Impeachment Trial Shifts To Questions Phase, With Witnesses Issue Looming

Jan 29, 2020
Originally published on January 29, 2020 7:59 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The questioning has begun in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. On Day 8, Senate Democrats and Republicans are submitting written questions for the House impeachment managers and the President's defense team. This will go on for up to 16 hours over the next two days.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

And on Friday, the Senate's expected to vote on a critical question - whether to subpoena witnesses and documents for the trial. NPR's Tim Mak has been following the proceedings and joins me now from Capitol Hill.

Hey, Tim.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey there.

CHANG: So what kinds of questions have we've been hearing from senators today?

MAK: Well, the questions have probed what both legal teams think about the president's motives and what the standard of proof should be in the trial, for example. One revealing question, though, was from Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski - two Republicans known to be open to calling witnesses in the trial. They asked whether the president's lawyers could point to an occasion where President Trump had talked about Joe Biden and corruption before Biden began running for president. Here's what one of the president's lawyers, Patrick Philbin, said.

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PATRICK PHILBIN: I can't point to something in the record that shows President Trump at an earlier time mentioning specifically something related to Joe or Hunter Biden.

MAK: So that answer could leave the door open to the Democratic argument that senators should ask to see witnesses and get additional information.

CHANG: Yeah. Let's talk about that. I mean, one of the big questions is whether the Senate will subpoena John Bolton, the former national security adviser. How did senators raise that issue today?

MAK: Well, the House managers repeatedly answered questions with the answer that senators could learn a lot more about various issues by calling John Bolton to testify. Lead House impeachment manager Adam Schiff encourage senators not to wait for Bolton's book to come out. Now, in the book, Bolton reportedly says that the president personally and directly linked an investigation into the Bidens to Ukrainian foreign aid. Here's what Schiff said.

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ADAM SCHIFF: Don't wait for the book. Don't wait till March 17, when it is in black and white.

MAK: The president's lawyer, Patrick Philbin, argued in response that the House should not have presented what he said was an incomplete case.

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PHILBIN: The real question is, what is the precedent that is going to be set for what is an acceptable way for the House of Representatives to bring an impeachment of a president of the United States to this chamber? And can it be done in a hurried, half-baked partisan fashion?

MAK: Democrats have long argued that subpoenaing John Bolton in the House would have led to protracted legal proceedings.

CHANG: Well, what about moderate Democrats from red states? I mean, as they've been talking to reporters during the trial, how would you say that they're approaching all of these proceedings?

MAK: Well, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer needs unity in his conference if the Senate is to proceed to witnesses and, also, on the vote to convict. And there are some questions about both these issues. For example, Senator Doug Jones, a Democrat from conservative Alabama, told reporters he won't make up his mind yet on the impeachment articles. And Senator Joe Manchin, another Democrat from a conservative state - this one being West Virginia - said on MSNBC this morning he thinks Hunter Biden would be a relevant witness to call. The unanimity of the Democratic conference is far from clear.

CHANG: And what about the unanimity among Republicans? I mean, what about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell? Has he been able to keep Republicans united?

MAK: Well, that's one of the big unknowns in the trial right now. Senators have not been forthcoming about their positions, generally speaking. And, of course, Democrats need every one of their senators to vote for witnesses, alongside four Republican senators, in order to get that - to that phase of the trial. And Senator McConnell got a really big boost today when Senator Cory Gardner, considered one of the most endangered Republicans up for reelection this year, announced he'll vote against witnesses. So we might not find out the answer to this question until Friday, after the Q&A portion of this trial ends.

CHANG: That's NPR's Tim Mak.

Thank you, Tim.

MAK: Thanks a lot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.