What to watch for on Day 9 of the Trump impeachment trial
The Senate on Thursday is set to conclude a marathon question-and-answer session as it moves toward a turning point in President Trump’s impeachment trial.
Senators are expected to reconvene at 1 p.m. after spending approximately 10 hours, including breaks, on Wednesday to ask more than 90 questions of both Trump’s legal team and House impeachment managers.
As of the end of Wednesday, senators had used roughly eight hours of the 16 total hours that the rules resolution set aside for the question-and-answer session.
Under a deal announced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), questions alternate between Republicans and Democrats.
In a break with the Senate impeachment trial so far, senators were allowed to speak on Wednesday to note that they had a question and announce if it was from multiple senators.
The questions were then passed to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who read out the question and which side it was addressed to.
Roberts has asked both sides to limit their answers to five minutes, and interrupted Trump’s legal team and impeachment managers several times on Wednesday to let them know they had reached their time limit.
Wednesday’s session was chock-full of opportunities to try to read the tea leaves on which way undecided senators in both parties are leaning.
Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) asked if Trump had discussed former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden in conversations about Ukrainian corruption during the first two years of his presidency before Joe Biden had announced his presidential campaign.
Deputy White House counsel Patrick Philbin was unable to cite a specific instance in which Trump indicated to other Cabinet officials or top Ukrainian officials that he was concerned about the Bidens contributing to corruption in Ukraine. He also noted that conversations between Trump and his administration officials are not part of the record of the House impeachment inquiry.
A Senate Democratic aide called it the “most important moment of the day” as of approximately 8 p.m., and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) also repeated the question later in the evening, telling Trump’s legal team to “give an accurate and truthful answer.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), another undecided vote, asked White House lawyers on “what specific date did President Trump first order the hold on security assistance to Ukraine and did he explain the reason at the time.”
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), viewed as one of a few Democratic senators open to acquitting Trump, asked what had changed since the Clinton impeachment trial with regard to how “high crimes and misdemeanors” are defined. The question prompted a defense from Alan Dershowitz, a member of Trump’s legal team and an opinion contributor for The Hill, who during Clinton’s impeachment said that a technical crime was not required to impeach.
There was also a flash of controversy with Roberts refusing a question from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) regarding the whistleblower that sparked the House impeachment inquiry.
A source confirmed that Roberts has indicated he would not read a question from Paul regarding the whistleblower at the center of the House impeachment inquiry.
The question from Paul is expected to name the individual, and because Roberts is responsible for reading the questions, that would put him in the position of publicly outing the person on the Senate floor.
Paul indicated that he would still try to get his question in on Thursday.
“It’s still an ongoing process,” he said. “It may happen tomorrow.”
The marathon question-and-answer sessions come as the Senate is preparing to vote on witnesses on Friday.
How the vote plays out will impact the length of the trial, with GOP senators warning that calling witnesses could extend the proceeding for weeks or even months.
Democrats will need to muster four Republican votes to side with them to call witnesses. But Republicans are feeling increasingly confident that they will be able to block witnesses from being called.
Several GOP senators remain on the fence, including Collins, Murkowski and Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.). They have said they are waiting until the end of the question-and-answer period to make a decision, raising the prospect that they could make an announcement as soon as Thursday.
If Republicans are able to prevent Democrats from calling new witnesses, GOP senators predict they will quickly move to acquit Trump on the two articles of impeachment. Though there would likely be some procedural maneuvering between the witness vote and the final votes, that could put the Senate on track to end the trial as soon as late Friday.
“My view is that at the point you would probably want to start bringing this thing to a conclusion,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Republican senator, but he also noted that it is ultimately Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) call.
When asked if there was any reason for delaying acquittal until Saturday, Thune added: “I don’t know why you wouldn’t just proceed to that vote.”
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