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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.

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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:

Live Blog

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.