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Trump Defense Team Finishes Opening Arguments In Impeachment Trial

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The president's lawyers wrapped up their defense today in the Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump. One of his attorneys, Jay Sekulow, reminded the 100 jurors what's at stake for the country.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAY SEKULOW: You are being asked to remove a duly elected president of the United States, and you're being asked to do it in an election year.

SHAPIRO: Of course, the Senate is still deeply divided over whether or not there will be any witnesses in the impeachment trial. NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales joins us now from Capitol Hill.

Hi, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: So this big question of whether or not there will be witnesses - what's the latest?

GRISALES: So you need 51 votes in this Republican-controlled chamber. That's a simple majority to call witnesses. And so that's at least four Republicans who would have to join Democrats in this call. And the developments over the recent days involving these New York Times reports on an upcoming book by former National Security Adviser John Bolton detailing that the president told him directly to withhold the aid to Ukraine until they got this commitment for a political investigation has upped the pressure on Republicans.

So there's a lot of back-and-forth among members, but there's no bipartisan talks. Democrats continue to push against this idea of trading a witness like Bolton for a Republican witness like Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer says any proposal for a trade is a nonstarter.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHUCK SCHUMER: Hunter Biden has nothing to do with the facts of this trial.

SHAPIRO: So as you said, four Republicans would have to join Democrats in supporting witnesses. What are the Republicans saying right now?

GRISALES: So Republicans, for the most part, have remained resistant to the plan, regardless of the Bolton pressure. Here's Trump ally Lindsey Graham.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LINDSEY GRAHAM: Well, we're just not going to call John Bolton. And if you call John Bolton, we're calling everybody. We're not just going to call one witness.

GRISALES: So you hear there Graham threatening to call in a whole web of new witnesses into the trial if Democrats continue this push for Bolton and they get that Republican support.

Now, meanwhile, colleague Oklahoma Republican James Lankford, he's pushing an idea to bring the manuscript of Bolton's book into a secured room here on Capitol Hill for Republicans and other members to review it there. So far, he says about a dozen Republicans have expressed support. But under the trials - under the rules of the trial, this would be considered new evidence, and they would have to vote on it. And already, Jay Sekulow has suggested this could be an inadmissible.

SHAPIRO: OK, so Lankford and Graham are pretty close to the White House. What about the Republicans who've suggested they might be open to hearing from a witness like John Bolton?

GRISALES: Yes. This includes Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah. And they have remained steadfast in their interest for witnesses, maybe even more emboldened with this new development. Let's take a listen to Murkowski.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LISA MURKOWSKI: I think that Bolton probably has something to offer us. So we'll figure out how we're going to learn more.

GRISALES: Now, Murkowski didn't elaborate there whether she would be more open to the idea of reading a manuscript here at a secured room or whether she'd like to hear from Bolton directly. But even so, these members, they may be on a Republican Island because so far, this broader caucus is not signaling that they'd be interested in calling witnesses even now.

SHAPIRO: So what happens next in the impeachment trial now that the president's lawyers have wrapped up their defense?

GRISALES: Now there are 16 hours left over the next two days, where senators can submit written questions. This can be clarifications to the presentations in recent days. And once that wraps, we expect the witness debate and a vote on Friday on this issue. And if that fails, then they would quickly move on to the final question in this trial, which is whether to convict or acquit this president.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Claudia Grisales speaking with us from Capitol Hill.

Thanks, Claudia.

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