Trial Enters Volatile Phase of Senator Questions

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The questioning phase is a moment of opportunity — and peril — for both parties, as 100 senators question the House impeachment managers and President Trump’s legal defense team for up to 16 hours over two days.

Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, wants to ask the leading House manager about the whistle-blower whose confidential complaint about Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine touched off the impeachment inquiry, and about Hunter Biden, whom the president asked Ukraine’s president to investigate. Senator Angus King, independent of Maine, plans to question the defense lawyer Alan M. Dershowitz’s criteria for impeachment.

Senator Kevin Cramer, Republican of North Dakota, is seeking more information about the president’s personal lawyer, who played a central role in his pressure campaign on Ukraine. “I’m a little bit curious about Rudy Giuliani,” Mr. Cramer said.

The questions, which will begin Wednesday afternoon, could go late into the evening. The proceeding will allow senators, who have been sitting restlessly in the Senate chamber for more than a week listening to dueling presentations, the chance to participate. They will be taking part indirectly, though, as the questions are read aloud by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who is presiding over the trial.

The result is likely to be a lively if slow-moving Senate debate. The leaders of the two parties — working with the House managers and the White House lawyers — will seek to elicit damaging admissions, highlight favorable points and give their side a chance to rebut the claims made by their adversaries since the trial opened last week.

President Trump lashed out at his former national security adviser, John R. Bolton, on Wednesday, saying Mr. Bolton “begged” him for a job that would not require Senate confirmation, and was fired because “frankly, if I listened to him, we would be in World War Six by now.”

And then, Mr. Trump said, Mr. Bolton “goes out and IMMEDIATELY writes a nasty & untrue book. All Classified National Security. Who would do this?”

Mr. Bolton provided the National Security Council with a copy of his manuscript on Dec. 30, so that officials could give it a standard review to see if there is any classified material that must be removed or redacted. This not the first time someone has left the White House and written tell-all narratives unflattering to Mr. Trump.

But Mr. Bolton’s accounts come at a time when Mr. Trump’s future in the White House hangs in the balance.

Mr. Trump even acknowledged this last week when he was asked whether Mr. Bolton should testify in the Senate trial.

“I don’t know if we left on the best of terms — I would say probably not, you know,” Mr. Trump said in Davos, Switzerland. “And so, you don’t like people testifying when they didn’t leave on good terms.”

Credit…Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times

A vote to consider allowing new witnesses and evidence in the impeachment trial is expected to be held as early as Friday, after senators finish questioning both sides in the case. The result of that vote may be the most consequential factor remaining in the trial.

Pressure has been growing on Republican senators this week to call new witnesses in light of revelations by John R. Bolton, President Trump’s former national security adviser, that contradict a key element of the president’s defense regarding his decision to freeze military aid to Ukraine. Mr. Bolton, who has said he would be willing to testify if subpoenaed, shared the account of his time at the White House in an unpublished book, changing the calculus of the trial.

On the sidelines, a number of Republicans have publicly and privately expressed concern about Mr. Bolton’s account, and indicated that they may now be open to Democrats’ push for new witnesses. Should four Republicans join Democrats to summon witnesses for the trial, it could enter a new phase that could continue well into February. If not, the Senate could hold a final vote and render its decision on whether to remove Mr. Trump by week’s end.

During a meeting on Tuesday with his Republican colleagues, Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, was said to have brandished a “whip count” of yes, no and maybe votes, taking stock of the mood. Mr. McConnell told those present that, by his count, he did not yet have enough votes to block witnesses. With two more days to go before a possible vote, however, Mr. McConnell’s allies remained optimistic that he could rally enough support to forestall calling new witnesses like Mr. Bolton.

Credit…T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

Just after midnight, President Trump asked a question on Twitter: “Why didn’t John Bolton complain about this ‘nonsense’ a long time ago, when he was very publicly terminated. He said, not that it matters, NOTHING!”

Mr. Trump was referring to one of his former national security advisers, John R. Bolton, who has drawn the spotlight in the president’s impeachment trial without providing any testimony. Last week, Mr. Trump said he would love for Mr. Bolton to testify in his Senate trial, but his hands were tied because of national security considerations. “He knows some of my thoughts,” Mr. Trump said of Mr. Bolton when speaking to reporters in Davos, Switzerland. “He knows what I think about leaders.”

The Republican’s strategy for a fast trial and swift acquittal has been rocked by disclosures from a manuscript in Mr. Bolton’s upcoming book. In the manuscript, Mr. Bolton recounts a conversation with the president in which Mr. Trump said he wanted to withhold military aid to Ukraine until the Ukrainians announced an investigation into the family of one of his political rivals, Joseph R. Biden Jr. This directly undercuts one of the president’s central defenses. Mr. Bolton also wrote that some of the president’s senior advisers raised concerns about Mr. Trump giving personal favors to autocratic leaders. Mr. Trump has denied the account.

Democrats have been calling for Mr. Bolton to testify at the Senate trial, but the majority of Republican senators are determined to keep him out. By the end of the day Tuesday, some Republicans were leaning toward wanting to hear from Mr. Bolton. Democrats need four Republican defectors to vote with them. The Senate is expected to hold a vote on witnesses on Friday.

After more than a week of listening passively to opening arguments, senators will get their first chance to break down the cases presented to them with direct questions. However, the rules of the trial demand that they be strategic about how those queries are framed.

Senators will submit written questions to be read aloud by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., drafted in the hopes of poking holes in the arguments laid out by the House managers and by President Trump’s legal team. Both Democratic and Republican leaders are expected to submit tough questions meant to scrutinize key parts of the case for and against removing the president from office.

This phase of the trial has been important in the past: During President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial in 1999, Republican House managers mishandled their responses in a way that some historians believe opened the door for Mr. Clinton’s eventual acquittal. As Chief Justice Roberts begins posing questions to each side, both the impeachment managers and Mr. Trump’s lawyers will try not to cede any ground while answering questions intended to throw them off balance.

What we’re expecting to see:
House managers and White House lawyers will take turns fielding questions from senators. The questions are submitted in writing to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who will read them aloud.

When we’re likely to see it:
The proceedings are set to begin at 1 p.m. Eastern, and the questioning phase could last up to eight hours on Wednesday. Questions could continue on Thursday, for a total of up to 16 hours over the two-day period.

How to follow it:
The New York Times’s congressional and White House teams will be following all of the developments and streaming the proceedings live on this page. Stay with us.

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