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What senators asked in their 1st day of impeachment trial questioning

Editor's Note: This story incorrectly identified the location of the bakery sending cakes to lawmakers in the Senate. The cakes did not come from a bakery in Washington, D.C., but rather from one in New York. The transcript below has been corrected. NewsHour regrets the error.

In President Trump’s impeachment trial, it’s time for senators, effectively acting as jurors, to determine the agenda. On Wednesday, they largely targeted their questions to the trial representatives from their own parties. Amna Nawaz reports, and Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor join Judy Woodruff to discuss the subject matter on which senators focused and the latest on calling witnesses.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Question time in the United States Senate.

    The senators, acting as jurors in President Trump's trial, began interrogating the lawyers on both sides today.

    Amna Nawaz begins our coverage.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    After days of carefully scripted arguments:

  • Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.:

    President Trump has abused the power of his office and must be removed from that office.

  • Jay Sekulow:

    You're being asked to remove a duly elected president of the United States. That's what the articles of impeachment call for, removal.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Day eight of the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump moved proceedings into a less predictable stage.

    House managers and Mr. Trump's legal team today began to field questions, up to 16 hours' worth over two days, from those 100 senators who've so far sat quietly and listened.

  • Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine:

    I send a question to the desk.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Senators submitted written questions read aloud by Chief Justice John Roberts, alternating between Republicans and Democrats.

    Looming large over today's session, the battle over trial witnesses, including former National Security Adviser John Bolton, who reportedly confirms in his upcoming book that President Trump did link U.S. aid to Ukraine to an investigation into a possible political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

    Bolton has said he would testify, if subpoenaed.

    The very first question, jointly submitted by Republican Senators Collins, Murkowski, and Romney, sought guidance for senators weighing their votes.

  • John Roberts:

    "If President Trump had more than one motive for his alleged conduct, how should the Senate consider more than one motive in its assessment of article one"?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Counsel for the President Patrick Philbin:

  • Patrick Philbin:

    Once you get into a mixed-motive situation, if there is both some personal motive, but also a legitimate public interest motive, it can't possibly be an offense.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Other questions, like this one from Democrat Ed Markey, sought to clarify the record.

  • John Roberts:

    "So that the record is accurate, did House impeachment investigators ask Mr. Bolton to testify?"

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Lead House manager Adam Schiff:

  • Rep. Adam Schiff:

    The answer is yes, of course we asked John Bolton to testify in the House, and he refused.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Like much of trial, today's session unfolded largely along partisan lines.

    Republicans asked questions of the president's legal team, and Democrats asked questions of the Democratic House managers.

    Republican Senator Ted Cruz inquired about quid pro quo.

  • John Roberts:

    "As a matter of law, does it matter if there was a quid pro quo?"

  • Alan Dershowitz:

    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.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer returned to the issue of witnesses.

  • John Roberts:

    "Is there any way for the Senate to render a fully informed verdict in this case without hearing the testimony of Bolton, Mulvaney and the other key eyewitnesses?"

  • Rep. Adam Schiff:

    The short answer to that question is no. There's no way to have a fair trial without witnesses.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But as Democrats continue to lobby for the minimum four Republican votes they need to call witnesses, the president, at a White House ceremony, did some lobbying of his own.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I wanted to just, if I could, mention senators. And maybe I'm being just nice to them because I want their vote. Does that make sense?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Down Pennsylvania Avenue, meanwhile, hundreds gathered at the Capitol to protest the president and ask the Senate to allow more evidence.

  • Juliet Hinzay:

    If trials mean there's no witnesses, if trials mean that there's no evidence, then we are all in extreme trouble.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Recent polls reflect a similar sentiment across the country. In a Quinnipiac poll this week, 75 percent of those polled say witnesses should testify in Mr. Trump's impeachment trial. That includes 49 percent of Republicans, 95 percent of Democrats, and 75 percent of independents.

    Inside the Capitol, more pressure, but in a more appetizing form, a New York bakery delivering cakes to senators with messages like: "This is history in the baking. Let Bolton testify."

    Before that is decided, senators will continue their question-and-answer period tomorrow.

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

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And our Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor are at the Capitol today, and both of them join me now.

    So, Yamiche, to you first.

    As we know, this is the first day of questions. What are we learning from the kinds of questions that these senators were posing? Is it adding up to something that we have a better understanding of this case?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    After watching several hours of senators' questions, what we know is that senators are really sending questions to their party's side.

    So, if you're a Democrat, most of your questions were to the House managers. If you're a Republican, House of the questions were to the White House's team.

    And what they have been asking are really questions that allow them to rebut and also repeat a lot of their opening statements. On the Republican side, we saw questions like, well, why was Hunter Biden being paid for — being paid by Burisma?

    We also saw questions that were like, why should the president have to turn over this? And is there anything wrong with the president having a relationship and having foreign policy included in this — in the aid?

    So that's on the Republican side.

    On the Democratic side, we saw questions that were leading that were, like, why should — excuse me — they were more like, please repeat some of the falsehoods that the president's lawyers have been talking about.

    So, what Democrats and Republicans were trying to do was really have both sides make the argument that this is why the president should or shouldn't be removed.

    Lisa, of course, has been keeping a spreadsheet, so she will probably get into more detail about what exact questions. But this was really a lot of senators repeating the points that we heard early on.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Lisa, what about that?

    You have been — you told us earlier you were keeping a spreadsheet. Give us more some detail. What kinds of questions were they asking?

  • Lisa Desjardins:


  • Judy Woodruff:

    What does that tell us?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This is the work of myself and producer Geoffrey Guray, as we all go rotating in and out of the chamber and tracking all of this.

    Judy, let's just look at the first three hours of the questions today. In that time, senators asked 38 questions. Those questions had one sort of largest category. That was witnesses and evidence, which, of course, is the biggest topic in the news and the biggest decision senators have to make soon.

    But there was another very large category. That was motives. There was 13 questions about motives. But it was split. Seven of those questions were about President Trump's motives, six of those questions about Democrats' motives.

    So, Judy, as part of this, we're seeing both sides question each other's intent, and whether they're sincere, whether the president himself had corrupt motives or not, and whether Democrats have proper motives.

    Now, another thing about questions, Judy, that I want to raise, I have a good source who told me that, in fact, the president's House advisers — that's Mark Meadows, Jim Jordan, the group who sort of led the efforts in the House for him — have been consulting with Republican senators in groups on what these questions should be.

    They have been strategizing and trying to form kind of a litigation strategy, if you will.

    Now, separately, I spoke to Mark Meadows. And I asked him, do you think senators have enough questions for two days of this? And he said, "Yes, I do."

  • Judy Woodruff:


    So, Lisa, give us a sense — you mentioned witnesses. Where are we with this witness decision, the decision on whether they're going to be called, whether there are going to be — whether there are going to be documents.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    There are just a few undecided Republican senators. And they will determine whether witnesses are called or not.

    And, tonight, we want to look especially at two of those senators that you see, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio and then also Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. They have not announced a position yet.

    And behind closed doors, they are seen as senators who could go either way.

    Now, on the other hand, we can also report that it seems some other senators are making decisions in the president's favor. That includes Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who was undecided, we understand, yesterday, and today has told myself and others that he's skeptical about the need to call witnesses.

    Judy, this just comes down to, we think there are two to three votes already of the four needed to call witnesses. And that's why these two senators, Portman and Alexander, are so critical.

    If either one of them was a yes, that could change whether witnesses happen or not.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that brings me back to you, Yamiche, because so much discussion about whether John Bolton, the former national security adviser, could be called as a witness, even Lev Parnas, the associate of Rudy Giuliani.

    How is the White House pushing back on that?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    This has been — there's been so many developments around John Bolton and whether or not he's going to testify today.

    What we learned today is that the White House, on January 23, five days before The New York Times reported that John Bolton said in his manuscript that the president directly tied that aid to Ukraine to investigation to Democrats, five days earlier, the White House sent a letter to John Bolton that said this.

    And I want to put it up for some of our viewers: "The manuscript appears to contain significant amount of classified information, including top-secret level."

    It went on to say: "The manuscript may not be published or otherwise disclosed without deletion of this classified information."

    And, tonight, John Bolton's lawyer put out a statement saying that he also responded to that. He said that he wrote back to the White House saying they do not believe there's any classified information in this manuscript.

    He's also making the point that he hasn't gotten a response back. And I should say, really quickly, this is not the only witness going around. Lev Parnas was an associate of Rudy Giuliani. He was walking around the Capitol today saying that he wants to be able to testify.

    So, he physically came here. He couldn't get in, because he's on a GPS monitoring system, because he's been indicted on federal charges.

    But what he told me is that President Trump knew about all of this. And he also said that he has multiple recordings of the president. So, apart from John Bolton, there is also this witness that was literally walking around the Capitol today. So there are a lot of developments tonight, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Certainly are.

    Yamiche Alcindor, Lisa Desjardins, we thank you both.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You're welcome.

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