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A Final Day Of Questions In The Impeachment Trial, Ahead Of A Vote On Witnesses

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The Senate impeachment trial of President Trump could be closing in on its final hours. Senators have spent yet another day asking questions. And the president's legal team continued to argue that voters should decide President Trump's fate, not the Senate.

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PAT CIPOLLONE: It's also wrong. Let's leave it to the people of the United States. Let's trust them. They're asking you not to trust them. Maybe they don't trust them. Maybe they won't like the result. We should trust them. That's who should decide who the president of this country should be. It'll be a few months from now. And they should decide.

CHANG: That's Pat Cipollone, the lead lawyer on President Trump's defense team. NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales joins us now from Capitol Hill.

Hey, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Hi there.

CHANG: All right. So this is Day 2 of questions. What have senators seemed focused on today?

GRISALES: Well, Democrats started out today focused on this idea that the president's legal team introduced yesterday; that accepting information from a foreign government is OK when a president is seeking reelection. The impeachment managers have strongly denounced that. Here's Democrat Hakeem Jeffries.

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HAKEEM JEFFRIES: This is not a Banana Republic. It's the democratic republic of the United States of America. It's wrong.

GRISALES: And he wasn't the only one raising questions about this. Maine Republican Susan Collins, who's a key member we're watching in the chamber throughout this process - she also asked the president's lawyers to revisit this concern today. And speaking of Collins, we're watching her as well as two other Republicans - Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah. These are the folks who could be swing votes when it comes to possible witnesses being called into the trial.

CHANG: And I understand there was one question that Chief Justice John Roberts would not read. Can you tell us a little more about what that was about?

GRISALES: Yes, that was a very dramatic moment during today's trial. Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky has tried to get this question to the chief justice since yesterday. But it was today when the chief justice finally addressed it, and he refused. Let's take a listen.

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JOHN ROBERTS: The presiding officer declines to read the question as submitted.

GRISALES: So right afterwards, Paul ran up to the upper area of the Senate chamber here to speak to reporters. And he said he was trying to understand the origins of the investigation. But there are reports that that question itself named the whistleblower, and the chief justice refused to name the whistleblower during these proceedings.

CHANG: Right.

OK. So tomorrow, there's expected to be a vote possibly to bring witnesses into this trial. Where do Senators seem to be lining up on that issue?

GRISALES: So, again, we're watching those three members - Murkowski, Collins and Romney. It's possible that they could join Democrats to call for witnesses. But in this Republican-controlled chamber, Democrats would need at least four Republicans to flip in order for that to happen. So it's very possible that if these members joined Democrats, we could see a 50-50 tie. And so tomorrow could be a real wildcard. That said, if there is a 50-50 tie and it stays there, then we expect it to fail. And it's possible that they could move to this final question of whether to acquit or remove the president.

CHANG: OK. So just mechanically speaking, how is this witness vote going to unfold tomorrow?

GRISALES: So there will be several hours of debate before they get to that vote on whether to call witnesses. If, for some reason, they do get enough votes to move forward, then they would go through the specific possible witnesses that they could call, such as former national security adviser John Bolton, who's been a very key figure in recent days since his manuscript was released through these New York Times reports. So there could be a vote on witnesses, a vote on specific witnesses. But if those efforts fail, it seems that, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, there's a key interest to get to that final vote on acquittal or removal and wrap this trial up as early as tomorrow.

CHANG: Wow. All right, that's NPR's Claudia Grisales.

Thank you, Claudia.

GRISALES: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.