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Question of witnesses remains unsettled in Trump impeachment trial

President Trump’s legal team wrapped up its case for his acquittal Tuesday, arguing that convicting Trump would set a dangerous precedent for future impeachments driven by policy disagreement. But some senators from each party have signaled interest in hearing from potential witnesses, such as John Bolton. Amna Nawaz reports and Yamiche Alcindor and Lisa Desjardins join Judy Woodruff to discuss.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The United States Senate has called it a day, after hearing the president's defense against impeachment articles.

    His lawyers rejected the charges against him, as well as demands for witnesses.

    Amna Nawaz begins our coverage.

  • John Roberts:

    If there is no objection, the journal of proceedings of the trial are approved to date.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    On day seven of the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, his lawyers wrapped up their defense, urging senators to avoid setting what they describe as a dangerous political precedent.

  • Jay Sekulow:

    The bar for impeachment cannot be set this low.

    House managers, members of the Senate, danger, danger, danger. These articles must be rejected. The Constitution requires it. Justice demands it.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The bar set by House Democrats, they argued, took policy differences and elevated them to impeachable offenses.

  • Patrick Philbin:

    So the idea that we're going to be impeaching presidents by deciding that they have illicit motives, if we can show that they disagree with some interagency consensus, is fundamentally contrary to the Constitution and fundamentally anti-democratic.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And they reiterated their claims that President Trump didn't abuse his power by pausing U.S. aid to Ukraine and didn't obstruct Congress by stonewalling House investigators' requests.

    Mr. Trump's defense was brief, using less than half its allotted 24 hours. But his hope for a short trial could be in jeopardy, after two straight days of headlines from leaked excerpts of former National Security Adviser John Bolton's upcoming book.

    On Sunday night, The New York Times reported President Trump told Bolton he would continue to hold up aid to Ukraine until officials there helped with an investigation he wanted into his possible political rival former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

    On Monday night, new details from The Times, that Bolton expressed concern about President Trump granting personal favors to autocratic leaders in other countries. Bolton's book is still unpublished, but the revelations struck at the heart of the president's impeachment defense, leading to questions about what else Bolton could say, if subpoenaed.

    Democrats, including Chuck Schumer of New York, dialed up the pressure on Republicans to join them and vote for witnesses.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.:

    This is a manuscript. It is going to be public. What the heck are they hiding? You don't need it in classified, and it's not good enough. There is no substitute for a witness speaking under oath.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah said he'd like to hear from Bolton, but not just Bolton.

  • Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah:

    I think the idea that's been expressed in the media about having each side be able to choose a witness or maybe more than one witness on a paired basis has some merit.

    I think, if you're going to have one side call witnesses, the other side ought to be able to do the same.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina went even further.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.:

    I will make a prediction: There will be 51 Republican votes to call Hunter Biden, Joe Biden, the whistle-blower, and the DNC staffer, at a very minimum.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    A move that Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, lead House impeachment manager, warned against.

  • Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.:

    If they want a witness for witness.

    But that's not really what they want. They want a distraction. And I don't think the senators want to allow their proceeding to be turned into a circus.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Back in the Senate chamber, the president's team responded directly to the headlines swirling outside the room.

  • Jay Sekulow:

    Nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true, even if true, would rise to the level of abuse of power or an impeachable offense. That is clear from history.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Before urging senators to ultimately reject the articles of impeachment.

  • Pat Cipollone:

    It will show that we can come together on both sides of the aisle and end the era of impeachment for good.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    More than an hour after his legal team concluded its defense, President Trump declined to weigh in as he left the White House for a rally in New Jersey.

    The Senate will reconvene to continue impeachment proceedings tomorrow afternoon.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Amna Nawaz.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we turn again to our Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor.

    Lisa, I'm going to start with you. I know you have been talking with Republicans. What are you picking up in terms of their willingness to hear from witnesses?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    There was a fascinating meeting today, Judy, after the White House — the president's team finished their presentation.

    All Republican senators gathered in the Strom Thurmond Room, which is reserved basically for important moments like this, to discuss where they are and the way forward to.

    Judy, they came out of that meeting. And, clearly, you could tell the issue is not settled among Republicans. And, to be specific, Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who is retiring — we have talked about him before — told our Daniel Bush he is not decided on the question of witnesses and he wants to wait until after all of the senators get to ask their questions over the next two days before he makes that decision.

    What that means is, it is not clear if there are 51 votes for or against witnesses. Also, I want to say I talked to Senator Kevin Cramer of North Dakota. He said, you cannot underestimate the pressure on Republicans from the president and their base.

    But he also noted one thing. What's kind of going around the caucus the most is Alan Dershowitz's presentation, and they're talking a lot about the idea of whether, whatever the president did, right or wrong, is it impeachable? That's something the president's allies are pushing the most with these undecided senators.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, all that is fascinating.

    So, Yamiche, to you. What about the kind of pressure the president, the White House is putting on these senators? And do they think that the defense did the job they needed them to do?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The president's legal team and the president feel pretty confident that they did the best that they could do with the president's call.

    Now, there was, of course, that conversation and that comment from the president's lawyer to the Senate saying, this wasn't a perfect call. But they really built this case to say, look, the president didn't do what he's accused of doing.

    And then, of course, Alan Dershowitz comes up and says, even if he did do what he did, he — this is not impeachable. So they're really hammering that home. The White House has been in contact with senators from the beginning. They're going to continue to pressure senators to not vote for witnesses and to, of course, acquit the president.

    The White House feels a little shaky about the idea that there might be witnesses called, but they feel still very confident that the president will be acquitted.

    The other thing to note, of course, the White House is saying President Trump is keeping business as usual in at the White House. Today, he released his Middle East peace plan. He also is on his way to New Jersey to go have a campaign rally. He has another one in Iowa.

    So the president and the White House are saying, as all this is going on, the president is still very focused on doing the business of the American people, even though, of course, the president on social media and in interviews has been very, very focused on this impeachment trial, because he sees it as tied to his legacy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, given all that, Lisa, and what you're reporting, what do we look for tomorrow?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, at last, we get to hear the thoughts of senators themselves.

    Senators will be able to ask questions only in written form, but they can ask questions for the next two days. Each side will get eight hours. And that will be a very telling sign, I think, of what has stood out to senators. I don't know if it will tell us where the votes are.

    We, of course, will keep talking to senators. After this question period for two days, then we will have the big day on Friday. There will be some arguments from both sides about whether witnesses. That discussion should be opened.

    Then there will be that vote over whether to open the witness discussion or not. That will tell us everything probably about both substance and schedule for the rest of the trial. Will it end in one or two days, or could it go on? Could we get a lot more information over the coming weeks?

    Friday will tell us almost everything about this impeachment trial.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But that's after these next two days of the questions posed by the senators.

  • Lisa Desjardins:


    And these senators have been sitting there for hours and hour taking copious notes. They have a lot of questions. And we will start to hear them tomorrow.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Yamiche, finally, how is the White House preparing for that? Do they know what the Republican senators are going to be asking? How are they getting ready?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, the first thing is that the White House feels as though the legal team left senators with a lasting image of the fact that they played video of Democrats saying that impeachment shouldn't be too partisan, and that there shouldn't be a partisan impeachment by vote.

    So they played that video. And then they basically walked away and said, now the time is ready to get ready for these questions.

    We were just on a call with sources from the president's legal team. And they say, essentially, that they're ready for anything. I asked specifically, are you ready for John Bolton to testify? Is that something that you're preparing for?

    And they are essentially saying that they might be pressuring or saying that it's executive privilege and that he shouldn't be come — coming before the Senate.

    That being said, there are Democrats who say the president already waived that because he was tweeting and saying that he never told John Bolton that he wanted to tie the aid directly to this investigation to Democrats.

    The other thing to note, though, the White House's legal team is having to deal with new developments by the day because of this manuscript. We are told that no one outside of the National Security Council has seen the manuscript.

    But there's a chance that the White House's legal team has been briefed on it. They wouldn't answer whether or not that's the case. And because of that, they might still having — they might still already have information that they're using to get ready for the senators' questions.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So much to follow you.

    Yamiche Alcindor, Lisa Desjardins, thank you both.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:


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