The impeachment trial of US President Donald Trump entered a new phase on Wednesday as senators were given their first chance to ask questions to both the Democratic House managers prosecuting the case and the defence team working for the president.
Both House managers and the president’s lawyers presented their arguments for and against removing Trump from office over the last six days.
Democrats spent most of their allotted 24 hours over three days outlining the two articles of impeachment on which the House voted to impeach Trump: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. They argued that failing to remove the president would set a dangerous precedent for future leaders of the country to use their office in a self-serving way.
Meanwhile, Trump’s defence team, leaving over 10 hours on the timer in much briefer arguments, framed the impeachment as an attempt to undermine US democracy. They repeatedly returned to the fact that the president had not committed a crime, portraying the grounds for impeachment outlined by Democrats as dangerously subjective.
On Wednesday and Thursday, senators, who are banned from speaking during the trial, will submit written questions to presiding officer Chief Justice John Roberts, who will pose them to the prosecution and defence.
After this phase of the trial, the proceedings will move into the much-anticipated debate over whether more evidence – including subpoenaing witnesses and documents – will be permitted. That debate has grown more fraught in recent days, with reported revelations in a draft book by former National Security Advisor John Bolton further stoking Democrats calls for him to testify.
As the trial moves into the question and answer portion, here are all the latest updates as of Wednesday, January 29:
The Senate has adjourned until Thursday, when senators will have eight more hours for questions.
McConnell said there are two more questions for the Republicans and two more for the Democrats before the Senate adjourns for the night.
From Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer:
“We’ve always said it’s uphill. There’s tremendous pressure from a vindictive, nasty president on every Republican senator, but I think they sit there as they listen to these questions … and we’ve got a real shot to get witnesses and documents.”
Trump lawyer Patrick Philbin:
“It’s not just a question of, ‘Well, should we just hear one witness?’ That’s not what the real question is going to be. For this institution, the real question is: ‘What is the precedent that is going to be set for what is an acceptable way for the House of Representatives to bring an impeachment of a president of the United States to this chamber?'”
Democratic impeachment manager Adam Schiff:
“When you have a witness as plainly relevant as John Bolton who goes to the heart of the most serious and most egregious of the president’s misconduct, who has volunteered to come and testify – to turn him away, to look the other way I think is deeply at odds with being an impartial juror.”
Trump lawyer Alan Dershowitz:
“Every public official that I know believes that his election is in the public interest. And mostly you’re right. Your election is in the public interest. And if a president did something that he believes will help him get elected, in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.”
Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono on Dershowitz:
“That was one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever heard as a response. That means that basically anybody, even someone who is totally off-base or even insane, if that person happens to be the president … that’s A-OK.”
Trump on Twitter:
“There is much talk that certain Democrats are going to be voting with Republicans on the Impeachment Hoax, so that the Senate can get back to the business of taking care of the American people. Sorry, but Cryin’ Chuck Schumer will never let that happen!”
The next part off the session is expected to be the last before the Senate adjourns for the night.
The Senate is breaking for about 15 minutes. Questions will resume after the break.
One of the defence’s main lines of argument on Wednesday was that a trade of US military aid for political favours – even if proven – could not be grounds for his impeachment.
It was a striking shift from Trump’s claims of a “perfect call” with his Ukrainian counterpart – a call that has become the basis of the president’s impeachment.
Trump’s defence spotlighted retired professor Alan Dershowitz, a member of their team who said that every politician conflates his own interest with the public interest. Therefore, he declared, “it cannot be impeachable”.
CNN reported that Chief Justice Roberts had a chance to review the questions before the start of Wednesday’s proceedings.
The cable news station, citing two unnamed sources, reported that Roberts would not read the name of the whistle-blower if included in the question.
Republican Senator Rand Paul’s question was reportedly rejected. US media reported that Paul’s question had to do with the whistle-blower.
Bolton and his lawyer do not believe any information in a chapter on Ukraine in the manuscript of Bolton’s book should be considered classified, the lawyer wrote last week in a letter to the White House.
Bolton’s lawyer, Charles Cooper, released his letter on Wednesday after an earlier letter he had received from the White House became public. In that letter, the White House National Security Council (NSC) said Bolton’s book manuscript appeared to contain “significant amounts of classified information” and could not be published in its current form.
Trump tweeted a video of Bolton describing the calls between Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart as “warm and cordial”.
The only thing he wrote about the video was “GAME OVER!”
Bolton has become a central part of the impeachment trial as senators battle over whether he and others should be called as witnesses.
GAME OVER! pic.twitter.com/yvMa6bPqfy
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 29, 2020
At the time of the dinner break, 59 senators had asked a total of 54 questions so far.
The Senate is on a 45-minute break for dinner. After the break, they will return for several more hours of questions.
As the Senate prepared to open its first day of questions from senators, Republicans and Democrats were battling privately over whether to call witnesses and extend the trial.
As senators were milling about before taking seats, Republican Senator Susan Collins, a potential swing vote, was surrounded by four Republican colleagues, including John Thune, the party whip, who are trying to prevent her from breaking ranks.
Democrats want to call former National Security Advisor John Bolton. Collins was peeled away from the group by Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell.
Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema crossed over to the Republican side and spoke with Republican senators Dan Sullivan, Rob Portman and John Boozman.
Senator Mitt Romney, who has already said he wants to hear witnesses, stood alone by his desk near the northeast corner of the chamber.
In the public gallery, Lev Parnas lawyer Joseph Bondy, a guest of Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, peered down on the Senate floor as senators began to ask questions. Parnas was not allowed into the proceedings because he is wearing a court-ordered ankle bracelet. Senate rules prohibit electronic devices.
Sheet cakes were delivered to all 53 Republican senators demanding that John Bolton and witnesses testify in the trial. Each cake was decorated with a different message, including “don’t dessert democracy,” “you’re in the room where it happens,” “this trial is half-baked without witnesses,” and “this is history in the baking,” along with the statement, “let Bolton testify”.
A GoFundMe campaign raised over $7,000 this week and asked a bakery in Brooklyn to make and decorate the cakes.
— Jon Cooper 🇺🇸 (@joncoopertweets) January 29, 2020
As part of the #SwarmTheCapital action on Wednesday demanding witnesses, documents and justice in the Senate trial, dozens of protesters raised their fists outside of the US Capital chanting: “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Donald Trump has got to go!”
After Reverend Barber and @UniteThePoor led us to the Capitol steps, many Americans stayed behind to call for #NoCoverUp and #WitnessesAndDicuments. Arrests starting.
— Colleen Boland 🌎🏳️🌈😷 (@ColleenBoland) January 29, 2020
Republican Senator John Barrasso told reporters that Republicans have the “momentum” to move to end Trump’s impeachment trial by Friday, without calling witnesses.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer explained why Democrats almost completely questioned Democratic House managers presenting the case for removing the president, and not Trump’s defence team.
“They needed the chance to rebut the false argument, the fallacious reasoning, the half-truths and even no-truths” that president’s defence made during three days of arguments, Schumer said.
Senators posed 26 questions to President Trump’s defence team and the House managers prosecuting the case before taking the first break of the day.
Questions have centred on the possible inclusion of witness testimony, the details outlined in the House case, whether a crime is needed to impeach a president, whether “quid pro quo” matters in impeachment, and what the “implications” of calling witnesses will be, among others.
Senate Republicans asked the defence team for President Trump what the implications would be for more witnesses to be called in the Senate.
“The implications here, in our constitutional structure, for trying to run things in such an upside-down way would be very grave for this body as an institution,” said Lawyer Patrick Philbin, saying that giving the Senate the “investigatory task” of collecting more evidence will “slow down” and “hinder” the Senate regular roles.
In a subsequent question, House manager Hakeem Jeffries argued that, based on the rate in the House inquiry, witness depositions in the Senate can be done in an “expeditious fashion”.
Republican Senator Ted Cruz asked President Trump’s legal defence if it matters “if there was quid pro quo” (Latin for: a favour for a favour) in the president’s dealings with Ukraine.
In response, Trump defence lawyer Alan Dershowitz referenced his attendance at the unveiling of Trump’s Middle East plan on Tuesday.
He said, if in executing that plan, a president tells Israel that they will not get aid if they do not “stop all settlement growth” or tells officials from the occupied Palestinian territories that they will not get aid if they do not stop harbouring “terrorists”, that would be acceptable quid pro quo.
Dershowitz also said if Trump thought he was acting in the public interest by helping himself get re-elected: “That cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.”
“All quid pros are not the same. Some are legitimate and some are corrupt, and you don’t need to be a mind-reader to figure out which is which,” Schiff said in a subsequent question, adding: “For one thing, you can ask John Bolton”.
The NSC, in a letter to Bolton’s lawyer, has said that Bolton’s unpublished manuscript contains classified information at a “top-secret level” and “may not be published or disclosed without the deletion of this classified information”.
In the draft book, Bolton reportedly wrote that President Trump told him he wanted to continue to withhold military aid from Ukraine until officials from the country agreed to help with investigations into Democratic rivals. The revelations have increased calls for Bolton to testify in the impeachment trial.
The NSC letter said the information contained in the draft book “reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave harm to the national security of the United States”.
“We will do our best to with you to ensure your client’s ability to tell his story in a manner that protects US national security,” the NSC representative said in the letter. Bolton’s manuscript had been given to the NSC for standard review before publishing.
Senate Democrats’ first question addressed the spectre of Bolton that has hung over the proceedings, asking if senators would be able to render a fair judgement without hearing from Bolton and other relevant witnesses.
“To turn [Bolton] away, to look the other way … is deeply at odds [with being] an impartial juror,” lead House manager Adam Schiff said.
In a following question, Trump Lawyer Patrick Philbin argued that allowing witnesses in the Senate trial will set a precedent that House impeachment inquiries can be “done in a hurried, half-baked partisan fashion”.
Republican Senator Susan Collins submitted the first question on Wednesday, which she said was also on behalf of Senator Lisa Murkowski and Senator Mitt Romney – all considered possible swing votes from the Republican majority.
“How should the Senate consider more than one motive in its assessment of article one?” The question asked, referring to the abuse of power article of impeachment.
Trump lawyer Patrick Philbin responded that once it is established that there is at least a portion of “legitimate public interest” behind the president’s actions, the allegations are null.
“Once you’re into mixed-motive land, it’s clear that their case fails,” he said.
Lead House Manager Adam Schiff, in responding to a subsequent question, said that if Trump’s political desires were “in any part a causal factor” in his actions, “that’s enough to convict”.
The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel, has said that Bolton had told him to look into the removal of former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch shortly after Bolton was fired by President Trump in September of 2019.
“He and I spoke by telephone on September 23. On that call, Ambassador 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 said in a statement.
“At the time, I said nothing publicly about what was a private conversation, but because this detail was relevant to the Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, and Oversight Committees’ investigation into this matter, I informed my investigative colleagues. It was one of the reasons we wished to hear from Ambassador Bolton, under oath, in a formal setting,” he said.
Yovanovitch, a career diplomat, was removed following a campaign against her by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and his associates. A video recently provided to congressional investigators from April 2018 shows Trump calling for Yovanovitch’s removal while speaking to Giuliani associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.
Lev Parnas, an indicted businessman who says he worked to pressure Ukraine to investigate one of President Trump’s political rivals, arrived on Capitol Hill trailed by TV cameras, photographers and a sign that read “FAIR TRIAL”.
Parnas took a selfie with a woman in a pink hat before picking up tickets for the trial from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s office.
“It’s a surreal feeling,” Parnas said, according to Reuters News Agency. “Right now, I’m just going on adrenaline.”
Parnas was not allowed into the trial, where electronics are banned, due to the ankle monitor he wears as part of his house arrest after being indicted for campaign finance fraud.
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a senior adviser, said on Wednesday that witnesses would be “unfortunate” but would ultimately help the president in the impeachment trial.
“What you will find is what was the whistle-blower doing? What were the Bidens up to?” Kushner said on the Fox and Friends programme on the Fox News network. “There was a lot of dirty things that have been happening for a long time.”
“A witness phase will give the American people the opportunity to learn about that,” he said.
Kushner also dismissed a reported revelation in Bolton’s new book, saying “I find that everyone leaves [the administration], writes books about what a hero they were, how they knew better”.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham warned on Wednesday that attacking Bolton’s credibility “makes it more likely some will feel the need to call him as a witness”.
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.
In that event, it would be important for the President and his team to call witnesses on other issues.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) January 29, 2020
Lev Parnas, former associate of President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, is expected to come to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to show “support for a fair proceeding” that includes witnesses and evidence, his lawyer tweeted.
Parnas “will be joining us, as we walk to the Capitol” his lawyer, Joseph Bondy tweeted. Parnas is still under house arrest and will not be able to enter the Senate chamber because he is wearing an ankle monitor and electronics are banned. He was given a ticket by Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer, his lawyer previously told a federal judge.
We’re headed to Washington DC, to watch the historic Senate trial & show our support for a fair proceeding, with witnesses & evidence. Lev Parnas will be joining us, as we walk to the Capitol. #StephanieSchuman @LeafLegal #JosephBondy @josephabondy #LetLevSpeak #CallTheWitnesses pic.twitter.com/7QTFH4ABop
— Joseph A. Bondy (@josephabondy) January 29, 2020
Parnas, who has been indicted for campaign finance fraud, has recently been on a media tour claiming Trump knew of he and Giuliani’s efforts to push Ukraine to conduct politically motivated investigations into Trump’s rivals. He also recently provided investigators with a recording of a 2018 meeting with Trump in which the president apparently demanded the removal of then-Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.
Democrat Senator Joe Manchin has broken from his party’s ranks, saying Hunter Biden is a “relevant witnesses” in the impeachment trial.
Democratic Senators have said they would not do a witness swap involving Hunter Biden, presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son, who Republicans have said should testify. House Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has said the younger Biden is not relevant to the proceedings.
Speaking on MSNBC’s Morning Joe programme Manchin said he would be open to voting with Republicans for Hunter Biden to testify, saying he wanted to know “everything” he can related to the investigation.
Reported revelations in the draft of a book by Bolton have shifted the dynamic in the debate over whether more witnesses will be called in the trial, and Trump has been quick to criticise his former official.
On Wednesday, in a series of tweets, Trump derided Bolton, saying if he had listened to his former adviser “we would be in World War Six by now” and referencing the repeated blocking of a vote to confirm Bolton as US ambassador to the United Nations in the Senate under President George W Bush. Bush later circumvented the chamber and installed Bolton to the post.
For a guy who couldn’t get approved for the Ambassador to the U.N. years ago, couldn’t get approved for anything since, “begged” me for a non Senate approved job, which I gave him despite many saying “Don’t do it, sir,” takes the job, mistakenly says “Libyan Model” on T.V., and..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 29, 2020
Trump also referenced Bolton’s public use of the term the “Libya model” when referring to North Korean nuclear disarmament. The phrase enraged Pyongyang, who saw the comparison as suggesting the US wanted to disarm North Korea while offering little in return.
….many more mistakes of judgement, gets fired because frankly, if I listened to him, we would be in World War Six by now, and goes out and IMMEDIATELY writes a nasty & untrue book. All Classified National Security. Who would do this?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 29, 2020
Read more about the key players in the trial here.
Seven House Democrats presented the case against President Trump over three days of arguments.
Chief Justice Roberts will become more visible as the trial enters the questioning phase, before moving into the debate over allowing more evidence.
Roberts is constitutionally mandated to preside over a presidential impeachment trial and, under current Senate rules, can make rulings on procedural motions – including the questions of evidence – before senators vote. However, the chief justice is not required to make such rulings and can be overruled by a simple majority.
During Roberts’s career on the highest court in the land, he has espoused maintaining an apolitical federal judiciary. Read more here about how he is expected to approach the very political impeachment trial.
Senators will now be given 16 hours which, according to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, will take place on Wednesday and Thursday, to ask questions to the House managers and Trump’s defence.
The questions will be submitted in writing and read by Chief Justice Roberts, alternating between the Republican majority and the Democratic minority. Roberts has asked that responses and rebuttals be kept to five minutes.
Following the questions, the chamber will have four hours of debate before a vote on whether to allow more evidence to be submitted in the trial, followed by subsequent votes on witnesses and documents. Read more about what’s coming up here.
As the ninth day of the impeachment trial begins, catch up on what has happened over the last two weeks.
The next week began with nearly 12-hours of debate culminating in senators voting along partisan lines to approve Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s rules resolution. Meanwhile, 11 amendments introduced by Democrats were blocked. Read more about that day here.