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Impeachment news roundup: Jan. 29

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Engel says Bolton advised him to look into ambassador’s ouster

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walks to the Senate floor before the start of the Senate impeachment trial proceedings Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walks to the Senate floor before the start of the Senate impeachment trial proceedings Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 7:30 p.m.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen announced plans to introduce a motion requiring the chief justice to subpoena documents and witnesses if he determines they are relevant to the impeachment articles, and to exercise his authority to rule on evidence issues like executive privilege.

“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,” the Maryland Democrat said in a statement.

The motion is consistent with Senate rules preserves the right of a majority of senators to override any decisions the justice makes, Van Hollen said.

The Senate began its question and answer phase of the trial before a crucial vote on whether it will hear from witnesses and examine more documents.

What was once thought to be an easy 53-47 party line that would avoid prolonging the trial didn’t appear to be as safe a bet after revelations from a manuscript of Bolton’s upcoming White House memoir appeared to verify a pressure campaign against the Ukranian government to investigate Trump’s political rivals.

Reports emerged from within the Republican caucus Tuesday night that several GOP senators haven’t committed to voting against considering more evidence.

Here’s the latest on impeachment:

5:23 p.m.: Whistleblower questions. Republican Sens. Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and Jerry Moran asked House managers if the White House whistleblower ever worked with former Vice President Joe Biden. Lead House impeachment manager Adam Schiff fielded the question, using his five minutes to defend himself and his staff’s handling of the whistleblower’s complaint. Schiff said he had never met the whistleblower and does not know the whistleblower’s identity. He did not directly to the question regarding Biden and the whistleblower.

5:15 p.m.: Key dates on Ukraine.  West Virginia Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito asked the president’s counsel to explain their assertion that the Ukrainian government did not learn of the White House’s pause of military aid to the country until August 28, 2019. That claim by Trump’s lawyers is incongruent with testimony from Laura Cooper, a deputy assistant secretary of Defense, who told the House in 2019 that staff at the Ukrainian embassy in Washington emailed her office in July.

Trump’s counsel argued that Ukrainian President Voldomyr Zelinskiy and his advisors only became aware of the pause in security aid through news reports in late August. “This was something that on August 28th caused a flurry of activity among the highest ranking Ukrainian officials,” Trump attorney Mike Purpura said. “Never before did they raise any questions at any of the meetings they had with the high ranking U.S. officials between July and August.”

A follow-up question from Maryland Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin to the House managers prompted a different response.“I would propose that the Senate subpoena those emails,” Colorado Democrat Jason Crow, a House manager, said.

5:00 p.m.: Witnesses?  Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., acknowledged to reporters that Republicans do not have enough votes to block calling witnesses. But he said that could change after the Senate questioning of House managers and the president’s lawyers. Scott said he opposes calling witnesses in the Senate trial.

Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., told reporters outside the Senate trial that there was no need for witnesses. “I am not going to need more information, or witnesses, at this point,” Braun said.

4:50 p.m.: Iowa politics. Iowa GOP Sen. Joni Ernst‘s campaign is now fundraising off her comments earlier this week about the impact of the Senate impeachment trial on former Vice President Joe Biden in the Iowa Democratic presidential caucuses, and Biden’s response.

Joe Biden thinks my comments prove his point about Trump. Wrong. This week, the president’s counsel showcased that the Bidens were knee-deep in corruption,” an Ernst fundraising blast Wednesday said.

4:33 p.m.: “Bizarre.” Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii described as “bizarre” the arguments Wednesday by Trump defense attorney Alan Dershowitz, that a president is within his rights to do anything for political gain if he believes his own political gain is in the national interest. “It made no sense,” Hirono said.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer similarly said the arguments of Derschowitz, a constitional and legal scholar, “made no sense.” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand called them “a laughable argument that undermines the president’s case.”

Attention was focused Wednesday afternoon on whether Republicans would have enough votes to block efforts by House managers to call witnesses in the Senate trial.

“That’s where all the momentum is in our party right now,” Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Barrasso told CQ Roll Call. He had been asked if his party had locked down the votes to block consideration of witnesses.

So far only the only Republican senators who’ve signaled they’re likely to vote for considering witnesses are Sens. Mitt Romney, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski. If all three backed a motion supported by all 47 Democrats to allow for votes on witnesses, and all other Republicans voted against it, that would result in a 50-50 vote tie — short of a majority. “Tie votes fail,” Barrasso said.

During a break in the trial, Sen. Rand Paul could be seen on the Senate floor seeking assurances that he will not be blocked from asking a question. The Kentucky Republican appeared less than pleased with Secretary of the Majority Laura Dove. “I don’t want to have to stand up to try and fight for recognition,” Paul said loud enough to be audible from the galleries above the chamber. “If I have to fight for recognition, I will.”

Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas asked the president’s counsel if the White House whistleblower worked at the National Security Council and if the whistleblower coordinated with Rep. Adam B. Schiff’s staff. Trump’s attorney Patrick Philbin couldn’t answer but said learning more about the whistleblower would be “relevant.”

Just after that question, New Mexico Democrat Martin Heinrich asked when Trump’s counsel first learned that Bolton’s manuscript had been submitted to the White House for review and if there had been any attempts to block the manuscript’s publication. 

Philbin said he didn’t know “the exact date” that he learned of the manuscript’s submission. Philbin said there was “misinformation”  regarding the second portion of Heinrich’s question. He said the White House had identified large portions of classified information in Bolton’s manuscript that may delay the book’s publication.

1:53 p.m. | “What you’d expect”: “No matter what we do in the next few days, Democrats are going to say that this process wasn’t everything it should have been because we’re in the majority and they’re not,” Republican Sen. Roy Blunt said.

Democrats’ arguments that having no witnesses in the trial is bad for democracy, truth and the precedent of the Senate are “exactly what you’d expect them to be saying,” Blunt said. “That doesn’t make it true.”

1:48 p.m.: Stop the presses: The White House sent a letter to Bolton’s attorney telling him that the former national security adviser’s manuscript contained classified information and that it couldn’t be published in its current form, several news outlets reported.

The letter, dated January 23 — three days before the New York Times published excerpts from the manuscript — from Ellen Knight, a member of the White House’s National Security Council, says the book contains “significant amounts of classified information,” some at the top secret level.

Bolton’s book, “The Room Where it Happened: A White House Memoir,” is scheduled to be in bookstores in March.

1:23 p.m. | Short answer: Patrick Philbin, a member of Trump’s legal team, argued that many elected officials make policy decisions with their next election in mind, adding that “there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York had the first question from Senate Democrats, asking the House managers if there is any way for the Senate to render a “fully informed verdict” without hearing from additional witnesses or seeing additional documents.

Lead House impeachment manager Adam B. Schiff responded with, “The short answer is no.”

Democrats for weeks have been clamoring to hear from additional witnesses, including Bolton.

1:21 p.m. | Team effort: Maine Republican Susan Collins sent the first question of Wednesday’s session to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. on behalf of herself, Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski and Utah Republican Mitt Romney, three Republicans who have said they would consider voting for more evidence.

Collins asked Trump’s counsel, “If President Trump had more than one motive for his alleged conduct,” such as personal political advantage and the public interest, “how should the Senate consider more than one motive in its assessment of Article I?”

Trump faces two articles of impeachment: abuse of power and obstructing Congress.

1:15 p.m. | Troubling: Alabama Democratic Sen. Doug Jones said he is still looking at the obstruction of Congress charge, noting, “There are some things that trouble me about it.”

“But 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,” he added.

1:13 p.m. | Off-tackle: Democrats will use the impeachment trial to their political advantage as much as they can, no matter if witnesses are called, or whether an acquittal is partisan or bipartisan, Rep. Mark Meadows, a member of Trump’s impeachment team, said.

Chuck Schumer is going to come down and say that there’s a coverup even if John Bolton were to be called,” he said. “We’ve seen this over and over again. We’ve seen this playbook. They run off of right tackle every single time and they get tackled.”

1 p.m. | Question time: The Senate resumed the trial with 16 hours allotted over the next two days for senators to submit questions that Roberts will — alternating between parties — ask of the House impeachment managers and Trump’s defense team. Here’s how that will go.

Once the Q&A is completed, the Senate will have four hours to debate the witness issue before voting.

1 p.m. | Engel revalations: Minutes before the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump resumed in the Senate Wednesday, Democratic Rep. Elliot L. Engel revealed that former national security adviser John Bolton called him after his firing in September and told him to look into the ouster of Marie Yovanovitch, then the ambassador to Ukraine.

“He and I spoke by telephone on September 23. On that call, Ambassador Bolton suggested to me — unprompted — that the committee look into the recall of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. He strongly implied that something improper had occurred around her removal as our top diplomat in Kyiv,” Engel, D-N.Y., said in a statement.

Trump fired Bolton on Sept. 10.

Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he did not speak publicly at the time about the conversation because it was “relevant to the Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, and Oversight committees’ investigation into this matter.” He did, however, inform his colleagues of the conversation, he said.

“It was one of the reasons we wished to hear from Ambassador Bolton, under oath, in a formal setting,” Engel said.

A number of witnesses in the House’s impeachment inquiry, including Yovanovitch herself, testified that she was forced from her post because she had raised questions about a shadow foreign policy operation directed by  Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.

12:18 p.m. | Where does Romney stand?: Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney has firmed up his plans to vote to call Bolton as a witness.

“I would like to hear from from Mr. Bolton,” he said. “I believe he may have answers to questions that I’d like to have.”

Romney declined to say whether he wants to hear from any other witnesses: “I’m going to let the defense and the prosecution decide who they would want to call,” he said.

Some of Romney’s GOP colleagues think differently.

Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey said he is “very skeptical” of voting for additional witnesses

“I remain very very skeptical that there’s any witness that’s going to change” his opinion, Toomey said.

And Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso said is ready to cast his vote without any new testimony from witnesses.

“I’ve heard enough to make an informed judgment and ready to vote to go to final judgment,” he said. “And I’m ready for that vote on Friday.”

11:58 a.m. | Questions and concerns: Some Democratic senators have signaled that the questions they submitted stem from local or personal concerns.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, for instance, told CNN that her questions will focus on the strategic national security implications of the U.S.’s military support for Ukraine. The Illinois Democrat explained that U.S. troops in her state have trained with Polish units and would be some of the first Americans deployed to Eastern Europe to fight on the frontlines if Russia launches a wider military incursion in Ukraine.

Duckworth was previously an administrator at the Department of Veterans Affairs and lost both her legs on a mission as a U.S. Army helicopter pilot during in Iraq.

Sen. Thomas R. Carper of Delaware told reporters that he plans to ask questions to set the record straight on the bipartisan support of former Vice President Joe Biden’s efforts to remove a corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor general from his post in 2016. Carper served with Biden for nearly a decade in Delaware’s Senate delegation.

11:33 a.m. | Consequences: Schumer declined to say whether vulnerable Senate Republicans in 2020 races who vote against calling witnesses will give Democrats a political boost.

“We’re looking at the truth and we’re going to let the chips fall where they may,” he said.

Asked about Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III’s comment on being interested in hearing from Hunter Biden, Schumer said, “It’s not up to Joe Manchin to call Hunter Biden.” He added that it is up to Manchin to vote to allow consideration of witnesses and documents and noted Democrats are united on that.

As for Senate Democrats on the fence about whether to convict or acquit Trump, Schumer said the only advice he has provided is to them is “listen to the arguments carefully and make your own decision of conscience.”

“Each person’s going to make his or her own decision,” he said. “That’s how it ought to be in something as important as this.”

Schumer said Republicans pushing to call Hunter Biden are making “a terrible argument for the president.”

“Here the house managers have argued that the president was willing to risk our national security and risk the sanctity of our elections to go after Joe Biden and his son,” he said. “Now they’re saying we even want to risk the solemnity of a trial in the Senate on impeachment to go after Hunter Biden, his son. It’s irrelevant. It’s a distraction. It’s running away from the truth.”

11:20 a.m. | Pretzel logic: Schumer accused Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow of “temerity” as he argued on the Senate floor the past few days that the House case against the president lacked eyewitnesses, while simultaneously urging senators not to call eyewitnesses. He also accused Senate Republicans of “double talk” as they delayed the consideration of witnesses and argued that calling them would take too long.

“They’re tying themselves in all kinds of pretzel knots to avoid the truth,” Schumer said.

The minority leader said “there’s no reason for a protracted trial” because the four sets of documents Democrats have requested have already been collected and are “sitting in boxes … ours for the asking.”

On witnesses, Schumer said if Senate issues a bipartisan subpoena for their testimony any good lawyer would advise their client to comply. If someone like acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney still refused to testify under the guise of executive privilege, Democrats would make a motion to the chief justice to reject that claim, he said.

“We could settle any and all potential claims of executive privilege right on the Senate floor,” Schumer said.

Schumer also attacked White House legal expert Alan Dershowitz’s argument, which many Senate Republicans have been parroting, that Trump can’t be impeached because the charges aren’t criminal, calling the Harvard law professor an “outlier,” repeating the word three times.

“If the president can’t be indicted for criminal conduct, can’t be impeached for noncriminal conduct, that would surely put the president above the law,” Schumer said.

11:20 a.m. Among friends: Speaking on the South Lawn of the White House ahead of signing the trade agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico, Trump sought to thank and congratulate each of the many GOP senators in attendance.

“Maybe I’m being just nice to them because I want their vote,” Trump said, and noted that the House Republicans in the audience had already voted against impeaching him.

According to the White House, 27 Republican senators were expected to attend the signing ceremony.

11:10 a.m. | Swarm: Activists are descending on Washington and protest in front of several senators’ home state offices, demanding that the Senate conducts a “fair trial.”

A coalition of progressive groups has events scheduled outside the offices of vulnerable GOP Sens. Martha McSally, Cory Gardner, Susan Collins and Thom Tillis, and those of Romney, Lisa Murkowski and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. McSally, Gardner, Collins and Tillis all are among the top five on CQ Roll Call’s most vulnerable senators list and Murkowski and Romney have indicated that they are considering voting to hear from more witnesses.

Gardner told Colorado Politics today that he would vote against more witnesses.

On Capitol Hill, a coalition of grassroots groups plans to “Swarm the Capitol” and march from the Hart Senate Office Building to protest at the Capitol.

10:48 a.m. | On the march: Lev Parnas, a former Rudy Giuliani associate who has implicated the former New York mayor and Trump in the Ukraine scheme, and his counsel Joseph A. Bondy announced they would walk to the Capitol around 11:15 a.m. to follow the impeachment proceedings.

Bondy secured tickets as a constituent Schumer to watch the first day of the Q&A phase from the gallery. Parnas, however, is unlikely to be allowed entrance into the Senate chamber since he wears an court-ordered ankle monitor and electronics are not allowed into the chamber.

Schumer said Parnas’ lawyer called his office and asked for tickets like many New York constituents have and they complied. “I’m not sure Parnas would be allowed in because of the electronics around his ankle,” he said.

Parnas was one of two Soviet-born Americans working closely with Giuliani on his shadow foreign policy operation in Ukraine. He was indicted on campaign finance charges last year and has been providing documents to House investigators.

10:47 a.m. | Plenty of people’s business: Speaker Nancy Pelosi, like Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer did yesterday, took a shot at Senate Republicans claiming they want to get through the impeachment trial so they can get back to the people’s business, telling reporters during an infrastructure news conference that she laughed when she heard that.

“Yes, you should have been doing it for the past year, because you’ve had plenty of legislation to pass,” she said, referring to House-passed bills that have languished in the Senate.

10:17 a.m. | Informed decision: Republican Sen. Roy Blunt said he doesn’t want to hear Bolton testify.

“No,” Blunt said when asked if he feels it would be advantageous for him to hear from the former national security adviser to make an informed decision in the trial.

10:05 a.m. | No need: Republican Sen. Richard Burr said  he is opposed to calling further witnesses in the Senate impeachment trial, and that he’s not certain the House has made a case for impeachable conduct.

“If the House has not made their case, there is no need for witnesses,” Burr said.

Further, he said he would not be in favor of seeing the Bolton manuscript as part of impeachment proceedings.

“If the articles do not rise to the level of a removal, it’s irrelevant,” he said.

9:20 a.m. | Vote counting: Reports emerged Tuesday night that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told GOP senators in a private meeting that he didn’t have the votes to block witnesses.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer declared that ‘“10 or 12” Republican senators were considering voting for witnesses, but Republicans, while acknowledging the vote count wasn’t in their favor, said the number was nowhere near what Schumer declared.

Some Republican senators like Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who is retiring, said he would decide on his vote after the Q&A sessions. The two days that is expected to take also gives Senate GOP time to whip votes before the debate, likely Friday.

8:40 a.m. | The Hunter Biden issue: Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III said he thinks that Hunter Biden, former Vice President Joe Biden’s son who Trump wanted investigated by the Ukrainians, is a relevant witness.

“I don’t have a problem there because this is why we are where we are,” Manchin said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” Now, I think that he can clear himself of what I know and what I’ve heard. But being afraid to put anybody that might have pertinent information is wrong no matter if you’re a Democrat or a Republican.”

Some Republicans have countered Democrats’ push for more witnesses by saying they want to hear from the Bidens, Schiff, who led the impeachment inquiry, and the intelligence committee whistleblower who came forward with concerns about Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy which is at the heart of the case against Trump.

8:20 a.m. | Presidential push: Trump appeared to be trying to convince on the fence GOP senators after returning from a rally in New Jersey, complaining that no matter how many witnesses Democrats get, “it will NEVER be enough for them. They will always scream UNFAIR.”

He was a little more direct this morning, telling GOP senators “Don’t let the Dems play you!”

8:10 a.m. | World War Six: Trump came out swinging against Bolton Wednesday morning, with a reminder that Bolton ended up in his White House job in part because it’s not subject to Senate confirmation.

“For a guy who couldn’t get approved for the Ambassador to the U.N. years ago, couldn’t get approved for anything since, ‘begged’ me for a non Senate approved job, which I gave him despite many saying ‘Don’t do it, sir,’ takes the job, mistakenly says ‘Libyan Model’ on T.V.,” Trump tweeted. “many more mistakes of judgement, gets fired because frankly, if I listened to him, we would be in World War Six by now, and goes out and IMMEDIATELY writes a nasty & untrue book.”

Bolton served as ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, but that came through a recess appointment. Trump fired him in September.

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