WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial was due to resume on Thursday for a second day of questions by U.S. senators before they address the explosive issue of whether to call witnesses such as former national security adviser John Bolton.
Without witnesses, Republicans, who control the Senate, say the trial could end as early as Friday with Trump’s acquittal, which would leave him in office and allow him to claim vindication just as the Democratic Party holds its first nominating contest for the Nov. 3 election in Iowa on Monday.
Trump will hold a rally in the state on Thursday night.
Democrats accuse the Republican president of abusing his power by using congressionally approved military aid as leverage to get a foreign power to smear former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic nomination.
GRAPHIC: Impeachment of U.S. President Donald Trump – here
The Democratic-led House of Representatives approved the two articles of impeachment in December. Lawyers for Trump and the House Democrats who are managing the prosecution in the Senate trial will spend Thursday answering questions from lawmakers, read aloud by U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts.
On Friday, each side was expected to present what amount to closing arguments before the Senate moves to the central question of whether to call witnesses, which Democrats believe is essential to shed more light on Trump’s attempt to persuade Ukraine President Volodmyr Zelenskiy to investigate Biden.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said he was still optimistic that witnesses could be called.
“I believe Senate Republicans and the president’s team are worried about the vote,” Schumer told a news conference on Thursday morning, before the proceedings restarted.
Democrats need to persuade at least four Republican senators to vote with them to assure a majority vote in the 100-seat chamber, an effort the top Democrat in the Senate has called an uphill fight.
At least four Republicans – Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee – are seen as potentially on the fence on the issue.
Senator John Barrasso, the No. 3 Republican in seniority, had said on Wednesday the trial could end without witnesses being called despite the pressure from Democrats.
“The momentum is clearly in the direction of moving to final judgment on Friday,” he said. Other Republican senators were predicting a similar outcome.
Democrats are unlikely to muster the two-thirds majority needed to remove Trump from office no matter what happens, but allowing witnesses could inflict political damage on the president as he seeks re-election.
Possible testimony from Bolton is of particular interest after a report – which he has not denied – that he planned to say in an upcoming book that Trump told him he wanted to freeze $391 million in U.S. military aid for Ukraine until it investigated Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.
Representative Sylvia Garcia, one of the Democratic impeachment managers, told reporters on Thursday morning she still thought it was possible that Bolton would appear.
“Today our job will be to convince them (the senators) that this will be a fair trial,” Garcia said on a conference call.
Democrats excoriated an expansive defense of presidential power offered by Trump lawyer Alan Dershowitz during Wednesday’s question-and-answer session. Dershowitz had said: “If a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in an impeachment.”
Representative Adam Schiff, the lead House prosecutor, said in a tweet on Thursday: “We’ve seen a remarkable lowering of the bar. According to Trump’s lawyers, everything is okay as long as the president believes it helps his reelection. It’s not okay to solicit foreign election interference, even if you fail. It just makes you a failed crook.”
Dershowitz tweeted on Thursday that the media “distorted” his remarks.
If the vote on whether to allow witnesses is 50-50, Chief Justice Roberts could step in to break the tie. There is so little precedent for impeachment trials – this is only the third of a president in U.S. history – that Senate aides said there is no way to know exactly what would occur.
Additional reporting by Richard Cowan, David Morgan, Susan Heavey, Mohammad Zargham and Lisa Lambert; Writing by Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Paul Simao