“I worked with other senators to make sure that we have the right to ask for more documents and witnesses, but there is no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven and that does not meet the United States Constitution’s high bar for an impeachable offense,” Alexander said in a statement shortly after the Senate gaveled out of session Thursday evening.
“I believe hearing from certain witnesses would give each side the opportunity to more fully and fairly make their case, resolve any ambiguities, and provide additional clarity. Therefore, I will vote in support of the motion to allow witnesses and documents to be subpoenaed,” Collins said in a statement.
“I’m going to go back to my office, put some eye drops in so I can keep reading,” she said, adding that she plans to announce her decision on Friday morning.
Key clues from Senate questions
One sign of Alexander’s vote came in the final hour of senator questions Thursday to the House impeachment managers and the President’s legal team. Alexander and Murkowski both joined a question from Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, asking the President’s counsel whether the allegations from Bolton, if true, “still would not rise to the level of an impeachable offense?”
It was the last of several hints that emerged from the 180 questions that senators asked over two days. While it turned out to be a signal of how Alexander would vote, Murkowski remains a mystery. Earlier in the evening, she asked a pointed question of the President’s team that cut in the other direction: raising the contradiction between the testimony of US Ambassador Gordon Sondland and statements from GOP Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin compared to the reporting about Bolton’s book.
“This dispute about material facts weighs in favor of calling additional witnesses with direct knowledge. Why should this body not call Ambassador Bolton?” Murkowski asked.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, followed up the question by asking the House managers to explain how requesting witnesses could be done in a limited fashion. House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who is the lead impeachment manager, responded by arguing for a one-week period for closed-door depositions and a “limited” time for witness testimony for the trial, an effort to address Republican criticisms that witnesses would lead to endless delays.
McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, then asked his first question in the two days that senators have queried the House managers and the President’s team, giving the defense counsel a chance to respond to the House’s assertions about bipartisanship and impeachment.
Shortly after that question was asked, Alexander met with Murkowski during the dinner break, and told CNN leaving the meeting the two weren’t coordinating.
“We were just talking,” Alexander said, adding that the group of swing senators are “all doing things independently.”
“Lisa and I often talk about what we are doing,” Alexander said.
Senators on the fence
Patrick Philbin, a member of Trump’s legal team, responded there was nothing wrong with the President directing his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to deal with Ukraine, but he also maintained that the former New York mayor was not conducting any policy with the country.
Another bipartisan question followed not long after from Murkowski and Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, who asked where was the line between political actions and impeachable conduct.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler invoked Collins and Murkowski by name to circle back to their question from Wednesday about “mixed motives” with regard to the withholding of US aid and the push for investigations, charging that the defense team’s argument was “nonsense” that mixed motives would exonerate the President.
“Once you prove a corrupt act, that’s it,” Nadler said.
Schiff made his pitch for the Senate to call witnesses.
“If you have any question about whether the motive was mixed or not mixed, ask John Bolton,” he said.
Paul question rejected by Roberts
McConnell indirectly referenced the dispute at the start of Thursday’s session. “We’ve been respectful of the chief justice’s unique position in reading our questions, I want to be able to continue to assure him that that level of consideration for him will continue,” McConnell said.
But Paul insisted on asking the question, and he submitted it as the first GOP question. Roberts was handed Paul’s tan card and read the question to himself for a moment. “The presiding officer declines to read the question as submitted,” Roberts said, moving onto the next question.
Paul went to the Senate television studio right after the question was rejected, and read it there to reporters, which included the alleged name of the whistleblower and asked about connections with a member of Schiff’s staff.
Later in the day, a group of Republicans asked another question about the member of Schiff’s staff and the alleged whistleblower that named only the committee aide. Roberts read that question.
Schiff responded that he was “appalled” at the attacks on his staff, saying he would not respond to the smears coming from a newspaper article. “Members of this body used to care about the protection of whistleblower identities. They didn’t use to gratuitously attack members of committee staff. But now they do,” Schiff said.
The President’s personal attorney, Jay Sekulow, responded that the whistleblower has protection from retribution, but not “complete anonymity.”
“We can’t just say it’s not a relevant inquiry to know who on the staff that conducted the primary investigation here was in communication with that whistleblower, especially after Mr. Schiff denied that he or his staff had even had any conversations with the whistleblower,” Sekulow said.
Arguing about witnesses
Democrats, meanwhile, were incensed with several answers the President’s team offered. Sen. Mark Warner, the top Senate Intelligence Committee Democrat, slammed the President’s team for arguing “foreign interference, in a sense, is OK if it doesn’t fall into the classic definition of a campaign contribution.”
“Republicans have gone from denying what the President did, to normalizing it by claiming every President does it, to now saying there’s nothing wrong with it even if he did it,” Schumer said Thursday.
Dershowitz tried to clean up the response on Twitter Thursday, saying: “They characterized my argument as if I had said that if a president believes that his re-election was in the national interest, he can do anything. I said nothing like that, as anyone who actually heard what I said can attest.”
Republicans defended the President’s attorney. “He makes a lot of very extreme examples to make his point,” said GOP Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota. “I have a tendency to do the same thing from time to time and sometimes that can be misconstrued.”
While much of the focus is on the Republicans, some moderate Democrats have yet to say how they will vote on the outcome of the trial. “Am I wrestling with it? Every minute of every day,” Manchin said Thursday, adding he was “still in shock” over Dershowitz’s comments.
This story has been updated with additional developments Thursday.
CNN’s Ellie Kaufman and Ali Zaslav contributed to this report.