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Key moments from Day 1 of the question and answer phase in Trump's Senate trial

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By Dareh Gregorian  with NBC News Politics
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Presiding officer Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts reads the first question from the Democrats during the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 29, 2020.   -   Copyright  Senate Television via AP

House impeachment managers and President Donald Trump's defense team faced questions from senators on Wednesday as Trump's Senate trial entered a new phase.

The first query, from the three Republicans who are most likely to vote to continue the trial with witnesses, may well have been the most pivotal.

Here's a look at some of the best — and most important — moments from Wednesday's question and answer session.

Collins' question gets at witness issue

Right off the bat, Chief Justice John Roberts read the White House lawyers a question from Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, posed on behalf of herself, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah.

"If President Trump had more than one motive for his alleged conduct, such as the pursuit of personal political advantage, rooting out corruption and the promotion of national interests, how should the Senate consider more than one motive in its assessment of Article One?" the question said, referring to the first article of impeachment against Trump for abuse of power.

Trump lawyer Patrick Philbin replied the House managers charged that Trump's motives for withholding aid to Ukraine were purely personal, and that if his client had mixed motives for withholding aid from Ukraine, the House's case falls apart.

"Once you're into mixed motive land, it's clear that their case fails. There can't possibly be an impeachable offense at all," he said, noting it would be impossible to know how much each factor weighed in Trump's mind.

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the lead House manager, told the senators that Trump's motive was "clear" and "corrupt." If senators have "any questions about whether it was the factor or a factor," they should call former national security adviser John Bolton to testify about a conversation he had with the president on the subject.

Dershowitz's argument about national interest

Responding to a question from Sen. Ted Cruz about whether quid pro quos are often used in foreign policy, Trump lawyer Alan Dershowitz suggested there would have been nothing wrong with the president seeking foreign help for his re-election.

That's because a president could rightfully think that his re-election is the country's best interest. "If a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment," Dershowitz said. "Every public official I know believes that his election is in the public interest," he added.

Schiff said the Senate adopting that stance would give "carte blanche" for more foreign interference in the future.

Executive privilege

Republicans asked two questions about why House managers never sought legal challenges to White House claims of executive privilege.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, one of the House managers, gave a simple explanation — the White House never actually claimed executive privilege. "What the president did raise was this notion of blanket defiance," Jeffries said, ordering executive branch employees not to cooperate with or turn over documents to the House impeachment inquiry.

Philbin offered a different explanation. "The reason there was no attempt is that the House Democrats were just in a hurry," he said.

Bolton's long shadow

House managers used several of their answers to argue that the senators should call Bolton to testify in the wake of a bombshell New York Times story that he discussed the frozen aid with the president.

Philbin said if the Senate were to call witnesses, the trial would "drag on for months."

Sen. Tom Carper, a Democrat from Delaware, then asked the House managers, "Isn't it true that depositions of the three witnesses in the Clinton trial were completed in only one day each? And isn't it true that the Chief Justice as presiding officer in this trial has the authority to resolve any claims of privilege or other witness issues without any delay."

"Mr. Chief Justice, the answer is yes," Jeffries replied.

Philbin countered that testimony from Bolton would lead to a lengthy fight over executive privilege.