Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. inserted himself into the impeachment trial Thursday, refusing to read a question from Sen. Ran Paul that reportedly mentions a suspected name of the whistleblower who ignited the entire affair.
“The presiding officer declines to read the question as submitted,” the chief justice said.
He did not say what his objection is, but he and Mr. Paul, Kentucky Republican, have apparently been having a back-and-forth over the senator’s desire to mention the whistleblower’s name on the chamber floor.
Mr. Paul, on Twitter earlier in the day, said his question was “about whether or not individuals who were holdovers from the Obama National Security Council and Democrat partisans conspired with Schiff staffers to plot impeaching the president before there were formal House impeachment proceedings.”
There is a theory among Republicans that the whistleblower might have worked for former Vice President Joseph R. Biden at a time when Mr. Biden, leading U.S. policy, was pressuring the Ukraine government to fire its chief prosecutor.
Democratic impeachment managers insist Mr. Biden’s actions were on the up and up, and that the former vice president doesn’t need to be part of the trial against Mr. Trump.
The chief justice’s role in impeachment is increasingly under scrutiny.
Democrats on Wednesday suggested the Senate cede key decisions to him, allowing him to rule on questions of evidence and assertions of privilege if the Senate expands its trial to include witnesses and documents.
Senate Democrats say they would agree to accept all of the chief justice’s decisions.
But the president’s legal team rejected that idea, saying it would cede the Senate’s powers to set its own rules and make its own judgments to another branch of government.
There’s also a question as to whether the chief justice would cast a vote should the Senate end on a 50-50 tie on procedural votes, such as whether to call additional witnesses.
Senators say the rules could be read either way on whether Chief Justice Roberts should cast a vote. If he didn’t, the motion would fail for lack of achieving a majority.
Sen. Josh Hawley, Missouri Republican, suggested Thursday it would be a major intervention for the chief justice to intervene.
“Not casting a tie-breaking vote is him just staying out of it,” the senator told reporters at the Capitol.
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