Impeachment trial of President Trump

By Meg Wagner, Veronica Rocha and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 9:00 p.m. ET, January 28, 2020
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6:03 p.m. ET, January 28, 2020

McConnell made clear the votes to block witnesses aren't locked in yet

From CNN's Phil Mattingly and Manu Raju

Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images
Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made clear to senators in the closed-door meeting that the GOP doesn’t currently have the votes to block witnesses, but underscored that it is still a work in progress as several GOP senators remain noncommittal on their votes, a person in the room said.

But McConnell’s message underscored that the vote is still a work in progress for Senate GOP leaders and the White House, who are pushing hard to bring a quick end to the trial by the end of this week.

The numbers currently aren’t based on GOP senators who have made up their minds to support witnesses, but instead several that haven’t decided on way or the other yet, the source said.

Several people involved in the meeting said the case that was made reiterated McConnell’s perspective that witnesses would elongate the trial at a time when senators would prefer to do legislative work on the floor. Drawing out proceedings would be especially problematic given the end game is already known: the votes are not there to remove the President. 

“Things have stabilized and if I had to guess, we’ll have 51” to block moving forward with witnesses and documents, a GOP senator who was in the room told CNN. “We’re in a better place than we were, no question.” 

McConnell and several Republicans warned today in private that moving ahead with one witness could lead to a number of new witnesses — and there would be no clear path out of the trial, according to a source familiar with remarks. McConnell continues to express his opposition to moving ahead with witnesses, according to Senate Republicans.

A Senate GOP source in the meeting said the argument against witnesses was effective — and the leadership came away more confident now they can defeat the witness vote. 

6:04 p.m. ET, January 28, 2020

Lev Parnas has tickets to the impeachment trial

From CNN's Kara Scannell and Jim Acosta

Lev Parnas arrives at Federal Court in New York City on December 17.
Lev Parnas arrives at Federal Court in New York City on December 17. Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

A lawyer for Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani, has asked the judge overseeing the criminal trial for permission to have Parnas attend the Senate impeachment trial tomorrow. 

In a letter to the judge, Joseph Bondy said he had received tickets from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer from New York for Parnas to attend. As part of his bail, Parnas is confined to his home in Florida and his travel is restricted. 

“Earlier this afternoon, I received an e-mail from Amy Mannering, Director of Operations for Senator Chuck Schumer’s Office, informing that my request for tickets to the trial had been granted,” Bondy wrote. He said that they have tickets to attend tomorrow from 12:30 p.m. ET to 2:45 p.m. ET.

Bondy notified the judge that pre-trial services said Parnas would first have to travel to New York to have GPS ankle device removed to enter the Senate gallery and then travel back to New York to have the ankle bracelet replaced. 

He said prosecutors did not object to Parnas attending the trial but do object to removing the tracking device.

Bondy has been trying to get Parnas to be called as a witness in the impeachment trial and has tweeted individually at senators.

"Tougher with Lev, who has an electronic device stuck to his ankle," Bondy said. "Senate doesn't allow them."

5:32 p.m. ET, January 28, 2020

Trump legal team source won't say whether they've been briefed on Bolton manuscript

From CNN's Betsy Klein and Kevin Liptak

A source on President Trump’s legal team could not definitively answer when pressed by CNN on whether the team has seen or been briefed on former national security adviser John Bolton’s manuscript.

"The White House put out – the NSC put out a statement to make clear that it is the NSC that has the manuscript and no person outside the NSC has reviewed the manuscript,” the source said. 

Asked again whether the legal team has been briefed on the manuscript, the source said, “I’m not going to get into any details beyond that. No one on the legal team has reviewed the manuscript.”

The President’s lawyers are “prepared for any eventuality” as the Senate impeachment trial proceeds, including the possibility of hearing from witnesses, according to a source on the legal team who briefed reporters on Tuesday.

Still, the legal team does not believe the Senate should hear from new witnesses, including John Bolton, since the House did not hear from him during their investigation.

“This is part of the problem with having a half-baked impeachment go to the Senate,” the source said.

The House invited Bolton to testify, but did not issue him a subpoena.

The source declined to get into the President’s legal team’s strategy should Bolton appear. 

As the trial moves into the question-and-answer period, the source said the team was prepared to answer “whatever questions senators have for us.”

CNN's Kaitlan Collins contributed to this report.

5:56 p.m. ET, January 28, 2020

GOP senators on witnesses:"I don't think we've settled on anything"

From CNN's Clare Foran and Ali Zaslav 

Mario Tama/Getty Images
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Republican senators just left a GOP meeting following the impeachment trial today.

Here's what they said about the meeting and potential witnesses:

  • Sen. Kevin Cramer: “You know, most people didn’t say where they are on it, so I don’t know what the whip count is, you’d have to talk to the whip. I don’t have any idea. All I know is I whipped against voting for it. I’d vote to not call witnesses.” 
  • Sen. Ted Cruz: Asked if there’s a stalemate over the question of witnesses, he said, “There are differences of opinion. None of which is terribly surprising.” Cruz also said he’s been coordinating questions with some of his Republican colleagues.
  • Sen. Richard Shelby: “I don’t think we’ve settled on anything” when asked if the GOP decided in the meeting on calling Hunter Biden or other witnesses.
6:01 p.m. ET, January 28, 2020

GOP senator says no decisions have been made on how the Senate will deal with witnesses

From CNN's Ted Barrett 

Mario Tama/Getty Images
Mario Tama/Getty Images

GOP Sen. John Cornyn was asked today following a meeting with Republican senators if Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tried to work out an agreement to address witnesses that would sit well with the entire Republican conference. 

Here's how he responded:

“No, that’s a discussion in progress. No decisions were made"

Cornyn later added that they were discussing witnesses "with all the members."

Some background: Earlier today, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House manager Adam Schiff called for more evidence and witnesses at the impeachment trial. Schiff urged Republican senators to bring in former national security adviser John Bolton to testify.

Two Republican senators, Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine, have signaled they want to hear from witnesses, including Bolton. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska says she is "curious" about Bolton's testimony.

Remember: It takes 51 senators to pass a motion. If all 47 senators who caucus with the Democrats vote to have witnesses and documents, at least four Republicans need to join them in order to pass a motion.

5:24 p.m. ET, January 28, 2020

Here's the official Senate question form for the trial 

From CNN's Ted Barrett and Ali Zaslav 

This is the official Senate question form that will be used during the question-and-answer portion of the trial.

CNN
CNN

4:40 p.m. ET, January 28, 2020

GOP senator says the "overwhelming consensus" is it’s time to end the trial

From CNN's Manu Raju 

Brendan Smilalowski/AFP/Getty Images
Brendan Smilalowski/AFP/Getty Images

GOP Sen. John Barrasso provided some insight into what lawmakers are thinking following a meeting behind closed-doors with Senate Republicans.

“The overwhelming consensus is we’ve heard enough — and it’s time to move to a final judgment,” he told CNN.

4:40 p.m. ET, January 28, 2020

Senate GOP concedes Trump may have withheld aid for probes — but says it's not impeachable

From CNN's Manu Raju

AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana
AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

A growing number of GOP senators are now acknowledging that President Trump may have leveraged US military aid to Ukraine in exchange for an announcement of investigations that could help him politically – but they contend that even that conduct does not warrant removal from office or hearing from additional witnesses. 

What they are saying now: Republicans are now arguing that the latest reports — that former national security adviser John Bolton’s book manuscript reveals that Trump told him in August that he was withholding $391 million in aid until Ukraine announced a probe into the Bidens – are likely true but simply confirm what is already known.

And they are saying those new facts, first revealed by the New York Times, are consistent with the details laid out by House Democratic managers in their case that Trump used official acts to urge a foreign power to undercut a leading political rival in the 2020 presidential campaign.

But they say that nothing in there is impeachable — nor does it warrant the need to hear from new witnesses since it confirms what is already known, they say. 

“I don’t think anything he says changes the facts,” South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the majority whip, told CNN. “I think people kind of know what the fact pattern is. ...There's already that evidence on the record.”   

Sen. Kevin Cramer, a North Dakota Republican, also weighed in saying, “I think he sounds like a lot of the other witnesses, frankly. I don't know that he's got a lot new to add to it.”

“No,” Sen. Tim Scott said bluntly when asked if he thinks what Bolton is reportedly detailing amounts to impeachable conduct. “I don’t think it would be.”

Remember: Just four Republicans can give Democrats the votes they need — 51 in total — for witnesses to appear at the trial.

CNN's Ted Barrett and Laurie Ure contributed to this report.

4:11 p.m. ET, January 28, 2020

Catch up: What you need to know about the trial today

Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Trump's defense team wrapped up their last day of arguments today in the Senate impeachment trial.

In case you missed it, here's what happened today:

  • Trump's defense team makes their final plea: White House Counsel Pat Cipollone urged senators to reject the impeachment articles against Trump and defend "our Constitution." He also urged them to "come together on both sides of the aisle and end the era of impeachment for good."
  • What happens next: With arguments over, senators will have a chance to talk to both sides directly in the question-and-answer session. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said "the questions alternate between the majority and minority sides for up to eight hours" on both Wednesday and Thursday.
  • Democrats argue for witnesses: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House manager Adam Schiff called for more evidence and witnesses at the impeachment trial. Schiff urged Republican senators to bring in former national security adviser John Bolton to testify.
  • The focus on the John Bolton revelations continued: Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren told reporters today that she believes “the pressure is mounting on the Republicans to decide what they're going to do about John Bolton.” Meanwhile, GOP Sen. Mitt Romney said he’d rather hear from Bolton himself rather than just see a manuscript.
  • Trump's ex-chief of staff says he believes Bolton: Former White House chief of staff John Kelly said he believes Bolton's allegation that Trump told the former national security adviser that US security aid to Ukraine was conditioned on an investigation of the President's political rivals, adding that Bolton should be heard from. "If John Bolton says that in the book, I believe John Bolton," Kelly said last night.