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Trump impeachment trial: Senate passes impeachment trial endgame

The defeat of the vote on witnesses Friday moves the trial into the final phase, setting up an acquittal vote next week.

Senators on Friday laid out the ground rules of the final phase of President Donald Trump's impeachment trial, voting largely on party lines against calling witnesses and documents.

The final vote on Trump's fate is set for Wednesday and is almost certain to end in an acquittal.

Read about the highlights below:

ANALYSIS: In Senate trial, Trump may have gained power but lost political case

President Donald Trump's Senate impeachment trial promises to leave him more powerful in Washington — and possibly more vulnerable to defeat on the campaign trail.

That's in part because a handful of pivotal Senate Republicans chose to condemn Trump's behavior in office while protecting him from both official sanction and the potential jeopardy of witnesses unraveling his impeachment defense under oath. As a result, Trump is on the verge of emerging from the trial with a tacit green light to defy Congress without fear of reprisal, and also safe in the knowledge that elected representatives will push only so far to find out whether he tells the truth to the public.

"It’s arguable that he’s the most politically powerful president in American history," presidential biographer Jon Meacham said on NBC News during a break in the trial Friday.

Read more here.

Marie Yovanovitch retires from the State Dept.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, a figure at the center of President Trump’s impeachment trial, has retired from the State Department after three decades in the foreign service. A person familiar with her plans confirms today was her last day.

The retirement was first reported by NPR.

Yovanovitch had most recently been serving as a Senior State Department fellow at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service although she was not teaching classes this semester.

All four Democratic amendments during trial fail

As expected, all four amendments offered by Democrats failed, largely on party lines. Collins and Romney broke with the GOP on the two amendments involving Bolton.

The amendments were: 

1.      Schumer amendment to subpoena Mulvaney, Bolton, Duffy, Blair and White House, OMB, DOD and State Department document failed with a vote of 53-47.

2.      Schumer amendment to Subpoena John Bolton failed 51-49 with Collins and Romney joining Democrats.

3.      Schumer amendment to subpoena Bolton, provided further that there be one day for a deposition presided over by Chief Justice, and one day for live testimony before the Senate, both of must occur within 5 days of adoption of the underlying resolution, failed 51-49 with Collins and Romney joining Democrats.

4.      Van Hollen amendment to require the chief justice to rule on motions to subpoena witnesses and documents, and to rule on any assertion of privilege, failed with a vote of 53-47.

Roberts makes it clear he will not be a tie-breaking vote in impeachment trial

Chief Justice John Roberts said on Friday that he would not intervene in a hypothetical tie-breaking vote as the presiding officer of Trump's impeachment trial, saying it would be improper as an unelected member of a different branch of government. 

His remarks were prompted by a question from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., regarding the role of the chief justice in the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson. In that trial, Schumer said, the chief justice made deciding votes after a deadlocked vote from lawmakers. 

"Is the Chief Justice aware that in the impeachment trial of President Johnson, Chief Justice Chase as presiding officer cast tie-breaking votes on both March 31st and April 2nd, 1868?," Schumer asked.

"I am, Mr. Leader. The one concerned a motion to adjourn, the other concerned a motion to close deliberations. I do not regard those isolated episodes 150 years ago as sufficient to support a general authority to break ties," Roberts responded.

"If the members of this body, elected by the people and accountable to them, divide equally on a motion, the normal rule is that the motion fails. I think it would be inappropriate for me, an unelected official from a different branch of government, to assert the power to change that result so that the motion would succeed."

With Roberts clarifying his role, Trump now appears headed for an all-but-certain acquittal after Republican Senators, who hold the majority, rejected the Democrats’ efforts to call more witnesses.

Senators voting on Democratic amendments, final rules

Senators are now voting on the four Democratic amendments to McConnell's organizing resolution.

We expect these to all fail. After that, senators will take up the organizing resolution.

  1. Schumer amendment to subpoena Mulvaney, Bolton, Duffy, Blair and White House, OMB, DOD and State Department documents
  2. Schumer amendment to Subpoena John Bolton
  3. Schumer amendment to subpoena Bolton; provided further that there be one day for a deposition presided over by Chief Justice, and one day for live testimony before the Senate, both of must occur within 5 days of adoption of the underlying resolution
  4. Van Hollen amendment to require the Chief Justice to rule on motions to subpoena witnesses and documents, and to rule on any assertion of privilege

Senate to conduct final vote on Trump's fate next Wednesday

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Friday Democrats rejected the majority's push for a vote on the articles of impeachment tonight and instead pushed for the trial to wrap up over the next several days after the chamber voted earlier against hearing witnesses, according to a spokesperson. 

"Sen. McConnell and Republicans wanted to rush through an acquittal vote tonight. But Democrats wanted votes on witnesses and documents, for the House Managers to be able to make closing arguments, ample time for every member to speak, and to prevent GOP from rushing this through," the Schumer spokesperson said. 

The new organizing resolution will include:

  • Four votes, including debate, on Democratic amendments on Friday;
  • Closing arguments from both sides will convene on Monday at 11 a.m. with up to 4 hours equally divided;
  • Speeches from senators on the Senate floor Monday to Wednesday; and
  • The final vote will be at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, a day after Trump delivers his the State of the Union in the House. 

Schumer said that Democrats will still oppose McConnell's resolution because it does not include witnesses and documents.

Here's what the next days of the impeachment trial may look like

GOP Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri and Mike Braun of Indiana told NBC News that they expect the Senate trial to conclude on Wednesday, though nothing has been finalized. 

Tonight, on Friday, the Senate is slated to vote on a new organizing resolution to establish the following procedure:

MONDAY: Senators arrive, potentially as early as 11 a.m., and then there will be closing arguments from both sides.

TUESDAY: Senators will take to the Senate floor to gives speeches, which could take somewhere between 10 to 15 minutes for each lawmaker.

WEDNESDAY: The floor speeches continue and then there will be a vote on the articles of impeachment.  

The Senate impeachment trial will likely not be in session on the weekend. 

'They will lose the war': Carper criticizes Republicans on vote against witnesses

Senate vote on calling witnesses fails, ushering in trial endgame

The Senate voted not to call witnesses in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial Friday afternoon, ushering in the final phase of the proceedings, with an all-but-assured vote to acquit Trump possibly coming as late as Wednesday.

The vote was 49 to 51.

Democrats sought testimony from ex-national security adviser John Bolton on Trump's alleged conditioning of Ukraine aid on investigations into Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden. But they failed to get a majority to back their efforts after Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, two key Republican swing votes, announced that they would not back the move.

Read the story.

Schumer calls vote against witnesses 'a grand tragedy'

Schumer called the Senate's 51-49 vote against calling witnesses "a grand tragedy."

"No witnesses, no documents in an impeachment trial is a perfidy. It is a grand tragedy. One of the worst tragedies that the Senate has overcome. America will remember this day, unfortunately, where the Senate did not live up to its responsibilities," Schumer said.

"The Senate turned away from truth and went along with a sham trial," he added. "It's a tragedy on a very large scale."

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn, told MSNBC it "was a terrible, terrible vote for the country."

Sanders reacts to witness vote: 'A sad day in American history'

Senate vote on calling witnesses fails, ushering in trial endgame

The Senate voted not to call witnesses in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial Friday afternoon, ushering in the final phase of the proceedings, with a vote to acquit or convict Trump possibly coming as late as Wednesday.

Democrats sought testimony from ex-national security adviser John Bolton on Trump’s alleged conditioning of Ukraine aid on investigations into Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden. But they failed to get a majority to back their efforts after Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, two key Republican swing votes, announced that they would not back the move.

Witness vote NOW

Senators are now voting on whether to hear witnesses.

Parnas names top Trump officials in letter to McConnell on potential testimony

The attorney for indicted Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas sent a letter Friday to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., with a laundry list of alleged evidence he would testify to if allowed to appear as a witness in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial.

The letter, sent by Parnas’s attorney Joseph Bondy and obtained by NBC News, represents a last-ditch attempt by Parnas to make known the value of the information he feels he could provide as he continues to push to be a witness. It comes as the Senate appears all but certain to vote Friday to reject hearing witnesses before voting to acquit the president, likely next week.

Read the full story.

Schiff argues Senate will undercut its own authority if it doesn't call witnesses

Schiff told senators they'd be kneecapping their own authority for generations if they allow President Donald Trump to get away with his congressional stonewalling, paving the way for presidents to ignore congressional oversight. 

Schiff told the Senate that voting no on subpoenaing witnesses and documents "will have long-lasting and harmful consequences long after this impeachment trial is over. We agree with the president's counsel on this much, this will set a new precedent" — and "a very dangerous and long-lasting precedent that we will all have to live with."

"President Trump's wholesale obstruction of Congress strikes at the heart of our Constitution and democratic system of separation of powers," he said. "Make no mistake, the president's actions in this impeachment inquiry constitute an attack on congressional oversight, on the coequal nature of this branch of government. Not just on the House but on the Senate's ability as well to conduct its oversight to serve as a check and balance on this president and every president that follows."

He added, "It will allow future presidents to decide whether they want their misconduct to be investigated or not. Whether they would like to participate in an impeachment investigation or not." 

He also warned the truth about what happened will emerge eventually. 

"It’s important to remember that no matter what you decide to do here, whether you decide to hear witnesses and relevant testimony, the facts will come out in the end. Even over the course of this trial, we have seen so many additional facts come to light. The facts will come out. In all of their horror, they will come out," he said.

Former chief of staff John Kelly says not allowing witnesses amounts to 'half a trial'

Former White House chief of staff John Kelly said in an interview Friday with NJ Advance Media that the Senate’s expected vote to end the impeachment trial without hearing from additional witnesses amounted to “half a trial.” 

“In my view, they kind of leave themselves open to a lot of criticism,” Kelly said. “It seems it was half a trial.” 

Kelly, who served as President Donald Trump’s chief of staff from mid-2017 through 2018, said he believed former national security adviser John Bolton’s allegations in an unpublished book that Trump told him he was holding up aid to Ukraine to pressure their government to investigate Trump’s political rivals. 

Kelly called Bolton “a copious notetaker” and “an honest guy and an honorable guy.” 

Bolton’s claims were first revealed in a New York Times report that cites the manuscript of Bolton's upcoming book. NBC News has not reviewed the manuscript. 

“If I was advising the United States Senate, I would say, 'If you don’t respond to 75 percent of the American voters and have witnesses, it’s a job only half done,'” Kelly said. He added, “You open yourself up forever as a Senate that shirks its responsibilities." 

Quinnipiac poll this week showed that 75 percent of voters supported allowing witnesses in the trial. 

ANALYSIS: Why give anything to the Senate?

The Senate seeks a lot of information from the executive branch. Lawmakers routinely write letters asking for documents and requesting that administration witnesses appear to give testimony on a wide range of topics. 

While there are a number of levers the Senate can use to put pressure on a recalcitrant administration to force the production of witnesses and documents, issuing subpoenas — and the threat that non-compliance could lead to prosecution — always has been one of its biggest hammers.

But Senate Republicans have heavily criticized House Democrats for having done, as Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., put it, “little to pursue” witnesses who were subpoenaed. In doing so, Rubio and other Republican senators have essentially advised Trump and future presidents of both parties to ignore Senate subpoenas — or at least fight them in court — because they’re not really serious attempts to get information. The Senate has no power to impeach a president who flouts subpoenas or seeks to tie them up in courts for obstructing Congress.

McConnell, Schumer discussed deal to wrap up trial on Wednesday, sources say

Sens. Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell told their members at their respective closed-door lunches that the two leaders have agreed to a proposal that would culminate in a Wednesday vote to acquit the president, according to two Democrats in the room and two Republican aides familiar with the matter. 

Since the proposal requires the buy-in of senators of both parties and the president, the details and timeline could shift.

Schumer told reporters during a break in the trial, "There is no agreement between McConnell and myself," indicating the details could still be in discussion.

The White House and some Republicans are still hoping for an acquittal vote before Trump's State of the Union address on Tuesday night. A White House official told NBC News that the White House would prefer acquittal on Tuesday but would accept Wednesday.

“We're happy with an acquittal as soon as possible," the official told NBC News. "We sure would like Tuesday, but the Senate can only go as fast as it can. Whenever the date and time lands, resolution provides certainty of conclusion, which we like quite a bit.”

If the proposal is approved by all parties, the trial would not be in session this weekend. It would resume Monday with six hours of closing arguments divided between the House managers and the White House defense. If accepted by all parties, Tuesday would allow senators 10 minutes each to make a statement.

House managers target Trump defense team's top lawyer after latest Bolton report

House managers went after the lead defense lawyer in Trump's impeachment trial, White House counsel Pat Cipillone, on Friday after a new report about a meeting he allegedly had with the president, Rudy Giuliani and John Bolton in May of last year.

The New York Times reported that in that meeting with Cipollone, Trump asked Bolton to call then-Ukrainian president-elect Volodymyr Zelenskiy to tell him to meet with Giuliani.

Two of the house managers noted that Cipollone had accused Democrats of hiding important facts during the trial. 

"You'll recall Mr. Cipollone suggesting House managers were concealing facts from this body. He said all the facts should come out," lead House manager Adam Schiff said. "Well there's a new fact, which indicates that Mr. Cipollone was among those who was in the loop." 

Another manager, Rep. Sylvia Garcia, played video from earlier in the trial showing Cipollone telling the senators "impeachment shouldn't be a shell game. They should give you the facts."

Garcia responded, "Let's be very clear. We are not the ones hiding the facts."

 

Article II: Inside Impeachment — Can I get a witness?

On Friday's episode of Article II, Steve Kornacki talks to Frank Thorp, NBC News producer covering the Senate, about what to expect as the end of the Senate trial approaches.

Stay tuned! Depending on how the day unfolds, a follow-up episode will drop either later tonight or early Saturday.

Download the podcast.

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski announces she will vote against witnesses

Sen. Lisa Murkowski announced Friday she will vote against hearing from witnesses in President Donald Trump's impeachment trial, likely dooming Democrats' hopes of hearing testimony from witnesses with firsthand knowledge of the president's conduct.

Murkowski's decision increases the likelihood that Trump's Senate impeachment trial will be the first in American history with no witness testimony.

"The House chose to send articles of impeachment that are rushed and flawed," Murkowski said in a statement. "I carefully considered the need for additional witnesses and documents, to cure the shortcomings of its process, but ultimately decided that I will vote against considering motions to subpoena."

Read more on Murkowski's decision. 

Trump instructed Bolton to call Zelenskiy in May, NYT reports, citing manuscript

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump instructed then-national security adviser John Bolton in May to help with his efforts to pressure Ukraine for damaging information on Democrats, according to a New York Times report that cites the manuscript of Bolton's upcoming book. 

Bolton wrote in the book that Trump asked him during an Oval Office meeting to call the recently elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to encourage him to meet with the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to discuss investigations into Trump’s Democratic targets, the Times reported. 

Bolton wrote that he never made the call, the newspaper said.

Giuliani, as well as acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who is now leading the president’s impeachment defense, were also present at the Oval Office meeting, according to the report.

The directive Bolton describes in the book would be the earliest known example of Trump attempting to pressure Ukrainian officials to investigate Democratic targets, and paints a picture of an ongoing effort inside the White House to use government power to advance Trump’s pressure campaign, the Times reported.

Trump denied Bolton’s allegations in a statement to the Times on Friday, which the White House confirmed to NBC News.

“I never instructed John Bolton to set up a meeting for Rudy Giuliani, one of the greatest corruption fighters in America and by far the greatest mayor in the history of N.Y.C., to meet with President Zelensky," Trump said in the statement. "That meeting never happened.”

Giuliani alleged the meeting in the Times report was "a lie" and said Bolton potentially was "a backstabber."

NBC News has not seen a copy of the manuscript or verified the Times' report independently. 

Trump trial could last into next week

A key vote on whether to hear testimony from witnesses in the president's impeachment trial is expected to take place Friday, but the trial itself could stretch into next week regardless, multiple sources tell NBC News.  

While Republicans expect they'll be able to vote down Democrats' requests to continue the trial with witness testimony, several other moving parts could stretch the proceedings into next week, after the Iowa caucus on Monday and the president gives his State of the Union address on Tuesday, the sources said.

Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn of Texas told reporters they did not believe the trial would end Friday after meeting with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

“I don’t expect there to be a vote for additional witnesses, but the question is how do you land this plane. I don’t expect this ends today,” Cornyn said. Cruz added, "I think we would see it by next week.” 

Both sides have a total of four hours to make their arguments on witnesses, beginning at 1 p.m. ET Friday, and that will be followed by deliberations and then a vote on the issue. But there are many unknowns about what could happen after the witness vote.

The organizing resolution for the trial allows both sides to make motions after that vote. Democrats were meeting to discuss what motions they want to introduce. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio told reporters that he plans to introduce a motion to make deliberations on the articles of impeachment open instead of closed.

Senators also need to decide whether there will be closing arguments after the witness vote, and if so, for how long. They also need to figure out how long deliberations be and when would they start. The closed deliberations in 1999 gave each senator 10 minutes to speak. 

Trump's legal team anticipates their closing arguments, if there are any, will be on the shorter side, and it is not currently pushing for a time extension, according to a source familiar with the thinking of the White House defense.  

Nadler says he will miss end of Trump trial due to wife's illness

Just catching up with the trial? Here's what you missed.

Friday marks a new phase of the impeachment trial, as senators turn from asking questions of the House managers and Trump's defense team to the vote on whether to call witnesses, such as ex-national security adviser John Bolton. 

Here's a brief recap of the trial so far:

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

Alan Dershowitz faced intense backlash Thursday over his eye-opening argument against impeaching his client. Dershowitz, a member of Trump's defense team, argued Wednesday that if presidents engage in quid pro quo arrangements for their own political benefit, it is not impeachable because all politicians believe 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.

Read what people said about his argument.

Monica Lewinsky says it's 'too bad' she had to give testimony

OPINION: Trump's impeachment trial is being tuned out by America because no one thinks it matters

American soap operas are not popular these days. And yet, the Senate trial to remove President Donald Trump from office is currently garnering fewer viewers than the soaps. The conservative online magazine The Federalist consulted Nielsen ratings and used them to argue: “More people would rather watch the predictable, fake melodrama offered by soap operas than the predictable, fake melodrama currently being peddled by the Democrats.”

Just over 4 million people, in a country of 320 million-plus, tuned in for the opening arguments on the three big networks last week. That’s well less than the 11 million people who regularly watch the soaps on those channels. Fox News viewership was sent “skyrocketing” when Trump’s defense team got going on Saturday, The Washington Examiner reported, but the audience was still in the low millions.

In other words, Americans are collectively yawning at the Senate impeachment trial.

Read the full THINK piece.

Video appears to show Trump and indicted Giuliani associate at Florida club

A newly public video recording appears to show President Donald Trump with Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani, at the president's Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, further calling into question Trump's assertion that he doesn't know Parnas and his associate Igor Fruman.

In a 37-minute recording that NBC News obtained from Parnas' attorney, Parnas and Fruman are greeted warmly by Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, who appears to recognize Parnas.

"Yeah, we've met before, yeah, how are things?" McDaniel appears to say. "I'm glad you're here."

Read the story.

Nadler appears to rush ahead of Schiff to offer closing remarks on need for witnesses

Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., beat Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the lead impeachment manager, to the lectern Thursday, appearing to usurp Schiff's attempt to give a closing argument in the final moments of the question and answer phase of President Donald Trump's Senate trial.

The moment came after Chief Justice John Roberts read the last question from Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., which asked House managers to give senators any additional thoughts before the trial adjourned for the evening.

Read the story.

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

Ahead of the vote expected 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.

"I think we can all agree this is a big day," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

For witness testimony to be approved, four Republican senators would need to vote alongside all Democrats. Republicans have a 53-seat majority in the 100-member Senate.

In another possible scenario, three GOP lawmakers vote for witnesses, making it a 50-50 tie — under which the resolution would be defeated. But Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial, could weigh in as a 101st vote, although that's not anticipated.

Read what could happen Friday afternoon.

Trump's Senate trial: Key takeaways from senators' questions as witness vote in doubt

The senator's questions of House managers and President Donald Trump's defense team Thursday offered both sides ample opportunity to clash ahead of a pivotal vote Friday on whether to call witnesses in Trump's impeachment trial.

They included queries about when the president ordered the hold on Ukraine aid, why he lifted the hold and who was paying for his personal lawyer's trips abroad. The chief justice refused to read one question, from Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has sought to out the whistleblower whose complaint led to the impeachment charges against Trump.

Here are seven key takeaways from Thursday's question-and-answer session.