• Senators have 16 hours to ask questions, eight on Wednesday and eight on Thursday
  • After the questions period, senators will decide whether to hear from witnesses
  • A poll released Tuesday indicates 75% of Americans wants to hear from witnesses who did not testify before the House

Updated: 4:37 p.m. EST:

Harvard law Professor Alan Dershowitz argued Wednesday any action taken by a president to help his own election, by definition, is in the public interest and not impeachable.

During the question-and-answer portion of Trump’s Senate trial on two articles of impeachment, Dershowitz presented an expansive view of executive power in answer to a question posed by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, related to posing a quid pro quo and whether that’s legal.

“If the president does something that he thinks will help him get elected, in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment,” Dershowitz said, adding: “Every public official I know believes that his election is in the public interest. Mostly, you’re right.”

Dershowitz’s argument essentially said even if all the allegations lodged by the House are true, it doesn’t matter.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., called the argument odd.

“If you say you can’t hold a president accountable in an election year where they’re trying to cheat in that election, then you are giving them carte blanche,” Schiff said. “All quid pro quos are not the same.”

Update: 2:22 p.m. EST

As senators began quizzing House impeachment managers and President Trump’s legal team, Republican leaders indicated they have the votes to prevent any witnesses from being called at the president’s impeachment trial and likely will wrap up the proceedings on Friday.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., told reporters Republicans have the votes to proceed directly to a vote on the articles themselves.

“Yes, that’s the plan,” he said, adding: “I’ve heard enough. I’m ready to vote on final judgment. This has been fully partisan, fully political.”

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said he’s still in favor of calling witnesses and subpoenaing documents but is unsure if anyone else on the Republican side will vote with him.

Assuming all Democrats vote in favor of new evidence, they still need at least four Republican votes.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, submitted the first question, asking the president’s defenders whether Trump had multiple motives in withholding aid to Ukraine. The president’s counsel said it is impossible to determine how much weight Trump gave to each of his motives.

Asked if the Senate can render a fully informed verdict without hearing testimony from former national security adviser John Bolton, acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and other key officials, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., responded: “The short answer to that question is, no.”

He accused the president’s legal team of employing the so-what defense, which he said amounts to sanctioning his abuse of power with impunity.

“The president can abuse his power in any way and there’s nothing you can do about it,” he said.

Original story

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts gets his first chance Wednesday to play a featured role in President Trump’s impeachment trial, reading questions from senators to the House impeachment managers and the president’s attorneys.

Thus far, Roberts’ role has been largely ceremonial: first swearing in the senators and then opening and closing each day’s session.

In the second phase of the impeachment trial, Roberts will read questions submitted by the senators, alternating queries from Republicans and Democrats, leading up to a vote, expected Friday, on whether to call witnesses.

You can watch the proceedings below, beginning at 1 p.m. EST.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has been pushing for a perfunctory trial with no witnesses, reportedly told Republicans Tuesday he does not have the votes to block witness testimony. GOP Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska all have said they are interested in hearing from witnesses. It was unclear how many other Republicans would back the witness call but just those three would produce a 50-50 tie with Roberts the deciding vote.

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., has suggested a deal whereby Republicans would get to call a witness for every witness called by Democrats. House impeachment managers want to call four witnesses, including former national security adviser John Bolton and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney but have publicly rejected the one-for-one proposal, saying the witnesses Republicans want to call – including former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, are irrelevant.

A pair of Georgetown University law professors and a former GOP congressman from Oklahoma wrote in an opinion piece in the New York Times Roberts has the power to call witnesses, regardless of the Senate vote. Professors Neal K. Katyal and Joshua A. Geltzer, and former Rep. Mickey Edwards argue an impeachment is a trial like any other, contrary to what Trump’s legal team has been arguing.

“The impeachment rules, like all trial systems, put a large thumb on the scale of issuing subpoenas and place that power within the authority of the judge, in this case the chief justice,” the trio wrote, citing the original impeachment rules outlined for Andrew Johnson’s trial in 1868. Those rules say it would take a two-thirds majority to overrule the chief justice.

A Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday indicates 75% of Americans, including half of Republicans, favor hearing from witnesses.

Trump’s legal team wrapped up its arguments early Tuesday, just using 12 hours of the 24 that had been allotted, pleading with senators to ignore a reported account in Bolton's forthcoming book that says Trump directly tied military aid to Ukraine to a promise to dig up political dirt on Biden.

Trump's defenders tried to frame Trump’s actions toward Ukraine as those of a president concerned about corruption in the former Soviet state and largely ignored Trump’s pet conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine rather than Russia that interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

Trump is accused of trying to leverage $391 million in military aid to Ukraine in exchange for an investigation into Biden and his son’s position on the board of the Ukraine energy company Burisma while Biden was vice president.