin then referred to the May 23 Oval Office meeting Trump held with several key figures in the impeachment inquiry in which he directed them to speak with Giuliani. 

Republicans push for details on whistleblower's identity

Two Republican senators appeared to attempt to find out more about the identity of the CIA whistleblower whose complaint led to the impeachment inquiry. 

Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas asked Trump’s legal team whether it was true certain House Intelligence Committee staff members "and the alleged whistleblower were employed by or detailed to the National Security Council during the same time period between January 2017 and the present? Do you have reason to believe they knew each other?"

They also asked whether the president's defense had "any reason to believe" the whistleblower and an Intelligence Community staff member "coordinated to fulfill their reported commitment to quote, 'Do everything we can to take out the president,' end quote?"

The question was the first of the day about the whistleblower.

Philbin responded cautiously, saying that "the only knowledge that we have, that I have of this, comes from public reports."

“I gather there is a news report in some publication that suggests a name for the whistleblower, suggests where he worked, that he worked at that time while detailed of the NSC staff for then-vice president Biden and there were others who worked there. We have no knowledge of that, other than what's in the public reports and I don't want to get into speculating about that,” Philbin said. 

About 25 minutes later, Cruz — this time with Sens. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Josh Hawley, R-Mo. — submitted another question about the whistleblower, asking Schiff if the whistleblower worked "at any point for or with Joe Biden."

Schiff said he did not know who the whistleblower is and also explained the need to protect the person's identity.

Philbin: Bolton book held up because of classified information

Asked about when Trump's lawyers learned about Bolton's manuscript and whether they or anyone in the White House tried to block its publication, White House lawyer Pat Philbin didn't have a clear timeframe on when people learned of the manuscript but said top-secret information was a problem for its publication. Philbin told senators that the book had been reviewed by career National Security Council officials and found to have “significant amounts of classified information,” including some at the top-secret level.  

Government officials are now working with Bolton, through his attorney, to eliminate classified material from the book before publication, he said.

Romney jokes after being name-dropped during question: 'I’m giving a quick call to Tagg'

NBC News asked Mitt Romney during the break how he felt about being name-dropped during the question-and-answer session.

Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Ted Cruz of Texas had asked Schiff whether President Barack Obama would have had the authority to ask for a corruption investigation if Mitt Romney's son was being paid by a corrupt Russian company.

Romney laughed and, referring to the oldest of his five sons, told NBC News, "I’m giving a quick call to Tagg right now to make sure he disabuses himself of that million dollars he got."