Impeachment news roundup: Jan. 30

Warren’s question to Roberts causes a murmur

Republican Rep. Mark Meadows watches Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer talk to reporters in the Senate subway during a break in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Republican Rep. Mark Meadows watches Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer talk to reporters in the Senate subway during a break in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Posted January 30, 2020 at 9:13am

Updated 7:35 p.m.

An audible murmur emanated from both sides of the aisle when Chief Justice John Roberts read aloud Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s question asking whether the trial’s proceedings reflect poorly on the chief justice himself.
Roberts did not visibly react to the contents of the card about himself as he read it aloud.

“In a time when large majorities of Americans have lost faith in government, does the fact that the chief justice is presiding over an impeachment trial in which Republican senators have thus far refused to allow witnesses and evidence contribute to the loss of legitimacy of the chief justice, the Supreme Court, and the Constitution?” Roberts read.

Democratic House manager Adam B. Schiff attempted to quell the tensions by responding that the chief justice has “presided admirably.”

“I don’t think a trial without witnesses reflects poorly on the chief justice. I think it reflects poorly on us,” Schiff said, referring to Congress’ handling of impeachment and Senate Republicans’ refusal to call new relevant witnesses.

Sen. Ted Cruz struck a different tone from Republican leadership on how confident he is that the GOP can quash a resolution to call additional witnesses and evidence.

“I think it’s still close and up in the air,” the Texas Republican said.

Cruz said “several” senators are still on the fence and that he likely won’t know for sure “until the vote is cast.”

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., said he does not expect the vote to end up in a tie, but he didn’t predict which way the vote would go. 

Scott said if the witness vote fails, McConnell can immediately call for votes on the articles but he doesn’t think the majority leader will do that “because it would be amended and you’d have this — you’re gonna have to give senators enough time to flesh out this issue before expecting a conclusion.”

Scott predicted “hours of debate before we get to that question at all.”

Sen. John Tester, D-Mont., told reporters, “We’ve got some concerns, so there will be some motions. I don’t know if there’ll be a lot” of votes tomorrow if the witness vote fails. He said they may hold a substantial number of votes “if we can get something. If it is for the sake of a 12-hour session, I don’t know.”

White House aide Eric Ueland told reporters that “we’re always prepared,” in case the Senate votes to call witnesses. But when asked about how the vote may play out, he said, “We’ll deal with tomorrow’s debate tomorrow.”

Here’s the latest on impeachment:

7:15 p.m. | Getting this done: Sen. John Thune told reporters, “There will be a lot of interest on our side” to finish the impeachment trial Friday if Republicans prevail on Friday’s anticipated witness vote. Democrats have tools to force further votes though, and the South Dakota Republican acknowledged those could make for a late night.

“Right now, 51 votes wins. But I suspect the Democrats, if they want to, can engage in any number of dilatory tactics to try and drag it out — you know, like, as you found with the organizing resolution there,” Thune said.

Thune said Republicans may consider convening Saturday for the final vote but may push for the late-night vote despite potential concerns about the optics of acquiring Trump during the night.

“But I can tell you. We have a high level of interest in just getting this done,” Thune said.

5:13 p.m. | Schiff wants one week for witnesses: Lead impeachment manager Adam B. Schiff rebutted arguments from Republicans that calling witnesses would prolong the trial, suggesting a limited one-week time frame for depositions.

He pointed to the one-week deposition period used during the 1999 Clinton impeachment trial and said the Senate could resume its regular legislative business while depositions were conducted.

“Is that too much to ask in the name of fairness — that we follow the Clinton model, that we take one week?” he asked. “Are we really driven by the timing of the State of the Union? Should that be a guiding principle? Can’t we take one week to hear from these witnesses?”

“I think we can,” Mr. Schiff concluded. “I think we should. I think we must.”

Schiff’s comments on the floor echoed what Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer told reporters Wednesday. He said that when he pushed for hearing from witnesses at the beginning of the trial, Republicans said to wait until after the arguments but now are saying there is no time for witnesses.

“We could get the whole thing done in a week,” said Schumer.

4:15 p.m. | Trial could end Friday: Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., told reporters Thursday that whether the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump continues through the weekend will depend on how the vote on additional witnesses plays out Friday.

“There are a lot of people that have said that the president wants this wrapped up by the Super Bowl but we’ll find out,” Tester said.

The Senate began its second and final day of questions and answers of the two sides in the trial, as Republicans are growing increasingly confident that the proceeding may conclude Friday. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated he wants to move to a vote on a verdict if the chamber can successfully block a motion for new witnesses to testify. 

After finishing the 16 hours of questions and answers Thursday, the trial will resume Friday with four hours of debate — divided evenly between the two parties — before a vote on witnesses. 

Sen. Joni Ernst said she is “hopeful” that the Senate will bring the trial to an end soon and added it is “possible” the chamber votes not to have witnesses and votes on whether to remove the president by the end of the day Friday.

The Iowa Republican said she was told by leadership that they will be “deliberating in private.” She did not specify where they will be deliberating or whether deliberations will be bipartisan. 

“Momentum is on the side of having the vote on final judgment tomorrow,” Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming said. 

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer has suggested that he may force a number of votes on motions for new witnesses and documents, as he similarly did during the organizing stage of the trial, in an effort that could delay the final votes on conviction.

The GOP is ready to ride out those votes just like they did at the beginning of the trial, Barrasso said.

3:45 p.m. | Feingold letter: Former Sen. Russ Feingold, the only Democrat who voted in favor of hearing from witnesses in the 1999 impeachment trial of Bill Clinton, wrote a letter to Republican senators Thursday urging them to fulfill their “constitutional duty to hold a full and fair trial” by allowing witnesses.

The Wisconsin Democrat, who lost his seat to Sen. Ron Johnson in 2010 and was defeated again in 2016, cited the Democrats’ inability to secure testimony from key witnesses with direct knowledge of the events surrounding Trump’s alleged misconduct and the “proliferation of additional evidence” that has surfaced since the House passed their impeachment articles to support his plea for more witnesses.

Feingold and Maine Sen. Susan Collins were the only senators to ask a bipartisan question during the Clinton impeachment trial’s written question phase. He ultimately voted to acquit Clinton on all charges.

3:15 p.m. | Jack Reed stumps both sides: Sen. Jack Reed and other Democrats asked House impeachment managers and the president’s counsel who paid Rudy Giuliani’s legal fees, international travel costs and other expenses in his capacity as Trump’s personal attorney and representative, stumping both sides.

Schiff, the lead impeachment manager, said he doesn’t know, but that it “raises profound questions.”

“I don’t know who’s directly paying the freight for it, but I can tell you the whole country is paying the freight for it because there are leaders around the world who are watching this, and they’re saying the American presidency is open for business,” Schiff said.

Trump attorney Jay Sekulow avoided answering the question and instead dove into a recap of GOP talking points about the Bidens and their activities in Ukraine.

1:35 p.m. | Paul defies Roberts: After Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. passed on reading a question that named the possible intelligence community whistleblower, Sen. Rand Paul left the chamber and immediately held a news conference reading the question in front of the TV cameras. 

Paul read the question aloud, pertaining to the contact between a staffer for House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff and a person who has been speculated by other parties to be the whistleblower.

Paul claimed his question had nothing to do with the whistleblower and that he didn’t know his or her identity. 

“My question is about two people who are friends who worked at the National Security Council,” Paul said.

“Manager Schiff says he has no knowledge. If he has no knowledge, the rest of us can have no knowledge of who the whistleblower is. The president’s team says they have no knowledge of who the whistleblower is,” Paul said. “I think it was an incorrect finding to not allow a question make no reference.”

Paul then highlighted his support for Edward Snowden.

“You shouldn’t be able to use statutes to somehow make a whole part of the discussion over this impeachment go away. Look, I’m the biggest defender of the whistleblower statute. I’ve been one saying that Edward Snowden was the greatest whistleblower of all time,” Paul said. “Half of these people down here who say they support the whistleblower statute want to put Edward Snowden to death or in jail forever.”

Unlike Snowden, the whistleblower whose report is at the center of the allegation requested anonymity and went through appropriate and legal channels for reporting concerns related to national security.

Paul said he opted against prolonging Thursday’s session by forcing a debate on whether to overrule the decision by the chief justice to decline to read the question as drafted.

“That was a debate I made up until the very last minute, and I decided that we’re going to have enough voting tomorrow,” the Kentucky Republican said. “I decided that we’re going to have enough voting tomorrow, that rather than delay the proceeding — I think we’re going to have 12 hours of voting tomorrow.”

12:45 p.m. | A big “unknown”: Republican Sen. Mike Braun said two, three and four “are pretty important numbers” referring to the number of Republican votes Democrats would need to pass a motion for a vote for more witnesses.

Three would result in a tie, and the Braun said it’s “an unknown” whether the chief justice would attempt to break a tie.

“I think it will be interesting because I think whatever the chief justice does, there’s still the Senate with 51 votes that could either say it’s okay or overrule it,” he said.

12:35 p.m. | Undecided: Alabama Democratic Sen. Doug Jones continued to assert he is undecided on whether he’ll vote to convict or acquit Trump, noting he still has questions.

“I haven’t been satisfied, complete with answers from anybody,” said Jones, considered to be the most vulnerable senator up for reelection this year.

12:10 p.m. | “Up in the air”: Republican Sen. John Cornyn said the question of whether the Senate will allow witness testimony is “still up in the air,” but Republicans seem to be coming around to the realization that if they open the trial up to witnesses, it will result in several called and potentially months of delay.

If witnesses are not allowed, “then I suspect, there’ll be consideration about a vote to set a final vote,” he said.

12:04 p.m. | Wondering: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy railed against House impeachment manager Adam B. Schiff for declining to release a transcript of House investigators’ deposition of Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson.

“Seventeen of the 18 transcripts have been let go. One has not — 179 pages of the inspector general. I wonder why,” McCarthy said at his weekly news conference. “If any of this was bad for the president, it’d first be leaked, and then it’d be released,” he said.

Schiff has declined to make the transcript public because the House Intelligence Committee he chairs is still probing Atkinson’s handling of the whistleblower complaint that sparked the impeachment investigation.

Schiff has said the IG found the whistleblower’s complaint “credible.”

12:02 p.m. | Pressure is on: Democrats need four Republican votes to have a chance at calling witnesses, such as Bolton, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and other witnesses the Democrats want to call for the impeachment trial.

“Right now our focus is on getting four Republicans,” Senate Minotiry Leader Charles E. Schumer said. GOP Sens. Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins and Mitt Romney have indicated they could be inclined to vote to hear from witnesses, but Schumer did not shed any light on who the fourth—and integral—Republican vote would be.

“Look, we’ve always said this is an uphill fight,” Schumer said, adding the Democrats are still “hopeful” and that “truth prevails.”

Asked who is the fourth Republican might be, Democratic Sen. Chris Coons said, “I have no idea. And that’s the biggest challenge we face.”

11:56 a.m. | Bogus: Schumer said he thought the first day of senators’ questions were advantageous for his Democratic caucus, noting that some of the best questions came from Republicans, including Collins, Murkowski and Romney.

Collins and Murkowski, who are moderates, asked Trump’s lawyers if they could give an example of the president showing concern about Hunter and Joe Biden before the former vice president announced his candidacy.

“The president’s counsel could not point to a single example to support the claim,” Schumer told reporters. “So he made up a bogus excuse that his answer was limited to what’s in the record.”

“Senator Romney asked the president’s counsel if they could clarify the specific date when the president ordered the delay in military assistance, and what reason he gave for doing it,” the New York Democrat added. “Again, the president’s counsel could not point to anything to answer Senator Romney.”

11:50 a.m. | Burn: Schumer took aim at an argument provided by one of the president’s lawyers, Alan Dershowitz.

“Yesterday, [Dershowitz] went even further, suggesting that because presidents believe their reelection is in the public interest — when they do things to benefit their reelection — it is in the public interest and they can basically do whatever they want,” Schumer said. “I hear he’s correcting it on TV today. That seems to be Mr. Dershowitz’s pattern: He gives a statement on the floor and then spends the next day correcting it. What a load of nonsense.”

Schumer, a Harvard Law School graduate, when asked if he took Dershowitz’s class, said he did not.

“That’s why my arguments are cogent,” Schumer said.

11:41 a.m. | No crime, but “legitimate concerns”: Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told reporters he is “more optimistic than ever,” that Republicans would find the votes to block witnesses.

Graham cited Dershowitz’s argument that as long as there was “a scintilla” of evidence that Trunp had a non-personal motive, the Senate should not impeach him. He explained his earlier comments that the quid pro quo described by House managers as “disturbing,” saying he did not think such an exchange is impeachable.

“Even if you assume the facts most favorable to the government, then this is not a crime. This is a partisan impeachment,” Graham said.

While he did not think Trump’s actions were impeachable, he acknowledged “legitimate concerns” about the use of presidential power.

“I think the [Rudy Giuliani] involvement is a legitimate concern, but it it not bribery, it is not treason and [Ukraine] got the money,” Graham said.

Multiple witnesses in the House inquiry testified that Giuliani was Trump’s point man in the shadow foreign policy operation to pressure Ukraine to announce an investigation into the Bidens.

11:38 a.m. | Outing the whistleblower: Paul’s office announced the Kentucky Republican would seek to insist on asking a question at the start of this afternoon’s session. According to multiple reports, Paul has drafted a question that would identify by name the alleged identity of the intelligence community whistleblower.

On Wednesday, Roberts reportedly passed on a question from Paul that would have identified the whistleblower, which Roberts made clear at the beginning of the question and answer period that he would not allow.

Paul was overheard in an animated discussion with a McConnell staffer in the Senate cloakroom, saying, “If I have to fight for recognition, I will.”

11:22 a.m. | Roberts rules: If there is a question about evidence or if a Senate vote on witnesses or documents results in a tie, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she hopes senators would leave it up to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. to decide, although she acknowledged Republicans seem reticent to let that happen.

“That’s interesting to me that they’re afraid of breaking a tie with the chief justice of the United States,” she said.

Ultimately if the Senate votes to acquit Trump of the two impeachment articles without having called witnesses or introduced documents, Pelosi said she won’t accept the result as valid.

“He will not be acquitted,” she said. “He cannot be acquitted if you don’t have a trial.”

11:20 a.m. | Courage: Pelosi expressed hope that Democrats’ push for witnesses and documents in the trial will prevail — “not that we think we need it to bolster our case” — so Americans get to see the truth.

“I just pray that the senators will have the courage and the ability to handle the truth instead of blocking the truth,” she said.

Pelosi declined to say whether the House would subpoena Bolton if an effort to do so in the trial fails. She also declined to answer other questions about what the House might or might not do in terms of investigations if the trial ends without additional witnesses or documents, saying Democrats remain “prayerful and hopeful” senators will vote to subpoena new evidence.

“We are in the Senate. We did our job,” she said of the House. “No matter what the senators have the courage or not to do, he will be impeached forever.”

10:40 a.m. | “Deranged”: Trump weighed in on the proceedings this morning, tweeting a Fox News report on lead House impeachment manager Adam B. Schiff being “blasted” for not focusing on the homeless and saying that Schiff’s California district “is in terrible shape.”

8:30 a.m.: Vote counting: After the ground shook with the release of excerpts from national security adviser John Bolton’s yet-to-be-published manuscript, Republicans appear to be more sure they have the votes needed to block witnesses.

“That’s where all the momentum is in our party right now,” Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Barrasso told CQ Roll Call.
So far the only Republican senators who have signaled they’re likely to vote for considering witnesses are Sens. Mitt RomneySusan Collins and Lisa Murkowski.

If all three backed a motion for votes on witnesses supported by all 47 Democrats, it would result in a 50-50 vote tie — short of a majority.

“Tie votes fail,” Barrasso said.

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8:10 a.m.: Wait, what?: Democrats called Dershowitz’s argument “bizarre” and “laughable.”

“It made no sense,” Sen. Mazie K. Hirono said.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand called it “a laughable argument that undermines the president’s case.”

Sen. Chris Murphy summarized Dershowitz’s argument as “anything the President does to get re-elected is by definition unimpeachable.”

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