Jan. 30 (UPI) — Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts on Thursday refused to read aloud a question from Sen. Rand Paul that named the alleged whistle-blower whose complaint launched the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
Robert, who’s presiding over the impeachment trial in the Senate, is responsible for reading senators’ individual questions to Trump’s legal team and Democratic House managers. The Senate began the question phase of the trial Wednesday and was expected to finish Thursday.
“The presiding officer declines to read the question as submitted,” Roberts said when he looked at Rand’s handwritten question.
Paul has repeatedly called for the identity of the whistle-blower to be made public. The whistle-blower, a member of the U.S. intelligence community, filed a complaint last year with the office of the director of national intelligence about the July phone conversation in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to announce an investigation into Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter Biden.
The complaint prompted the House to formally launch an impeachment inquiry and in December, vote to impeach Trump.
Paul left the Senate chamber after Roberts’ refusal to read the question and tweeted about the justice’s decision.
“My question was not about a ‘whistle-blower’ as I have no independent information on his identity. My question is about the actions of known Obama partisans within the [National Security Council] and house staff and how they are reported to have conspired before impeachment proceedings had even begun,” he wrote.
Trump’s lawyers used their time Thursday to make a pitch for the president’s acquittal and again repeated their argument that a removal from office shouldn’t happen in an election year.
“There are some in this room that are days away from the Iowa caucuses being made,” Trump’s personal attorney, Jay Sekulow said. “So we’re discussing the impeachment and possible removal of the president of the United States not only during the election season — in the heart of the election season.”
House manager Adam Schiff, D-Calif., meanwhile, drew attention to proceedings in another case, one involving the 2020 census. James Burnham, an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, told a federal judge Thursday that if Congress can’t get the president to respond to a subpoena, it can use its impeachment powers.
“In the category of you can’t make this stuff up,” Schiff said in the Senate chamber to the laughter of a number of senators. “The judge says if the Congress can’t enforce its subpoenas in court, then what remedy is there? And the Justice Department’s lawyers response is impeachment.”
Wednesday’s queries provided signs that Republican efforts to exclude witnesses were gathering momentum. During breaks in the proceedings, some GOP senators predicted a motion to acquit Trump would be passed by Friday.
“The momentum is clearly in the direction of moving to final judgment on Friday,” Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo, said. “We still have a couple members who said they want to listen to answers to questions, but that’s where the momentum is in the caucus right now.”
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, when asked if a vote for witnesses was likely, said, “Probably no. But is it a decent, good chance? Yes.”
Democrats are hoping to sway at least four Republican senators to join them in a vote to include witnesses like former national security adviser John Bolton and White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, arguing they’re essential to provide a fair trial.
Several Republican senators who have indicated they could be open to calling witnesses — namely Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee — have said they will announce their position as soon as the questioning phase is over, possibly late Thursday. Should they side with the Republican majority, a motion to acquit the president is likely to follow quickly with a vote Friday.
Among the questions posed Wednesday was one from Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who asked Trump’s defense team how long the trial could last if witnesses were allowed to testify.
“There would be a long list of witnesses,” answered White House counsel Patrick Philbin. “If the body were to go in that direction, it would mean that this would drag on for months and prevent this chamber from getting its business done.”