Senators have returned Thursday for a second day of questions to House managers and President Donald Trump’s legal team in his impeachment trial as attempts by Democrats to rally votes for new witnesses appear to have stalled.
After more than 90 questions and 8 hours of debate on Wednesday, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated to Republican senators he believes he now has the votes to defeat any Democratic motion that the Senate consider new witnesses when the Senate decides that question on Friday, according to two GOP sources. That would allow him to skip to the final stages of the trial, the sources said.
Multiple Republicans tell ABC News they hope to move quickly to acquit the president within the next two days, ahead of his State of the Union address on Tuesday.
ABC News’ Trish Turner caught up with McConnell as he arrived at the Capitol Thursday morning. Asked if he has the votes he needs to win the day Friday on witnesses, he responded, “We’ll see what tomorrow brings.”
Then, when asked if he felt confident about the vote, he turned his head and with a sly grin and said, “I always do.”
Here is how the day is unfolding.
1:01 p.m. GOP’s Rand Paul to insist Roberts read his whistleblower question
As the Senate reconvenes, GOP Sen. Rand Paul says that he will insist that his question about the whistleblower be asked at the start of the trial.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial, reportedly blocked Paul on Wednesday from offering a question about the whistleblower.
Paul has previously named the whistleblower in tweets and had threatened to out him on the Senate floor a couple of months ago. He never followed through with that threat.
Several of his Republicans colleagues, including Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Chuck Grassley, had previously warned him from doing so.
In a statement, Paul’s office said Thursday, ”While we are uncertain of how things will proceed, Senator Paul believes it is crucial the American people get the full story on what started the Democrats’ push to impeach President Donald Trump, as reports have indicated Obama appointees at the National Security Council may have discussed organizing an impeachment process in advance of the whistleblower complaint.“
Democrats, however, are increasingly concerned about Paul’s efforts to out the whistleblower.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal told us just moments ago that if Paul – or any senator – attempts to name the whistleblower, they should be faced with serious sanctions.
“I think that kind of irresponsible and reprehensible action should be sanctioned by the Senate, if any of our members disclose the name of the whistleblower,” Blumenthal said.
Blumenthal said that Roberts has refused to offer any questions about the whistleblower from Paul thus far. Paul was heard complaining about it on the floor yesterday per our producers in the chamber.
“We protect whistleblowers,” lead House Manager Rep. Adam Schiff told us this afternoon.
“We need their cooperation we need their support in making the country work,” Schiff said.
He added: ”The only point in outing this whistleblower is to satisfy the desire of the president for retribution and that is not something that this Senate should allow.”
–ABC News’ Mariam Khan
11:49 a.m. Schumer: Dershowitz argument ‘would unleash a monster’
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, speaking before Thursday’s trial session, begins by saying the first day of questioning “showed how flimsy, how specious and how dangerous the Republican arguments were.”
But he single out Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski for their strong and effective questioning.
“Some of the best questions actually came from Republicans,” Schumer said. “Senator Collins and Murkowski asked the president’s counsel if they could give an example of the president expressing concern about Hunter and Joe Biden before the former vice president announced his candidacy. The president’s counsel could not point to a single example to support the claim. So, he made up a bogus excuse that his answer was limited to what’s in the record.”
Schumer also pointed out that the president’s counsel also could not answer Senator Mitt Romney’s question asking for the specific date when President Trump ordered the delay in military assistance and the reason he gave for doing it. These questions, he says, help make the Democrats’ case for witnesses and documents.
“You know who could help them answer those questions? Mick Mulvaney, John Bolton and our other two witnesses. So could the documents that we have asked to subpoena,” Schumer said.
Schumer also called out Alan Dershowitz for his argument that the president’s actions – even if aimed at increasing his chances of reelection – are not impeachable because the president believed his reelection is in the public interest.
“By Dershowitz’s logic, President Nixon did nothing wrong in Watergate. He was just breaking into the DNC to help his reelection, which, of course, is in the public interest, according to Dershowitzian logic.”
“The Dershowitz argument, frankly, would unleash a monster. More aptly, it would unleash a monarch.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer calls Alan Dershowitz's argument that a quid pro quo done in belief it's "in the public interest" is not impeachable "a load of nonsense."
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) January 30, 2020
In the late hours of debate on Wednesday, Trump’s defense team offered two new controversial defenses. In one — even if Trump intentionally withheld military aid from Ukraine in exchange for an investigation into Joe Biden, White House lawyers argued, those actions are not grounds for impeachment.
“Mere information is not something that would violate the campaign finance laws … it’s not campaign interference for credible information about wrongdoing to be brought to light, if it’s credible information,” White House deputy counsel Patrick Philbin argued Wednesday night.
After the close of Wednesday’s session, Democrats forcefully rejected the idea that requesting foreign assistance is ever appropriate and legal.
“I think the most important thing was that the White House deputy counsel said that it’s okay to take dirt on your opponent from a foreign government as long as it’s credible. And you know what, that’s not true. That’s actually against the law,” Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow told reporters.
The argument from the White House counsel reinforces a controversial statement President Trump himself made in a June interview with ABC News.
“It’s not an interference, they have information — I think I’d take it,” Trump told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopolous. “If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI — if I thought there was something wrong.
The response prompted a reaction from the Federal Election Commission at the time.
“It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election,” FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub said in a statement. “This is not a novel concept.”
In addition to that argument, former Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz is drawing Democratic fire for arguing that President Trump could not be impeached because he was “acting in the national interest.”
“Every public official that I know believes that his election is of the public interest,” he said.
“If a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment,” Dershowitz maintained.
Democrats voiced alarm about that expansive interpretation of executive power.
Ahead of the return to senators’ questions Thursday, House impeachment manager Jason Crow called Dershowitz’s argument “astounding.”
“That is just a very dangerous hole to go down,” Crow told MSNBC.
Republican Sen. John Barasso declined to answer in an interview Thursday about whether he thought the argument was valid.
“I have heard enough. I am ready to make that vote and I know that the momentum in the Republican caucus is to do that as well,” told CNN.