WASHINGTON (CN) — Late Thursday night, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski posed a question to President Donald Trump’s counsel that reporters have been desperate to learn her answer to for weeks.
“Why should this body not call Ambassador [John] Bolton,” the Alaska Republican asked in a question submitted to and read by Chief Justice John Roberts during Thursday’s question and answer period in Trump’s impeachment trial.
Murkowski — along with Senators Susan Collins, Mitt Romney and Lamar Alexander — is among a handful of senators seen as possible swing votes on the issue of whether the Senate will hear additional evidence and witnesses in the trial.
Murkowski's question mentioned a report in The New York Times earlier in the week that a manuscript of a forthcoming book from Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, says Trump directly conditioned a $391 million military aid package for Ukraine on the country announcing investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
That Trump withheld the aid and a coveted White House meeting for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in exchange for investigations into the Bidens and a discredited theory about the 2016 election is the crux of the House case against Trump. The report about Bolton’s book has ramped up pressure on Republicans insistent on not bringing new witnesses into the trial and dragged publicly undecided senators like Murkowski into the spotlight.
Responding to the question, Trump attorney Patrick Philbin repeated the White House’s argument that the Senate should not call new witnesses because it was the House’s responsibility to build its case and the body chose not to subpoena Bolton. Philbin said it would set a poor precedent for future impeachment and drag out Trump’s trial.
“I think that’s very damaging for the future of this institution,” Philbin said.
Murkowski took very few notes during Philbin's answer. Alexander sat with his arms crossed.
The undecided senators have been at the center of the impeachment trial and active questioners during the two-day question and answer portion of the proceedings.
Signing onto a question earlier in the day from Democratic Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, Republican Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski asked Trump’s counsel if they could assure senators their client would not send private citizens to do official U.S. business overseas without the blessing of the State Department.
The question was an unspoken reference to the work by Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani in Ukraine, pressing for investigations of former Vice President Joe Biden and a discredited theory about the 2016 presidential election.
It is a crime under the Logan Act, which the Thursday question referenced specifically, for U.S. citizens to negotiate with foreign governments without the permission of the federal government.
Collins and Murkowski are among a handful of senators seen as possible swing votes on the issue of whether the Senate will hear additional evidence in Trump’s Senate trial. On the definitive question of whether to convict or acquit Trump, meanwhile, Sinema and Manchin could themselves be wild cards.
Deputy White House Counsel Patrick Philbin began his response to the bipartisan question by first denying that Giuliani was conducting official U.S. foreign policy. Emphasizing that the former New York City mayor was only a “source of information” for the president, Philbin then said Trump has blanket policy of following the law.