As President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial unfolds, Courthouse News will be gathering interviews with senators, members of Congress, attorneys and other newsmakers in the corridors of the Capitol for this regular feature.
WASHINGTON (CN) — President Donald Trump’s defenders appeared to relent on their evidence blockade Tuesday morning, the final day of opening arguments, as a proposal gathered steam for lawmakers to read portions of Ambassador Bolton’s upcoming memoir in a classified setting.
Reporters peppered lawmakers with questions about that development, along with their strategy as proceedings turn to the question of whether witness testimony and evidence gathering will be allowed.
3:12 p.m., Senator Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Near the Senate Subway
Amid discussion of a possible trade of witnesses, where Democrats allow Hunter Biden to testify in exchange of Ambassador John Bolton, Senate Minority Leader Schumer splashes cold water on the theory. Republicans would not need a trade to call the Bidens, if they had the votes.
“Ask yourselves: Why did they talk to you about a trade? They could call Hunter Biden if they had 51 votes for him today. They don’t. I don’t believe they have the votes because a good number of Republicans know two things: That Hunter Biden is a diversion and makes the trial into a circus, like a couple of the president’s lawyers did yesterday. And second, it confirms the fact that President Trump is obsessed with Hunter Biden and Joe Biden. So in other words, he’s willing to risk American security and risk elections to go after Biden. Now he’s willing to despoil one of the most sacred things the Senate can do, a trial on impeachment, because he’s so focused on Hunter Biden, and that’s why you got those two way out of left field lawyers yesterday.”
3:01 p.m., Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Ca., Near the Senate Subway
A running theme in arguments by President Trump’s defenders against impeachment is that the American people should decide in an election whether he remains in office. Senator Feinstein, who sits on Intelligence Committee and famously pursued declassification of the torture report, noted that a problem with that argument is that Trump is accused of conduct that would leave those elections vulnerable.
“The president, and that’s what I’m trying to write about, think about, and what does it reveal the vulnerabilities are in the next year? Because overwhelmingly, the people should judge, and overwhelmingly, we should be the election is nine months away. So I think a lot of people are saying well why not let go with the election just take place. But the problem is, you have this vulnerability. The question really is, how substantial, is it? And what is fear and concern? I sat through the Clinton impeachment. This was essentially about having an illicit relationship with an intern in the Oval Office, in my mind. That’s essentially what it was. And that’s very different. And so there is a substantial weight to this. And the question is, is it enough to pass this vote?”
12:05 p.m., Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Next to Senate Subway on an Escalator
On Saturday, Courthouse News reporter Megan Mineiro observed Trump’s attorney Pam Bondi slipping a note to Senator Graham. As the Constitution analogizes these Senate proceedings to a trial, the exchange would be similar to a defense attorney communicating with a juror, who must take a sworn oath of impartiality. Asked about the exchange on Tuesday, Graham did not deny that it occurred but claimed not to remember.
CNS: Senator, on Saturday, my colleague saw Pam Bondi slipping you a note at the end of proceedings. What was in that note?
GRAHAM: I don’t remember a note.
CNS: You’re saying that that didn’t happen?
GRAHAM: I don’t remember. But, anyway, I thought that she did an excellent job.
11:35 a.m., Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Next to the Senate subway
Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., told reporters Tuesday, he and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer were not going to bargain on the issue of witnesses. If the issue was that witnesses did not have direct evidence of Trump’s wrongdoing, senators should hear from voices that could exonerate or implicate the president.
“The four witnesses we have asked for are all individuals who in our view, are in a position to have firsthand knowledge. And my view is, the president’s allies, who have been trying to put up these signs that say, ‘We don’t need witnesses,’ have run out of real estate. … I just want to make clear that we are not negotiating. I support having witnesses who are relevant to the president’s conduct, and the four witnesses we have asked for are clearly relevant. … I believe there has been significant movement amongst Senate Republicans in the last 48 hours. I have town hall meetings at home and that’s where I kind of get an assessment of how folks look at issues. I go to counties Donald Trump won. I go to counties Hilary Clinton won and everywhere I went on the weekend before impeachment. … Everybody thinks that this is Fairness 101 that you have witnesses with firsthand knowledge.”
11:08 p.m.: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Walking Chat Along Senate Subway
Asked about Senate Republicans expressing receptiveness to viewing Bolton’s manuscript in a classified setting, Whitehouse voiced skepticism.
WHITEHOUSE: We’ll see. They’re under a lot of pressure not to be responsible for an evidentiary firewall that every American knows is totally inconsistent with Western our notions of fair trial. And I suspect plan is to figure out how little they can allow it out and then still get off the hook for not giving the American people a fair trial, and to what extent they can exact a political price on the Bidens, which is a little bit ironic because that’s how this whole scheme began.
CNS: Do you think this is the beginning of the crumbling of the evidence blockade? Do you think expect more to follow?
SW: It’s hard to tell. They’re up against very considerable forces from McConnell and the Republican big donors who he represents so effectively. And the president and his ability to weaponize the Republican base against any dissent in the party. Those are powerful forces. Not sure that they can be overcome, but this is a tiny baby step in the right direction.
10:56 a.m., Senator Chris Coons, D-Del., Walking Next to the Senate Subway
Republican have expressed interest in having senators review a transcript of Bolton’s manuscript in a classified setting, but Coons called the plan a poor substitute for hearing from the man himself.
“So, we’ve got John Bolton. We know he was in the room. We know he was involved in lots and lots of meetings and activities and events with the president. We know he has contemporaneous and personal notes. He is volunteering to testify. We’re not going to call him. We’re just going to put his manuscript into a SCIF and read it there. I’m struck by the boldness of that proposal.”
[Editor’s note: Short for Secure Compartmentalized Information Facility, an SCIF is a protected location set aside for the review and transmission of classified information. During the impeachment proceedings, lawmakers routinely reviewed evidence and received witness testimony inside a SCIF located in the Capitol basement.]
Reporting by Adam Klasfeld, Megan Mineiro and Tim Ryan