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What to watch for on Day 8 of the Trump impeachment trial

Senators are preparing to take the reins of the impeachment trial on Wednesday after largely being relegated to the sidelines of the floor proceedings in the first week.

After six days of opening statements from House managers and President Trump‘s team, senators will start asking questions of both sides at 1 p.m. on Wednesday.

The question-and-answer session is expected to be stretched over two days, with senators getting a total of 16 hours to ask questions, before moving to a vote on Friday on whether or not to call witnesses.

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Under a deal announced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), questions will alternate between Republicans and Democrats. Wednesday’s session is expected to last eight hours, not including breaks.

McConnell also doled out advice to both senators asking their questions as well as to House managers and Trump’s team for how to answer them: Get to the point.

“During the question period of the Clinton trial, senators were thoughtful and brief with their questions, and the managers and counsel were succinct in their answers. I hope we can follow both of these examples during this time,” McConnell said Tuesday.

Senators aren’t allowed to speak during the trial. Instead, they are submitting their questions in writing. The questions will first be fielded through leadership on both sides, who have said their main object is to weed out duplicates or repetitive questions.

The questions will then be passed, alternating between parties, to Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial.

Roberts will read out the question, which side it is addressed to and which senators submitted it. When duplicative questions are merged, Roberts is expected to read out the name of each senator who originally submitted the questions.

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“Questions can be directed to House managers or the President’s counsel. Senators can’t ask each other questions,” a GOP aide added, outlining how the proceeding will go.

Senators and aides said they expected House Democrats and Trump’s team to take up to five minutes to respond per question—the same amount of time as during the Clinton trial. But that limit wasn’t strictly enforced in 1999.

Roberts referenced the Chief Justice Rehnquist laying out the five-minute limit on Tuesday, indicating that he would like to enforce the same standard.

“The [1999] transcript indicates this was met with ‘laughter,’” he said, prompting laughter from the senators in the chamber on Tuesday. “Nonetheless, managers and counsel generally limited their responses accordingly. I think the late chief’s time limit was a good one and would ask both sides to abide by it.”

The marathon session will likely involve plenty of tea leaf reading as leadership, their colleagues and reporters all keep a close eye on Republican senators including Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Mitt Romney (Utah), who are each viewed as swing votes on whether or not to call witnesses.

“I’ve already compiled a great number of them. I’ve got to winnow down my list,” Collins said during an interview with CBS News, referring to potential witnesses.

Collins and then-Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) submitted the only bipartisan question during the Clinton impeachment trial.

Questions from Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Doug Jones (Ala.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) will be under close scrutiny, with the three Democrats viewed as potential swing votes on whether or not to convict or acquit Trump.

Manchin and Jones have described themselves as undecided on Trump’s removal, while Sinema, who does not do hallway interviews in the Capitol, has pledged to keep an open mind during the impeachment proceedings.

Jones and Manchin have said they are working with staff and preparing to ask questions, with Jones telling reporters he would “try to pair them down.”

“You know, there’s 100 of us [and] everybody’s got questions, so we’ll see how it goes,” he said.

It could also give senators in both parties the chance to poke holes in the case presented by House Democrats and Trump’s legal, or to try to fill in gaps from the opening arguments.

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Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) unveiled nine questions he wants to ask, each of which will focus on top GOP areas of interest including the intelligence community whistleblower whose complaint helped spurred the impeachment inquiry as well as Hunter Biden.

Hawley, for example, wants to ask House managers if President Obama was aware of Hunter Biden’s work for Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company, while former Vice President Joe Biden was handling Ukraine policy.

“Before Vice President Joe Biden sought to remove [Ukrainian Prosecutor General Viktor] Shokin, did the White House Counsel’s Office or the Office of the Vice President legal counsel issue ethics advice approving Mr. Biden’s involvement in matters involving Shokin, despite the presence of Hunter Biden on the Burisma board?” Hawley asks in another question.

There’s no evidence that Biden was acting with his son’s interests in mind when he pushed for Shokin’s dismissal, a position that reflected the views of the Obama administration and U.S. allies in Europe. The former vice president has denied doing so and the GOP claims have been debunked by fact checkers.

Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), asked to muse on what questions he had, said he remained curious about why the House didn’t dig into the fight over getting former national security adviser John Bolton’s testimony.

“Why did the House let up so easily on John Bolton,” he said, “but I don’t think that’s a unique one.”

He added that he was also curious about the House managers view on Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney.

“You know there’s been so much talk about him,” Cramer said. “They really never pursued Rudy Giuliani … I’d like a little more clarity on that.” 

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