WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial continued Thursday with a second day of senators asking questions of House Democrats and White House lawyers.
ISenators finished their Q&A period just before 11 p.m. and will resume the trial at 1 p.m. Friday, which could end up being the lsat day of the trial. On Friday, the Senate will meet to debate and vote on whether to call any witnesses. If the Senate votes no, a final vote on whether to convict or acquit Trump could soon follow.
On Wednesday, Trump’s lawyers argued that calling witnesses would tie up the Senate for months, leaving them unable to conduct any other business.
“This would be the first of many weeks,” said Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow about what would happen if the Senate starts calling witnesses.
But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer pointed out that the Senate still has mornings — the trial starts at 1 p.m. each day — to deal with legislation, and he was happy to meet early to pass some bills. “Mitch McConnell, we’ll meet early in the morning to get some bills on the floor. We dare you,” he said.
It would likely take four Republicans to side with Democrats for a vote to subpoena witnesses in order for the motion to succeed. Democrats, as well as Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Mitt Romney, have already said they want to hear from former national security adviser John Bolton.
Bolton reportedly confirmed a key detail of the Trump impeachment case in the manuscript for an upcoming book: that Trump told him directly he would keep withholding needed military aid from Ukraine until the country agreed to investigate the president’s political rival, former vice president Joe Biden. Bolton has said he would testify if subpoenaed by the Senate.
During Thursday's Q&A, the lead House impeachment manger, Rep. Adam Schiff, offered a compromise. Schiff said that if senators are worried that witnesses will take too long, Democrats would agree to cap the witness testimony to one week. Schiff noted that during former Bill Clinton's impeachment, they took a week of depositions and allowed the Senate to go back to its normal business during that week.
"Let's take a week to have a fair trial. You can continue your business. We can get the business of the country done. Is that too much to ask in the name of fairness?" Schiff said.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham warned late Wednesday night that if the vote to call witnesses is successful, Republicans will push for multiple witnesses, including Biden's son Hunter.
"The only thing I can tell you for sure is if we call one witness, we’re going to call a bunch of witnesses. And there’s 53 votes to call Hunter Biden — not 51, not 52, but 53," Graham told reporters, later predicting a "death struggle" between the parties "about all these issues that could possibly arise."
"I don't want to call Hunter Biden, I don't want to call Joe Biden, we have oversight. But once you go down that road folks, I don't know how we pull out. And to me it seems there ought to be a better way."
At one point during Wednesday's question session, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who is seen as the possible third GOP vote for witnesses, seemed to signal she was skeptical of the House’s impeachment process. She questioned the legitimacy of House subpoenas because they were issued before the House voted to authorize its impeachment investigation. She also asked why the House had not reissued the subpoenas after.
Democrats responded with a two-part argument: that the House does not have to vote to formalize an impeachment inquiry for its subpoenas to be valid and that the president and his administration do not have the right to ignore congressional subpoenas and investigations.
But late Thursday evening Murkowski and Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, another Republican eyed as a possible witness vote, may have tipped their hands. They joined other Republican senators in asking the White House's team, "Assuming for argument's sake that Bolton were to testify in the light most favorable to the allegations contained in the articles of impeachment, isn't it true that the allegation still would not rise to the level of an impeachable offense, and that, therefore, for this and other reasons his testimony would add nothing to this case?"
Trump's lawyers, unsurprisingly, agreed. They have long argued against having Bolton or any other witnesses testify.
After the Q&A concluded Thursday, Murkowski said in a statement, “I am going to go reflect on what I have heard, re-read my notes and decide whether I need to hear more.”
Much of Wednesday and Thursday's sessions consisted of senators serving up easy questions to their own side, though as the day went on, some senators started questioning the opposing party’s legal team.
Republican Sen, Rand Paul submitted the second question of the day on Thursday but Chief Justice John Roberts declined to read it on the Senate floor. Within minutes the Kentucky senator left the Senate floor for a brief press conference.
During the press conference, Rand read his question to reporters, which included the name of a person that conservatives believe is a whistleblower whose complaint kicked off the impeachment inquiry. BuzzFeed News does not know the identity of the whistleblower and is not printing the person’s name.
Paul said he didn't know the identity of the whistleblower either but was just raising questions and criticized Roberts for not reading his question on the floor.
The anonymous whistleblower filed a complaint against the president in August, raising questions about Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and possible abuses of power ultimately leading to the House’s investigation and the impeachment of Trump.
Republicans have been trying to leak the name of the person they believe is the whistleblower throughout the impeachment process, though the right has also been targeting that person since 2017, long before the inquiry began.
Later, in response to another Republican question about the whistleblower — which did not include a name — Schiff said that attempts to out the person were a threat "not just [to] this whistleblower, but the entire system. ... I worry that future people that see wrongdoing are going to watch how this person has been treated, the threats against this person's life and they are going to say why stick my neck out?"
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