WASHINGTON – The Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump resumes Thursday with up to another eight hours of questions to House Democrats prosecuting the case and the president’s defense team.
The second and final question session begins at 1 p.m. With opening arguments out of the way for each side, the question phase sets up pivotal votes Friday about whether the Senate will call witnesses such as former national security adviser John Bolton.
Many of the questions Wednesday focused on Bolton because the New York Times reported that his pending book says Trump demanded Ukraine investigate his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, in exchange for military aid. Trump has denied saying it and his defense team attacked Bolton as a disgruntled former worker.
Bolton’s accusation could serve as confirmation of the central House impeachment allegation. But the National Security Council contends the book contains classified information, which could hinder its publication scheduled in March.
The House managers led by Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., contend that the trial won’t be fair unless the Senate calls witnesses such as Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.
But Trump’s defense team called the House case “half-baked” and said if witnesses were necessary, the House should have called them. Trump’s team also said the testimony could potentially be blocked by executive privilege, in order to protect confidential advice from top aides.
Several questions focused on the burden of proof senators should weigh in deciding whether to convict Trump and remove him from office. The president’s removal is unlikely because it would require a two-thirds majority in a chamber with 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats.
Trump’s team has argued that the impeachment is unconstitutional because it isn’t based on violations of criminal statute, but on vague accusations of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The defense lawyers argued that the House managers should have to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, as with a criminal case.
House managers contend that the article on abuse of power has been used in past impeachment inquiries against former Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. In this case, Schiff said the charge is akin to bribery or extortion because Trump demanded an investigation in exchange for $391 million in military aid. The House managers said senators should use their own judgment in deciding whether to remove Trump.