The impeachment trial of US President Donald Trump moved into its second day of senator questions on Thursday, nearing the end of the initial phase of the proceedings.
On Wednesday, Republican and Democratic senators, alternating in submitting their written questions that were read aloud by presiding officer Chief Justice John Roberts, attempted to challenge or support the narratives presented over the previous six days of arguments by House managers and the president’s lawyers.
During Wednesday’s questioning, Trump’s lawyers, in one particularly noteworthy response, argued that even if Trump had withheld aid from Ukraine in exchange for investigations into his rivals, he should still not be removed from office if he believed he was acting in the public interest in securing his re-election.
Meanwhile, Democrats largely focused their time on rebutting the claims made in the defence’s case, while stressing the need for more documents and evidence in the trial.
The proceedings will move next, likely on Friday, 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 second day of the question and answer portion, here are all the latest updates as of Thursday, January 30:
Key questions asked during Trump’s impeachment trial
Here’s a look at some of Thursday’s more notable exchanges:
Democratic Senators Sherrod Brown and Ron Wyden: “If President Trump remains in office, what signal does that send to other countries intent on interfering with our election in the future and what might we expect from those countries and the president?”
The question came in response to an argument a night earlier from deputy White House counsel Patrick Philbin, who said foreign involvement in an election isn’t by itself illegal if it’s simply bringing to light credible information about a candidate for office.
Those comments instantly angered Democrats, and Thursday’s question from the senators pointedly noted that FBI Director Chris Wray has said anyone with information about foreign election interference should immediately contact law enforcement.
Representative Hakeem Jeffries, a House impeachment manager, said he was shocked by Philbin’s suggestion that there could be scenarios in which it was acceptable to receive dirt on an opponent from a foreign national.
“This is not a banana republic. It’s the democratic republic of the United States of America. It’s wrong,” Jeffries said.
Republican Senators Mike Braun and John Barrasso: “The House managers said the country must be saved from the president and he does not have the best interests of the American people and their families in mind. Do you wish to respond to that claim?”
The question was part of a long-running effort by Republicans to paint the impeachment as a partisan effort to oust the president rather than a fact-finding mission.
It provoked an animated – sometimes snide – defence of the president from Trump attorney Eric Herschmann, who rattled off a series of what he said were the administration’s accomplishments, including the killing by the US military last fall of Islamic State founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
“If all that is solely, solely in their words, for his personal and political gain and not in the best interest of the American people, then I say, God bless him,” Herschmann said. “Keep doing it. Keep doing it. Keep doing it.”
If House managers stop “harassing” him and his aides with letters and investigations, Herschmann added, “maybe we can get even more done.”
Republican Senators Susan Collins, Marco Rubio, Mike Crapo and Roy Blunt: “Are there legitimate circumstances under which a president could request a foreign country to investigate a US citizen, including a political rival, who is not under investigation by the US government? If so, what are they and how do they apply to the present case?”
Any question from Collins is important because she is among the Republicans whose perspective on both witnesses and acquittal are being closely watched for clues.
In this question, she appears to be grappling with whether there are instances in which conduct similar to Trump’s – who asked Ukraine’s leader to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden and his son – might be reasonable.
Representative Adam Schiff, the lead House impeachment prosecutor, said he could not imagine such a circumstance. The president, Schiff said, has “affirmatively and aggressively sought to investigate his rivals.”
Philbin contended that Trump didn’t specifically ask Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for a general investigation into the Bidens, but instead to look into the firing of a Ukraine prosecutor at the same time that Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukraine gas company.
He said it could be “perfectly legitimate” to seek an investigation overseas into someone suspected of violating the laws of that country.
Republican Senators Krysten Sinema, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin: “Will the president assure the American public that private citizens will not be directed to conduct American foreign policy or national security policy unless they have been specifically and formally designated by the president and the State Department to do so?”
The lead-up to the question referenced the Logan Act, an obscure and virtually dormant law that prohibits private citizens from negotiating without authorization with foreign powers.
The question – posed by senators of both parties – also made an oblique but unmistakable reference to Rudy Giuliani, the resident’s personal lawyer and a central figure in the impeachment saga for his efforts to press Ukraine for the investigations the president wanted and for the ouster of the US ambassador to Ukraine.
Philbin took exception to the question, saying there was “no conduct of foreign policy being carried on here by a private person.” Giuliani’s outreach to Ukraine was not formal foreign policy, Philbin argued. And in any event, he said, presidents since George Washington have relied on confidants and others outside their administration to carry messages to other countries and to function as a go-between.
The Senate is on a 45-minute dinner break. When senators come back, they will have two hours and 53 minutes left for questions.
Second video shows Trump with former Ukraine fixer Lev Parnas
A secretly recorded video released on Thursday shows Trump associating with Lev Parnas, the indicted businessman who says he worked to pressure Ukraine to investigate one of Trump’s Democratic political rivals.
It is the second such tape to emerge in a week and would appear to undercut Trump’s claim that he does not know Parnas, a former associate of Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, who now faces federal campaign-finance charges.
The two recordings show that the Republican president was at private events with Parnas twice in just 10 days in 2018.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Schiff proposes limiting witness testimony
Facing a looming battle over whether witnesses should be called, lead House manager Adam Schiff proposed limiting the depositions of any witnesses to one week.
Republican leaders have warned those within their party that if witnesses are call the trial could lead to a lengthy process.
Trump heads to Midwest ahead of Monday’s Iowa caucuses
Trump is serving up counterprogramming to his impeachment trial on Thursday by promoting his new trade deal and rallying supporters in two Midwestern states that he views as crucial to his reelection.
Trump addressed workers at a manufacturing plant in Michigan to celebrate the new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico that he signed into law a day earlier. From there, he was headed to Iowa for a campaign rally in Des Moines ahead of Monday’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.
But during his visit to Dana Industries in Warren, Michigan, one of the largest US-based suppliers to vehicle manufacturers, Trump couldn’t hide his anger over the impeachment trial. He complained that the Senate trial was overshadowing the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
“The USMCA is the fairest, most balanced trade agreement we’ve ever signed into law,” Trump said. “What do they do? They impeach you.”
And we’re back
Expect Thursday’s session to go well into the night.
Senators take brief recess
The trial will resume at 4 PM local (21 GMT).
Democratic senators ask who’s paying Giuliani
Democratic Senators Tammy Duckworth, Jack Reed, and Kamala Harris asked both the House managers and the defence who is paying Giuliani’s international travel, legal fees or other expenses.
“The short answer to the question is, I don’t know who’s paying Rudy Giuliani’s fees,” lead House manager Adam Schiff said, adding, but “if other clients are paying and subsidising his work in that respect, it raises profound questions”.
Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow, for his part, referenced Hunter Biden sitting of the board of a Ukrainian gas company while his father oversaw the fight against corruption in the country.
“And you’re concerned about what Rudy Giuliani, the president’s lawyer, was doing when he was over trying to determine what was going on in Ukraine?” Sekulow said.
Braun: Republicans discussed possibility of 50-50 tie
Republicans have discussed what happens in the event of a 50-50 tie in motions voted on in the Senate impeachment, particularly whether new evidence will be allowed, Senator Mike Braun told reporters on Thursday.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty in terms of what happens with the presiding officer,” said Braun.
Because Chief Justice John Roberts is constitutionally mandated to preside over a presidential impeachment, he theoretically, like the vice president who fills the role in regular Senate proceedings, has the power to break a vote tie.
However, the chief justice could not vote and the motion would not pass, as it would fail to meet the simple majority of 51 votes. Republicans currently hold 53 seats in the 100-seat chamber.
Report: Nadler says it ‘might be’ good idea for House to subpoena Bolton if testimony not permitted in Senate
The head of the US House Judiciary committee has said it might be a good idea for the House of Representatives to subpoena President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton if the Senate does not call him as an impeachment trial witness, CNN reported.
“If tomorrow’s vote fails, they will not permit him or anyone else to testify. I expect he’ll talk publicly and we will see,” panel chairman Jerrold Nadler said on Thursday, according to a CNN reporter on Twitter.
Asked if he thought it would be a good idea for the House to subpoena him, Nadler said, “That might be”.
Dershowitz challenges critics to a town hall debate
President Donald Trump defence lawyer Alan Dershowitz, whose controversial argument on Wednesday has been widely pilloried, challenged critics to a town-hall style debate.
Dershowitz, tweeting during Thursday’s proceedings, said: “I challenge my critics – especially those who are deliberately misinterpreting my arguments – to a Lincoln/Douglas-type town hall debate in which name calling is prohibited and intellectual arguments must be responded to with other intellectual arguments.”
I challenge my critics – especially those who are deliberately misinterpreting my arguments – to a Lincoln/Douglas-type town hall debate in which name calling is prohibited and intellectual arguments must be responded to with other intellectual arguments. (MTC)
– Alan Dershowitz (@AlanDersh) January 30, 2020
Dershowitz had argued on Wednesday that a president could not be impeached for how they try to secure re-election if they thought that their re-election was in the public interest.
On Thursday, he accused the media of the intentionally misinterpreting his statements, and said he was actually arguing that a president could not be impeached if the motives behind their action included both the service of public interest and their re-election interests.
He said that a president could be impeached if they committed a crime or “an impeachable act…But a lawful act – holding up funds, sending troops to vote, braking a promise about Syria – does not become unlawful or impeachable if done with a mixed motive of both promoting the public interest and helping his Re-election”.
Trump’s defence argues that withholding requested witnesses and documents is not a sign of guilt
President Donald Trump defence lawyer Patrick Philbin said that House managers suggesting that the president’s categorical refusal to provide documents and witnesses from his administration during the House impeachment inquiry indicates guilt is “contrary to the very spirit of our American justice system”.
Philbin said that Trump using “constitutionally grounded prerogatives of his office” is within his rights, and refusing to waive those rights cannot be interpreted as a guilt.
White House says Democrats aren’t answering questions about ‘whistle-blower and potential conflict of interest’
The White House, in a tweet, said “there are many questions and concerns about the alleged whistleblower and potential conflicts of interest”.
“Democrats aren’t answering any of them,” the tweet continued.
There are many questions and concerns about the alleged whistleblower and potential conflicts of interest.
Democrats aren’t answering any of them. pic.twitter.com/KLN3KmqZpO
– The White House (@WhiteHouse) January 30, 2020
Chief Justice declines to read Paul’s question
Chief Justice John Roberts has declined to read Republican Senator Rand Paul’s question.
On Wednesday, Paul’s question was rejected because it named the whistle-blower whose complaint lead to the House inquiry.
My question today is about whether or not individuals who were holdovers from the Obama National Security Council and Democrat partisans conspired with Schiff staffers to plot impeaching the President before there were formal House impeachment proceedings.
– Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) January 30, 2020
Why didn’t the House reissue subpoenas after it passed the impeachment resolution?
The question and answer portion has restarted, with Democratic Senator Patty Murray asking the House managers “Why didn’t the House reissue subpoenas after it passed the impeachment resolution?”
Paul to push for his question to be read
Republican Senator Rand Paul is expected to push for his question – which named the whistle-blower whose complaint launched the investigation – to be read during the Senate trial on Thursday, the New York Times reported.
Paul’s question had previously been rejected on Wednesday.
“Senator Paul believes it is crucial the American people get the full story on what started the Democrats’ push to impeach President Donald Trump, as reports have indicated Obama appointees at the National Security Council may have discussed organizing an impeachment process in advance of the whistle-blower complaint,” Mr. Paul’s office said in the statement, the newspaper reported.
Pelosi: Trump will ‘not be acquitted’ if no witnesses are called in Senate trial
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, in her weekly news conference, has said President Donald Trump‘s acquittal would be meaningless if no new witnesses or documents are presented in the trial.
“He will not be acquitted,” Pelosi said. “You cannot be acquitted if you don’t have a trial, and you don’t have a trial if you don’t have witnesses and documentation and that.”
McConnell says in regards to a vote on impeachment on Friday: ‘We will see what tomorrow brings’
When asked on Thursday if a vote on acquitting the president could happen on Friday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said: “We will see what tomorrow brings,” ABC News reported.
A vote on whether new evidence will be submitted is expected for Friday. If it does not pass, many Republicans have expressed the desire to end the trial quickly.
Two Republican sources told the news network that McConnell has indicated he has the votes to strike down a motion to introduce witnesses.
Schumer says he didn’t take Dershowitz’s class at Harvard: ‘That’s why my arguments are cogent’
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Harvard law school graduate, took a shot at Trump’s defence lawyer Alan Dershowitz, a professor emeritus of law at the prestigious college, before the tenth day of the impeachment trial.
When asked during a news conference if Schumer took Dershowitz’s class, he responded: “No. That’s why my arguments are cogent.”
Durbin fears ‘John Bolton’s manuscript is in the same desk drawer as the president’s tax returns’
Democratic Senator Richard Durbin raised scepticism over the National Security Council’s claim that Bolton’s draft book contains classified information and may not be published in its current form.
Durbin said he feared “John Bolton’s manuscript is in the same desk drawer as the president’s tax returns.” The president, despite prior promises, has never released his tax returns.
Dershowitz backtracks on impeachment trial statements
Trump Lawyer Alan Dershowitz has backtracked on an argument he made on Wednesday that a president cannot be impeached if they believed they were acting in the public interest to secure their re-election.
On Wednesday, Dershowitz said: “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.”
I did not say or imply that a candidate could do anything to reassure his reelection, only that seeking help in an election is not necessarily corrupt, citing the Lincoln and Obama examples. Critics have an obligation to respond to what I said, not to create straw men to attack.
– Alan Dershowitz (@AlanDersh) January 30, 2020
On Thursday, in a tweet, he said: “I did not say or imply that a candidate could do anything to reassure his reelection, only that seeking help in an election is not necessarily corrupt, citing the Lincoln and Obama examples. Critics have an obligation to respond to what I said, not to create straw men to attack.”
Trump resumes attacks on Schiff
Trump resumed attacks on the House manager leading the case for his removal from office.
On Thursday, before the tenth day of the impeachment trial, Trump, after quoting the Fox News programme Fox and Friends, said Schiff’s home district is in “terrible shape”. He went on to call Schiff a “corrupt pol” and “mentally deranged”.
“Schiff blasted for not focusing on California homeless.” @foxandfriends His District is in terrible shape. He is a corrupt pol who only dreams of the Impeachment Hoax. In my opinion he is mentally deranged!
– Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 30, 2020
Former federal prosecutor calls Dershowitz argument ‘outrageous’
An argument made by defence lawyer Alan Dershowitz that a president cannot be impeached if they commit misdeeds in order to gain re-election if they believe they are acting in the public interest is “outrageous”, a former federal prosecutor told Al Jazeera.
“As Representative Adam Schiff responded, it just can’t be the case that a president can solicit assistance from a foreign government as long as it helps him politically,” Barb McQuade, a former federal prosecutor and law professor at University of Michigan, told Al Jazeera on Thursday responding to Dershowitz comments from the day prior.
While McQuade said many senators on Wednesday “were merely tossing softballs to their own side to give them an opportunity to make arguments favorable to their position”, she said some key senators appear to be using the questions portion to make up their mind.
“Senators [Lisa] Murkowski and [Susan] Collins asked if Trump ever showed any interest in corruption in Ukraine before Joe Biden announced his candidacy for president. Senator Romney asked the date Trump ordered the freeze on military aid, perhaps trying to understand his motive,” she said of three Republican senators considered possible swing votes.
“On Thursday, I will be looking for more questions from these three senators that indicate a genuine interest in understanding the case and deciding whether to remove the president from office,” she said.
All eyes on a few Republican senators
With a vote on whether or not new evidence – including subpoenaing witnesses and documents – is expected for Friday, attention has turned to just a few Republicans who could possibly break from party ranks and give Democrats the majority they need.
Such a move would likely draw the ire of restless colleagues who want the lengthy proceeding to come to an end. That end would likely be swift if no new information is allowed in the trial, as a very unlikely two-thirds majority vote is needed to remove the president from office.
To date, only Republican Senator Mitt Romney has said he wants to hear from former National Security Advisor Bolton in light of revelations reported earlier this week. Several other Republicans are considered open to more witnesses – including Susan Colllins, Lisa Murkowski, and Lamar Alexander.
On Wednesday, two closely-watched senators, Martha McSally and Cory Gardner, Republicans facing re-election in swing states, said they would not vote for more witnesses.
I have heard enough. It is time to vote.
– Martha McSally (@SenMcSallyAZ) January 30, 2020
Who is Trump’s defence team?
Read more about the key senators in the trial here.
Who are the House managers?
Seven House managers presented the case for Trump’s removal from office and spent Wednesday fielding senators’ questions.
What happened on Wednesday?
In a striking shift from President Trump’s claim of “perfect” dealings with Ukraine, his defence asserted on Wednesday that a trade of US military aid for political favours – even if proven – could not be grounds for his impeachment.
Trump’s defence lawyer Alan Dershowitz told senators that every politician conflates his own interest with the public interest. If Trump thought working to secure his re-election was in the public interest: “It cannot be impeachable,” he said.
Meanwhile, Democrats pressed hard to force the Senate to call more witnesses to testify, but new revelations from former National Security Advisor Bolton were countered by the president’s lawyers, who used Wednesday’s unusual question-and-answer session to warn off prolonging the proceeding, insisting senators have heard enough.
Read more about what happened here.
Catch up on what happened since the start of the trial?
As the tenth 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.