Impeachment news roundup: Jan. 28

GOP senators met Tuesday to gather input on whether to call witnesses

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks with reporters before the start of the Senate impeachment trial proceedings Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks with reporters before the start of the Senate impeachment trial proceedings Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted January 28, 2020 at 10:06am

File updated 5:30 p.m.

The president’s defense team has completed its presentation.

By unanimous consent, the Senate will begin the question and answer session when the Senate reconvenes at 1 p.m. Wednesday. There will be up to eight hours for questions Wednesday, alternating between the Republican and Democratic sides. Another eight hours will occur Thursday, with the same ground rules.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. reminded the Senate that during the trial of President Bill Clinton, the chief justice at the time was greeted with laughter when he suggested the counsel for the president and the House managers should try to limit answers to five minutes each.

Roberts said that nonetheless both sides generally kept responses brief.

Sen. Josh Hawley has already released questions he intends to submit to be asked of both the House managers and the president’s legal team. The Republican from Missouri is focusing on former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden and Burisma, as well as on any contact between House lead impeachment manager Adam B. Schiff and the intelligence community whistleblower.

At the end of the Q&A, the trial will move into four hours of debate over whether to call additional witnesses before a vote on that issue.

But the debate over witnesses was already raging as senators began arriving for Tuesday’s session, with some saying they would consider a deal that would call for former national security adviser John Bolton to testify in return for compelling the testimony of Hunter Biden. But some rejected that notion out of hand and others said they have heard enough to decide how to vote.

At the same time, there was also debate over whether senators should get access to the manuscript of Bolton’s White House memoir, the contents of which The New York Times first reported.

Here’s the latest on impeachment:

6:25 p.m. | On the air: With opening arguments in the impeachment trial over, both sides are on the airwaves trying to sway voters. Florida GOP Sen. Rick Scott announced Tuesday he was taking a swing at former Vice President Joe Biden with a television and digital ad in Iowa less than a week before the Feb. 3 presidential caucuses.

“The real story here is the corruption Joe Biden got away with,” Scott says in the 30-second spot, repeating discredited allegations about Biden’s effort to fire a Ukrainian prosecutor.

Scott’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on how much he’ll spend on the ad or where and for how long it will be running. The ad is paid for by Scott’s Senate campaign, which had more than $1.8 million on hand as of Sept. 30. Scott is not up for reelection until 2024.

Another ad was unveiled Tuesday by a pro-Trump group, America First Policies. That spot targets Democratic senators in Michigan and Pennsylvania — two states vital to Trump’s electoral strategy — urging them to “end this travesty” and oppose impeachment. Trump narrowly won both states in 2016 and Michigan Democratic Sen. Gary Peters is up for reelection this year.

Republican senators were also feeling some heat on impeachment. On Monday, Majority Forward, the nonprofit arm of the Democratic super PAC Senate Majority PAC, launched a “six-figure” digital ad buy targeting five vulnerable GOP senators: Martha McSally of Arizona, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Susan Collins of Maine, Joni Ernst of Iowa and Thom Tillis of North Carolina. The digital ad, which will also be featured on platforms like Hulu, directs viewers to call the senators’ offices and ask them to conduct a fair trial.

5:30 p.m. | GOP get-together:  Senate Republicans met Tuesday afternoon to debrief following the conclusion of the impeachment trial’s opening arguments. The meeting was to get input over whether to call witnesses, but a decision likely won’t be made until Friday. 

“We’re still talking, everybody’s taking this very seriously, and I think those conversations are, I know those conversations are continuing,” Texas Sen. John Cornyn said. The Texas senator indicated an announcement won’t be made until Friday because senators get the opportunity to ask questions for the next two days. 

Cornyn said he didn’t have “any particular questions” because he thought both sides did a good job laying out their case. But he will “probably come up with some.”

Sen. John Hoeven emerged from the meeting saying he did not need to see any witnesses called before the chamber.

“At this point, I think we’ve had a lot of witnesses, we’ve had a lot of information. I don’t feel we need more witnesses at this point,” the North Dakota Republican said. “But, you know, the caucus will have that vote, or will have that vote on Friday.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham said if the vote on the motion to call witnesses was today, “I would vote not to have witnesses.” If the Senate does call witnesses, the South Carolina Republican said they won’t call one witness, but “a bunch of witnesses.”

4:15 p.m. | Carper question:Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, who served alongside Joe Biden for eight years in the state’s Senate delegation, plans ask an open-ended question to the Democratic House managers that grants them the opportunity to “drill down and set the record straight on the work that Joe Biden did as vice president to go after a corrupt prosecutor” in Ukraine.

Carper wants to give Schiff an opportunity to remind senators and American viewers on TV that the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and even many Republican senators that they supported Biden’s work to oust Viktor Shokin, the former Ukrainian prosecutor general who was ultimately expelled from his post for corruption.

“I want to get that on the record,” Carper said.

4:05 p.m. | Weak trade: Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer continued to dismiss the idea of a one-for-one witness exchange on Tuesday, saying that if Republicans wanted to call witnesses like Hunter Biden, they could have already done so.

“They could call Hunter Biden if they had 51 votes for him today. They don’t,” the New York Democrat said. Schumer said calling the former vice president’s son would make the trial a “circus” and accused  President Donald Trump of being “obsessed with Hunter Biden and Joe Biden.”

Schumer also swatted down a proposal from some Republican senators to subpoena Bolton’s book manuscript, calling it unnecessary because it will be published soon, and Bolton already agreed to testify if subpoenaed. 

“[Obtaining] a classified version of the transcript is just another excuse to hide that they are afraid of the truth,” he said.

Schumer also said he is not giving Democratic senators an edict on what questions to ask, but expects many of them to give the House managers ample opportunity to address specific arguments made by Trump’s defense team. He did say leaders will, however, help organize the questions to avoid repetition and ensure a logical order of query.

“We don’t want the same question 10 times,” Schumer said. 

3:49 p.m. | “Legal duplicity”: Schiff attacked the argument put forth by one of Trump’s attorneys that Trump released military aid because Ukraine stood up an anti-corruption court.

“[Jay] Sekulow would have us believe Donald Trump released the military aid because he was so grateful that the Ukrainian parliament passed an anti-corruption court bill,” Schiff said. “No one believes that.”

Schiff called for the Senate to hear from additional witnesses and to see additional documents. He lamented what he call the “legal duplicity” of Trump’s defense team, which argued that the House should have subpoenaed the witnesses they want to hear from even if that meant duking it out in the courts. “They go to court [the Senate trial] and say the House may not sue in court to compel a witness to testify.”

Schiff said the House did not subpoena Bolton because they first subpoenaed Bolton’s aide who fought the subpoena in court. Schiff said Bolton’s lawyer made it “crystal clear” that Bolton would have fought the subpoena in court, which Schiff said could have been tied up in the legal system for “months or years.” Schiff declined to say if the House would try to subpoena Bolton in the future.

3:25 p.m. | Support for witnesses: A national Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday showed broad support for witnesses. The poll found some 75 percent of registered voters — including 95 percent of Democrats, 75 percent of independents and 49 percent of Republicans — said witnesses should be allowed to testify at the impeachment trial.

More than half of voters, 53 percent, said President Donald Trump is not telling the truth about Ukraine. But just 46 percent said he should be removed from office, compared with 48 percent who said he should not — a level of support that has not changed since a Jan. 13 survey.

2:40 p.m. | Schiff on Bolton:  Schiff told reporters that the Trump defense team inadvertently made the case for Bolton’s testimony by disputing the accuracy of a New York Times report about his coming book.

“If [members of the defense team are] going to dispute what John Bolton has to say, they need to give him an opportunity to testify under oath, something that the president is not willing to do,” Schiff said.

The California Democrat also said Trump’s team has downplayed the president’s “corrupt” actions in withholding military aid from Ukraine. The impeachment goes beyond a “policy difference,” as the defense team has argued, he said.

1:36 p.m. | Opening statement: Trump lawyer Patrick Philbin opened the sixth day of the impeachment trial by arguing that the House’s impeachment articles are flawed.

Citing constitutional lawyer Alan Dershowitz’s Monday argument before the Senate, Philbin said that abuse of power article was “malleable” and “subjective.”

1:18 p.m. | No layups: Multiple Democrats expressed an uptick in optimism that some Republicans might be rethinking the impeachment case after new revelations about Bolton’s account of his interactions with Trump.

“The Republicans’ lawyers on Saturday thought that they were shooting layups. They thought it was a done deal, they had won, the end. They don’t think they’re shooting layups now,” said Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, a former Division 1 college basketball player at University of California, Santa Barbara.

12:47 p.m. | We know where he stands: The notion of getting Bolton’s manuscript before the Senate, which was proposed by Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford, is not an appropriate substitute for the former White House national security adviser’s testimony, Sen. Christopher S.  Murphy said.

“It’s total bull—-,” the Connecticut Democrat said.

“I mean, you have to be able to put John Bolton under oath and question him,” Murphy said. “I mean, they are so scared of his testimony because they know it blows a giant hole in the president’s case and so they are going to do everything they can to not allow John Bolton to go under oath and to allow him to be questioned.”

12:38 p.m. | Call campaign: Thousands of constituents called into the offices of GOP senators in certain states last week demanding that they allow witnesses in the Senate trial, according to analytics provided to CQ Roll Call by Stand Up America, a political advocacy group that opposes Trump.

Sen. Mitt Romney’s office received 3,017 calls through a phone number on the organization’s website that redirects callers to their senator’s office based on the caller’s ZIP code. Sen. Cory Gardner’s office received 2,539 calls. He represents Colorado and is up for reelection in November.

Romney, who represents Utah, has indicated this week that The New York Times report on Bolton’s book manuscript increases the likelihood the former national security adviser will be called to testify.

12:37 p.m. | “Tell us what you know”: Wisconsin GOP Sen. Ron Johnson told reporters he believes there are “outstanding, legitimate questions,” about Hunter Biden’s ties to the Ukranian energy company Burisma, and that he doesn’t want Bolton’s testimony or manuscript to be brought into the trial.

“Not particularly, I’d rather have John Bolton just come forward and tell us what you know,” Johnson said.

Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski said there is ongoing discussion about Bolton testifying.

“Well, I think that there’s still some discussion about how we will have an opportunity to hear from Mr. Bolton,” Murkowski said. “I think Bolton probably has something to offer us, so we’ll figure out how we’re going to learn more.”

12:22 p.m. | “Zero sense”: “I am ready to make my decision based on the record established in the House,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham told reporters Tuesday. “The House chose not to pursue witnesses that were available to them. I don’t want to start a precedent of just doing half-ass in the House.”

The South Carolina Republican said the idea of calling one witness from each side “makes zero sense” and he predicted if there are going to be witnesses, there will be a lot of them.

“I’m just telling everybody who thinks you can surgically deal with this, it’s not going to happen,” Graham said. “I’ll make a prediction: There’ll be 51 Republican votes to call Hunter Biden, Joe Biden, the whistleblower and the DNC staffer at a very minimum.”

11:36 a.m. | No deal: Democratic Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware said they are both opposed to a witness swap to secure Bolton’s testimony.

“Personally, I’m against it,” Durbin said. However, he did not commit to voting against a deal.

Durbin said the Democrats want “material witnesses” brought before the Senate and any questions on materiality should be brought before Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

Republican senators have been contemplating a trade that would possibly exchange the Bolton’s testimony for that of Hunter Biden.

Coons rejected that proposal.

“I will give credit to Sheldon Whitehouse for coming up with what I think is the most clever way to respond to that, which is: Why would we come up with some crooked quid pro quo deal on witnesses where we trade,” Coons said. “We’re going to let in, an obviously directly relevant fact witness for an obviously irrelevant witness. That’s what the whole underlying scheme was about. Was trying to gin up ways to smear the Bidens. So why would we agree to that?”

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon declared flatly that his party is “not negotiating” in a witness trade.

11:36 a.m. | Buy the book: GOP senators arriving for Tuesday’s impeachment proceedings largely demurred on whether they want to bring Bolton’s manuscript into the proceedings.

Sens. Roy Blunt and Mike Rounds said they would make a decision on the question later in the process. Rounds said he “would like to read the manuscript…but I’m not sure about bringing it into the [impeachment trial].”

“I’m sure Mr. Bolton would prefer I buy the book,” Blunt said, rather than read it in a closed setting, as Republican Sen. James Lankford suggested.

GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said, “Based on what the New York Times reported, I don’t think it sheds any new light on the facts as we understand them.”

But his colleague Sen. Michael D. Crapo of Idaho said he wants to see the manuscript.

Indiana Republican Sen. Mike Braun told reporters “I don’t think I need” to see the Bolton manuscript, as he was convinced by Trump lawyer Alan Dershowitz’s presentation that the House allegations would not constitute an abuse of power.

Constituents in Indiana have not pushed him toward seeking more evidence, but Braun acknowledged Republican colleagues in purple states might feel differently.

11:17 a.m.: Going fishing: GOP Sen. Kevin Cramer told reporters that Republican senators have not coordinated their questions for the coming session and he is ready to vote for acquittal “unless the president’s lawyers somehow convince me to vote to convict.”

He said a proposal for getting Bolton’s manuscript for the Senate to review would never “satiate the appetite” of House impeachment managers for more witnesses. He said any agreement on witnesses would likely result in a flood of them on both sides, rather than a one-for-one.

He called such a scenario an argument against allowing witnesses and said the House “wants to go fishing in the Senate until they catch one.”

11:15 a.m.: Business? What business?: House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer criticized GOP senators who have argued they want to get the impeachment trial over with so the Senate can return to the people’s business.

“The Senate has not been doing the people’s business,” the Maryland Democrat said. “We would hope they would get to it, not return, because they haven’t been doing it.”

11:05 a.m. | “Slime campaign”: A senior Democratic official working on the impeachment trial criticized the White House’s lawyers for presenting a “slime campaign” against former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden that was immaterial to the impeachment case.

“The president couldn’t persuade [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelenskiy to do [a Biden announcement]. He instead had his lawyers do it on national television. It was totally irrelevant,” the aide said, adding that “no court would ever allow that in.”

Another aide for the House Democrats, speaking on condition of anonymity, likened the president’s defense presentation to tactics used by criminal defense attorneys on open and shut guilty cases.

“They try to get the jury to suspend disbelief. … They distract with the Hunter Biden thing” and try to convince the jury it was just a “coincidence” that the person Trump wanted Kyiv to investigate was the president’s potential 2020 election opponent, the second aide said.

“Typically the prosecution would stand up on the rebuttal and say, ‘Why do they say all those things? Because they don’t have a defense,’” the aide said.

11 a.m. | “Phony argument”: The president’s counsel suggested Monday that the Senate should not subpoena Bolton for his personal notes and testimony because they are protected by executive privilege. House Democratic aides working on the impeachment trial dismissed that line of logic.

“That is a phony, phony argument. Executive privilege is a very limited protection,” one aide said, noting that Bolton’s book is set to drop in March and likely contains many details about that which Democrats have alleged.

Regardless, Trump waived executive privilege over his conversations with Bolton with his tweet denying Bolton’s claims, Democrats have asserted. And the president waived executive privilege over his conversations with acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney when he sanctioned the him to address reporters at the now-infamous news conference where he admitted to a quid pro quo.

“The more evidence that comes in, the more conclusive it is. The John Bolton testimony? Nail in the coffin, the aide said.

10:45 a.m. | In agreement: “Mr. Dershowitz was compelling and I agree with him and Judge Starr that we’re becoming investigation happy and impeachment happy,” Mississippi GOP Sen. Roger Wicker said. “I hope we learn our lesson this time not ever to forward a narrowly partisan impeachment again.”

10:40 a.m. | More witnesses?: Republican Sen. David Perdue said Tuesday that Bolton should not be called to testify in the Senate trial.

“I don’t think so,” Perdue said, but he added that he would be fine with calling one of the witnesses who provided testimony in the House.

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III didn’t answer a question on what he thought an appropriate list of witnesses would be but did say he wanted to hear from more.

“Here’s the thing about witnesses: I just don’t know how you have a trial without witnesses,” he said. “I just don’t know how they expect us, as a jury, to come to an informed decision.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham endorsed a plan proposed by GOP Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma for senators to review Bolton’s manuscript “where each Senator has the opportunity to review the manuscript and make their own determination.”

7:50 a.m. | Next up: Senators will have 16 hours after the conclusion of Trump’s defense to ask written questions of the House impeachment managers and Trump’s defense team. The trial rules appear to allow questions to be submitted once the defense finishes its presentation.

After Q&A, the Senate will take up the question of whether more witnesses should be called and other evidence considered with four hours of debate followed by a vote.

If that vote fails, Schumer has said he could introduce other procedural measures before votes on whether Trump is guilty of the two articles impeachment the House advanced in December — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

7:40 a.m. | More Bolton: The New York Times released more excerpts from Bolton’s manuscript for his White House memoir “The Room Where it Happened” in which he writes he privately told Attorney General William Barr that he had concerns that Trump was granting personal favors to the autocratic leaders of Turkey and China.

“Mr. Barr responded by pointing to a pair of Justice Department investigations of companies in those countries and said he was worried that Mr. Trump had created the appearance that he had undue influence over what would typically be independent inquiries,” the Times reported, quoting the manuscript.

The Justice Department said in a statement that it had not seen the manuscript, but from the Times account “grossly mischaracterizes what Attorney General Barr and Mr. Bolton discussed.

7:30 a.m | Trump’s defense: On Monday, Trump’s defense team pushed back on House managers’ assertion that Trump released the military aid package to Ukraine because he was “caught” after a whistleblower raised concerns about the arrangement.

They repeated their claim that the president’s attempt to leverage Ukraine was about corruption within the country’s government and how U.S. funds were being used rather than forcing Kyiv to dig up dirt on political opponents.

And Trump attorney Jane Raskin downplayed the role of Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, in the Ukraine operation, calling him “just a minor player” despite multiple witnesses in the House inquiry portraying the former New York mayor and federal prosecutor as Trump’s point man.

Raskin said testimony of media characterizations of Giuliani’s role is “that shiny object designed to distract you.”

7:20 a.m. | Problem solver: Schumer said Monday that arguments in defense of Trump are bolstering the Democrats’ case to call witnesses and subpoena documents.

“The president’s lawyers keep making the case for witnesses and documents,” Schumer told reporters referencing Trump’s outside counsel Jay Sekulow’s assertions that witnesses in the House investigation did not have direct contact with Trump.

“We want Bolton. We want [acting White House chief of Staff Mick] Mulvaney. We can solve Mr. Sekulow’s problem of not having witnesses who heard from the President himself,” Schumer said.

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