For a second day, U.S. senators questioned House prosecutors and President Donald Trump’s defense attorneys in advance of a vote on Friday that will either lead to an ongoing impeachment trial or lead to an acquittal of charges for the president.
As the day went on, Democrats courted four Republican senators considered possible swing votes in hopes they would join them in a vote on Friday to pass a resolution to allow for witnesses and documents in the trial.
Here are some of the questions, answers and sideline drama that took place on Thursday.
The Lamar Alexander vote
Sen. Alexander announced Thursday night that he would not be voting with Democrats to allow for witnesses to be called during the Senate impeachment trial, all but assuring that the likely Friday vote will fail.
Alexander was one of four Republicans that Democrats had hoped they could sway to vote in favor of calling witnesses. The other three are Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah; Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine; and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.
Assuming all the Democrats vote for witnesses to be called, the loss of Alexander’s vote means that Democrats have no way to get to 51 votes, a simple majority, that would allow for House managers and Trump’s attorneys to call witnesses or subpoena documents.
A proposed compromise
House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, offered a compromise Thursday suggesting limiting any depositions of witnesses to one week. Schiff pointed out that it was the same length of time that depositions were taken in former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial.
“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?”
Lisa Murkowski asks about Bolton
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, asked Trump’s attorneys, “Why should this body not call Ambassador (John) Bolton?” meaning Trump’s former national security adviser.
White House deputy counsel Patrick Philbin answered by explaining that calling witnesses in Trump’s Senate impeachment case would set a bad precedent for future presidents.
“I think that’s very damaging for the future of this institution,” Philbin explained.
According to news reports, Bolton says in his upcoming book that Trump withheld military aid from Ukraine until that country’s leaders agreed to announce an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, not because of corruption concerns, as Trump has claimed.
The Rand Paul question
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, submitted a question to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts early on in the proceedings Thursday.
Apparently, it was the same question he submitted Wednesday, and it met with the same result – Roberts refused to read it. “The presiding officer declines to read the question as submitted,” said Roberts.
The question, which was shown to reporters, named the whistleblower who alerted Congress to Trump’s July 25, 2019, phone call with the Ukrainian president, which led to Trump’s impeachment in the House in December.
The Ron Johnson question
A bit later in the afternoon, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, along with several other Republican senators, submitted a question about reports that a former National Security Council aide who is now on the Democratic staff of the House Intelligence Committee worked with the whistleblower and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman to “take down Trump.”
In Johnson’s question, the whistleblower’s name was not mentioned.
Roberts then read the question, which alleged that the whistleblower conspired with Democratic staffers of the House Intelligence Committee to take down Trump.
Schiff slapped back at the question, saying he “will not dignify those smears on my staff by giving them any credence whatsoever."
A 50-50 vote
Will the final vote on witnesses in the impeachment trial end in a tie – 50-50? If three Republicans join the Democrats and vote for witnesses and documents, then that is how the vote would end up.
What would happen then?
Democrats want Roberts to break the tie. It’s not known if Roberts will insert himself in the vote, even though there is precedent for a chief justice breaking a tie. See reporter Jamie Dupree’s tweet below.
Who is paying Rudy?
Senate Democrats asked both Trump’s attorneys and House managers who is paying Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani for his work, travel and expenses concerning his efforts in Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son Hunter.
Neither side answered the question, but Schiff, answering for the House managers, said Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine have left the country “paying the freight for it.”
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