World

Trump impeachment trial: 3 unanswered questions — and 1 inevitable outcome

Ten days, 28,000 documents, 176 questions and nearly 200 pieces of video evidence later, the impeachment trial of U.S. President Donald Trump is headed to its anticipated conclusion: acquittal. We take a look at some lingering questions that remain unanswered despite the mass of evidence and arguments presented.

U.S. senators are expected to vote to acquit Donald Trump on 2 articles of impeachment Wednesday

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote Wednesday to acquit U.S. President Donald Trump on two articles of impeachment: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Ten days, 28,000 documents, 176 questions and nearly 200 pieces of video evidence later, the impeachment trial of Donald Trump is headed to its anticipated conclusion: acquittal.

As senators prepare to make closing statements ahead of a final vote Wednesday on the two articles of impeachment the U.S. president is facing, we take a look at some lingering questions that remain unanswered despite the mass of evidence and arguments presented.

Will we ever hear from those witnesses?

With the Democrats' hopes of having current and former White House advisers appear before the Senate dashed Friday, is there any chance we will hear what they have to say about Trump's suspension of aid to Ukraine last year?

When it comes to former national security adviser John Bolton, the answer is most certainly yes. He has a book coming out in March that details his time at the White House, and there's nothing stopping him from talking publicly before then.

Details from the book have already been leaking out and with a trial appearance off the table and attacks on his credibility and character mounting, Bolton may be more motivated to share his side of the story.

Former U.S. national security adviser John Bolton was ready to testify at the impeachment trial but didn't get the chance and may yet speak out. (Peter Nicholls/Reuters)

"The facts will come out. They will continue to come out," lead prosecutor Adam Schiff said, when referencing details from Bolton's book in the Senate.

The White House has signalled it might try to block parts of the manuscript, but Bolton's lawyer has said he doesn't believe anything in the book "could reasonably be considered classified."

  • Closing arguments begin at 11 a.m. ET Monday. Watch live on CBCNews.ca

The other witnesses the House managers prosecuting the impeachment case wanted to hear from — acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, his adviser, Robert Blair and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) official Michael Duffey — are another matter.

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney has defied a subpoena from the House of Representatives. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Mulvaney, who famously confirmed a quid pro quo existed over the Ukraine funding before walking it back, has thus far refused to comply with the subpoena issued by the House of Representatives last November, and there is no reason to think he would change his mind.

Blair, who was one of the officials on the line during the infamous July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and Duffey, were both involved in carrying out the president's orders to hold up the aid and could have key information about the rationale for the hold and the series of events that surrounded it.

But without the force of impeachment, Democrats could have a long series of court fights on their hands in trying to extract that information. 

Their lawsuit against former White House counsel Don McGahn, who refused to comply with a subpoena last April, is still winding its way through the courts.

WATCH | U.S. Senate votes down a motion to subpoena additional witnesses and documents:

Republican senators voted against allowing witnesses to testify at U.S. President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, moving one step closer to acquittal by the Senate. 2:25

Is there more to learn about the Ukraine affair?

It beggars belief, but despite months of probing by Congress and the media, we still don't really know when Trump first ordered a hold on military aid to Ukraine.

New details from Bolton's manuscript published Friday suggest it was at least as early as May 2019, but at trial, Trump's lawyers would not provide a specific date when asked about the timeline by Republican Sen. Mitt Romney.

They also couldn't say exactly when Trump became interested in Joe and Hunter Biden.

"I can't point to something in the record that shows President Trump at an earlier time mentioning specifically something related to Joe or Hunter Biden," Patrick Philbin said when asked whether there was evidence that Trump had looked into the Bidens before Joe Biden announced his candidacy for president in April 2019.

WATCH | White House counsel Patrick Philbin answers a question about Trump's interest in Ukraine:

Trump did, however, discuss corruption in Ukraine as early as 2017, Philbin said, and his personal attorney, Rudy Guiliani, was looking into the 2016 dismissal of prosecutor Viktor Shokin at the urging of then U.S. vice-president Joe Biden and a debunked theory of Ukraine's part in U.S. election interference since 2018, they said.

The House managers laid out a convincing chronology to show that the decision to dismiss Shokin was not Biden's personal initiative but part of a broader effort, supported by U.S. allies, to get rid of an ineffective prosecutor.

And while many of the Republican claims about Hunter Biden's appointment to the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma have been debunked, it wouldn't hurt to know more about just why, of all the cushy board appointments in the world, Biden accepted one at a company already under investigation for corruption at a time when his father was serving as vice-president and chief negotiator on Ukrainian affairs for the U.S. 

WATCH | During the trial, the defence raised questions about Hunter Biden's role in Burisma:

Trump impeachment lawyer Pam Bondi spent part of her presentation pointing out how several news outlets also tried to raise questions about Hunter Biden and his involvement in Ukraine gas company Burisma. 2:22

Why Biden Sr. didn't spot the conflict of interest and shut it down and why Hunter Biden remained on the board until April of last year have also not been adequately explained.

About Giuliani himself, there is still a lot more to learn, specifically how much his own business interests intersected with the work he was doing on Trump's behalf in Ukraine.

There are also outstanding questions about the extent to which other officials and advisers helped execute the aid hold and cover it up. 

House manager Zoe Lofgren alluded Friday to the volume of emails, memos, notes, cables and records that remain "at the White House, hidden by the president." 

House Democrats have subpoenaed documents from the White House, State Department, Department of Defence and OMB but have so far been stonewalled and unable to get the bulk of them.

That will likely continue to fall to civilian groups, which have been using Freedom of Information Act requests to get some of those records, although most have been heavily redacted.

Former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch announced last week that she is resigning from the foreign service. (Andrew Harnik/The Associated Press)

There may also be more to learn about the dismissal of former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. While her removal was well documented through her own testimony and that of her fellow diplomats at the House impeachment hearings, a recording that emerged in the first week of the trial suggests Trump was discussing it a year prior to her firing in May 2019.

Yovanovitch announced this week that she is retiring from the foreign service, which means we could eventually hear directly from her.

How will the acquittal impact the November election?

One refrain that sounded throughout the trial from both sides was that the upcoming presidential election was under threat.

For Republicans, it was the impeachment process itself that threatened to "tear up the ballots" of American voters. For Democrats, who asserted throughout the trial that the sole purpose of Trump's suspension of the aid was to extort information on his political opponent that would help him "cheat" in the November 2020, an acquittal would give Trump free rein to "continue to seek to corrupt the upcoming election."

To what extent Trump will — explicitly or tacitly — endorse foreign interference in the election is hard to say, but the legal arguments presented at trial could give him the justification to do so. 

WATCH | Defence counsel argues that receiving credible information from foreign countries about a political opponent is not illegal:

White House lawyer Patrick Philbin tells senators that not all foreign interference in an American election is illegal. 0:15

Philbin argued in the question and answer portion of the trial that "mere information" provided by foreign actors would not violate campaign finance laws. Trump attorney Alan Dershowitz told senators that leveraging presidential power to further one's electoral interests was not an abuse of power as long as the president believed his re-election was in the national interest.

"Dershowitz and Philbin have put together a case for the president as king," said constitutional legal expert Michael Gerhardt, who testified in the House impeachment hearings. "They have clearly argued for making the president above the law." 

WATCH | Alan Dershowitz defends Trump's effort to undermine political opponent:

Trump team lawyer Alan Dershowitz argues the U.S. president Donald Trump cannot be impeached because he was acting in what he believed to be the national interest. 5:36

As the election campaign revs up, we can expect the Democrats to continue to question the legitimacy of the verdict and Republicans to trumpet their victory over an illegitimate process.

How that will play with voters will likely come down to party affiliation. Americans remain about evenly divided on whether Trump should be removed from office.

Moderate Republicans have clearly calculated that it's better to remain loyal to Trump than to court the votes of independents, who, a poll conducted during the trial suggests, wanted to hear from witnesses.

Of the two Republicans who did break ranks in the witness vote, one is already feeling repercussions: Romney, a vocal Trump critic who has clashed with the president, has been pilloried by Republican colleagues and pundits and disinvited from the annual mass gathering of conservatives known as CPAC.

It's not likely the Democrats will draw up a new article of impeachment between now and November, and given that the Department of Justice has said a sitting president cannot be indicted, Trump will almost certainly remain immune from prosecution while in office.

One answered question

One question we do know the answer to is whether the Senate will vote to acquit. The answer was never really in doubt. To convict Trump, 20 Republicans would have to vote with the Democrats, and with no new witness testimony forthcoming, they have little reason to. 

The sole outlier is Romney, who has said from the start of the impeachment process that he's keeping an open mind. The former presidential candidate may cement his lone-wolf status by voting to convict but risks further angering his already vocal critics in his heavily Republican home state of Utah.

A few centrist Democrats from Trump-friendly states — Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Doug Jones of Alabama — may also break with their party, which could give the acquittal a thin veneer of bipartisanship.

Short of removing Trump from office, the Senate could vote to censure him. Some senators were in favour of such a move during the Clinton impeachment in 1999, but it failed and has only been used one other time — against Andrew Jackson in 1834, and his censure was expunged three years later.

Keep an eye on this guy in Wednesday's impeachment vote. Democratic Sen. Doug Jones is up for re-election in the Trump-friendly state of Alabama in November and may break ranks with his party and vote against convicting the president. (J. Scott Applewhite/The Associated Press)

About the Author

Kazi Stastna

Senior Producer

Kazi Stastna is a senior producer with CBCNews.ca. She has worked as a features writer and copy editor with CBC's digital news team for 10 years. Prior to that, she was a reporter and editor in Montreal, Germany and the Czech Republic. She's currently writing from Washington, D.C.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.