WASHINGTON — Now that both sides have given their opening statements about removal or acquittal for President Donald Trump, the senators who have listened to everything now get a chance to ask questions as the impeachment trial enters yet another new phase and what witnesses might be called in.
While his defense team was wrapping up, the president made his way to New Jersey for a rally.
One of the arguments by the president’s lawyers is that Democrats are committing election meddling by having an impeachment trial during an election year. It is something the president has echoed.
“While we are creating jobs and killing terrorists, the congressional Democrats are obsessed with demented hoaxes, crazy witch hunts,” Trump said during a Tuesday night rally in Wildwood, New Jersey.
Senate Majority Leader U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell laid out plans for the question-and-answer session that will last 16 hours.
How that time will be used is unclear, but McConnell says all questions have to be submitted in writing to Chief Justice John Roberts.
According to reports confirmed by CNN, as of Wednesday morning, McConnell does not have the votes to stop witnesses from being called.
His Democratic counterpart Minority Leader Chuck Schumer spoke about this Tuesday night.
“There is no substitute for a witness speaking under oath to the senators,” Schumer said.
After Trump’s defense team rested Tuesday with a plea to “end now,” McConnell privately told senators he does not yet have the votes to brush back Democratic demands for witnesses now that revelations from John Bolton, the former national security adviser, have roiled the trial.
Bolton writes in a forthcoming book that Trump told him he wanted to withhold military aid from Ukraine until it helped with investigations into Democratic rival Joe Biden. That assertion, if true, would undercut a key defense argument and go to the heart of one of the two articles of impeachment against the president.
The House approved the articles of impeachment on the charges: abused of power and obstruction of Congress.
However, the president stated in a tweet that if Bolton felt that strongly, he would have said something when he was fired by the president.
Why didn’t John Bolton complain about this “nonsense” a long time ago, when he was very publicly terminated. He said, not that it matters, NOTHING!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 29, 2020
Trump faces charges from Democrats that he abused his power like no other president, jeopardizing U.S.-Ukraine relations by using the military aid as leverage while the vulnerable ally battled Russia. Democrats say Trump then obstructed their probe in a way that threatens the nation’s three-branch system of checks and balances.
The president’s legal team tried to lock up its case Tuesday and convince GOP senators that the president was right to ask Ukraine for investigations of former Vice President and possible current Democratic presidential opponent Biden and his son Hunter and was well within his power to block the aid. They said he was not bound to abide by the congressional investigation.
The entire impeachment came from a July 25, 2019, phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. In the phone conversation, Trump asked for a “favor,” according to an account provided by the White House.
He wanted an investigation into both Democrats and Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Later it was revealed that the administration was also withholding $400 million in military aid from Ukraine.
Republicans argue the money was given to Ukraine without any investigation, and there was no quid pro quo, or favor for a favor.
Hunter Biden is accused of corruption while sitting on the board of a gas company based in Ukraine.
GOP senators were warned that if they agree to call Bolton or try to access his manuscript, the White House will block him, likely sparking a weeks-long court battle over executive privilege and national security.
Nonetheless, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine appeared to be backed by others in the move to seek more testimony.
Some Republicans including Sen. Pat Toomey want reciprocity — bringing in Bolton or another Democratic witness in exchange for one from the GOP side. Some Republicans want to hear from Biden and his son, who was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company when his father was vice president.
Those swaps, though, seem likely to fail as most Republican senators do not want to call Bolton and most Democrats would rather avoid dragging the Bidens further into the impeachment proceedings. The Bidens were a focus of defense arguments though no evidence of wrongdoing has emerged.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this article.