WASHINGTON — On the first of two days of questioning House impeachment managers and President Donald Trump’s lawyers Wednesday, senators brought their outside discussions on calling new witnesses — particularly former National Security Adviser John Bolton — to the Senate floor.
“Is there any way for the Senate to render a fully informed verdict in this case without hearing the testimony of (John) Bolton, (Mick) Mulvaney and the other key eyewitnesses or without seeing the relevant documentary evidence?” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, asked during the Democrats’ first opportunity to offer a question.
But White House Counsel Jay Sekulow maintained that there was no justification for new witnesses.
“It should certainly not be…that the House managers get John Bolton and the president’s lawyers get no witnesses,” Sekulow told senators. “We would expect if they’re going to get witnesses, we will get witnesses and those witnesses would then…(change) the nature and scope of the proceedings.”
As the trial convened for the eighth day, hundreds of people demonstrated outside the Capitol, chanting for witnesses and for Trump’s removal from office. “Trials have witnesses,” some signs said. “Justice Roberts, subpoena witnesses,” other signs said.
Late Wednesday, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, said he would offer a motion on Friday to give Chief Justice John Roberts the power to rule on requests for new witnesses, evidence and White House assertions of executive privilege.
“A fair trial includes relevant documents and witnesses,” Van Hollen said in a statement. “And in a fair trial the judge determines what evidence is admitted. My motion ensures the chief justice will serve the same role as a judge in any trial across our country – to allow the Senate access to the facts they need to get to the truth.”
Senators have up to 16 hours, divided between Wednesday and Thursday, to question the House Democrats who led the impeachment case against Trump and the lawyers who are defending him.
Acting as the trial’s jurors, senators have sat silently through both sides’ days of arguments and continued to do so during questioning. They submitted written questions to Roberts, who then read the questions out loud. House managers and Trump’s defense were held to responses of five minutes or less.
Republicans such as John Barrasso from Wyoming indicated that they were becoming confident again that they would manage to block the introduction of new witnesses and documents after statements from Bolton threatened to interrupt proceedings. They said they hope to get Trump acquitted by Friday.
Revelations from Bolton’s forthcoming tell-all book have roiled the Capitol since Monday, as they directly relate to the trial underway in the Senate chamber.
Multiple unnamed sources who have read the manuscript told The New York Times that he details Trump withholding military aid to Ukraine until that nation announced investigations he requested into former vice president and current presidential candidate Joe Biden and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
The lead House manager, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, told senators that Bolton rejected a subpoena to participate in the House’s impeachment inquiry, contrary to a tweet Trump sent out on Monday saying that House Democrats did not ask Bolton to testify.
Bolton publicly said before the Senate proceedings began that he would testify for the trial.
Attempting to prevent the book from being published, the White House’s National Security Council wrote in a letter to Bolton’s lawyer last week that the manuscript “appears to contain significant amounts of classified information” and argued it “may not be published or otherwise disclosed without the deletion of this classified information.”
Deputy White House Counsel Patrick Philbin read the letter to senators when asked if the White House is trying to block the book’s release.
Democratic senators said Bolton’s bombshell should be pressuring their Republican colleagues to answer “yes” to the question of calling new witnesses, a tricky question with no clear answer yet. It may be put to a vote as early as Friday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said Tuesday night he did not yet have the 51 GOP votes he needs to block the call for witnesses and additional evidence.
Senators largely questioned the counsels representing their own party’s cases in attempts to stress key arguments.
Underscoring the point that the impeachment proceedings have largely been all-consuming and have prevented senators from doing other work, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, asked Trump’s lawyers to “address the implications of allowing the House to present an incomplete case to the Senate and request the Senate to seek testimony from additional witnesses.”
In his response, Philbin told senators they would have to assume responsibility for the inquiry.
“To have rushed something through and bring it here as an impeachment, and then start trying to call all the witnesses means that this body will end up taking over that investigatory task,” he said. “And the regular business of this body will be slowed down.”
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, asked if it’s true that the dispositions collected in President Bill Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial took one day each.
In his response, attempting to dispel Republican concerns that calling witnesses will cause the trial to drag on, another House manager, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-New York, pointed out that witnesses were called in all 15 U.S. impeachment trials. Although Trump is just the third president to face impeachment, federal judges and other officials have also been tried before the Senate.
“In every single trial there were witnesses,” Jeffries said. “Every single trial. Why should this president be treated differently? Held to a lower standard?”
Another figure at the center of the witness debate also made waves on Capitol Hill as he tried to observe the proceedings Wednesday: Lev Parnas, the indicted former associate of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
He couldn’t enter the public gallery overlooking the Senate floor because he’s wearing a monitoring device on his ankle, according to multiple news organizations. No electronic devices are allowed inside the trial. But he said he’d like to become involved in the proceedings as a witness.
“I think the next step is call John Bolton, call me and the rest will come in,” Parnas told reporters as he walked to the Capitol.
Some GOP senators have suggested that they’d be interested in siding with Democrats to hear from new witnesses — but only if the Republicans had a chance to subpoena new witnesses, too.
Maine Sen. Susan Collins, one of the Republicans who’s seen as someone who could side with the opposing party on the evidence vote, said both sides should be able to call new witnesses, just as they both had equal time to make their arguments.
“It’s important that we hear both sides present their cases because otherwise, we wouldn’t know who we might need, what gaps remain,” Collins said in an interview with MSNBC. “And it’s also very important that there be fairness, that each side be able to select a witness or two.”
Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, suggested Wednesday that he is considering voting to acquit Trump on the obstruction charge he faces, but that his mind is not yet made up. Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin from West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona are also undecided, according to Politico.
“I will tell you this about the obstruction charge: the more I see the president of the United States attacking witnesses, the stronger that case gets,” Jones said.
Jones defeated former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who was accused of sexual misconduct in 2017, in a special election. Jones could face difficulty getting reelected in the deep-red state of Alabama if he votes to remove Trump from office.
Hunter Biden continues to be a focus of the trial for Republicans. The former vice president’s son previously sat on the board of Ukraine’s Burisma Holdings.
In a reference to questions over Hunter Biden’s Ukraine involvement, Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham from South Carolina and Ted Cruz from Texas asked House managers if President Barack Obama would have had authority to request an investigation if he had found evidence that his 2012 rival Mitt Romney’s son was involved with and getting paid by a “corrupt Russian company,” which Romney was also benefiting from.
Schiff asked in his response if there’s really any question whether Obama would have been impeached for such an act.
“Under no circumstances do you go outside your legitimate law enforcement process to ask a foreign power to investigate your rival,” Schiff added.
Although Democrats have continuously asserted they wouldn’t participate in a witness trade with Republicans, some senators continue to push for Biden’s testimony. Manchin disagrees with his party and believes Biden is a “relevant witness.”
“I think so, I really do. I don’t have a problem there because this is why we are where we are,” Manchin told MSNBC. “Now I think he can clear himself…being afraid to put anyone that might have pertinent information is wrong, no matter if you’re a Democrat or a Republican.”
Many Democrats have spoken out against Manchin’s view on Hunter Biden’s testimony, including Sen. Kamala Harris from California.
“Hunter Biden is not relevant to Article One of the impeachment, and Article Two of the impeachment is basically that there was a cover-up of the conduct underlying Article One of the impeachment,” Harris said on CNN. “He’s not relevant.”
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina, one of the House members advising Trump’s lawyers, told reporters during a recess Wednesday that he didn’t think calling Hunter Biden as a witness “is a necessity at this point.”
“(It) is on my Democratic colleagues to prove that there is an impeachable offense, and they haven’t done that. Certainly if you open up this witness Pandora’s box, then Hunter Biden would be a relevant witness,” Meadows said. “Let’s go ahead and have the vote, let’s make sure that the president is acquitted, let’s get onto things that most Americans care about.”
Looking toward the vote on witnesses expected to be held Friday, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, said the debate over witnesses shouldn’t fall along party lines but should instead focus on the truth.
“We all sat in the same room — Democrat and Republican. We heard the same presentations,” Murray said in a news conference before the question period started Wednesday. “And in a few days, we’re going to vote on whether the Senate will continue to seek the truth or try to help the president hide it.”