Trump Acquittal Near With Senate Likely to Deny Witnesses
(Bloomberg) -- The most consequential day in Donald Trump’s impeachment trial begins in the Senate on Friday, with Republican leaders likely to muster enough votes to block witnesses and rapidly move to acquit the president.
The decision late Thursday by Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a Republican who had been considered a potential supporter of testimony, to vote against new evidence largely dashed Democrats hopes of prevailing.
His announcement is a victory for Trump’s legal team and, especially, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had been steering the trial to a quick conclusion after two weeks of debate and questioning.
“We took another big step towards the president’s acquittal in the Senate today, and look forward to completing this impeachment process as soon as possible,” chief White House congressional liaison Eric Ueland said late Thursday.
The Senate starts Friday with House prosecutors and Trump’s defense each delivering two hours of closing arguments. Then senators vote on calling witnesses. If the Senate rejects that option, the chamber would move toward a vote on final judgment on the two impeachment articles against Trump. There’s little chance that two-thirds of the Republican-controlled chamber would vote to convict and oust the president.
“If my Republican colleagues refuse to even consider witnesses and documents in this trial, this country is headed to the greatest cover-up since Watergate,” Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Friday.
The final vote would clear Trump in time for his delivery of the State of the Union address, which he’ll deliver next Tuesday from the same House chamber where Democrats adopted the impeachment articles six weeks ago. It also gives him a chance to claim vindication and a rallying point for supporters just as the 2020 election campaign fully gets under way with the Iowa caucuses on Monday.
Democrats would need four Republican votes to get a majority to call witnesses in the trial. But only Utah’s Mitt Romney and Maine’s Susan Collins have backed hearing from witnesses, including former Trump National Security Advisor John Bolton.
The remaining potential GOP vote for witnesses is Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, who has previously indicated openness to calling witnesses. But since a meeting with McConnell Wednesday morning she’s repeatedly refused to huiscuss the issue.
At best, that leaves the question of calling witnesses at a 50-50 tie. Chief Justice John Roberts could decide whether he should step in as a tie-breaker. Both McConnell and Schumer have expressed doubt that he would. If Roberts declines to act, the witness vote would fail.
Senator Jeff Merkley said early Friday he doesn’t think Roberts would step in to break a tie vote in the Senate.
“I do not see that in this chief justice,” the Oregon Democrat told CNN in an interview.
Senator Dick Durbin, the Democrat in charge of counting his party’s votes, also said he doesn’t expect Roberts to rule on a draw. He said his party is resigned to the trial ending quickly with no new witnesses.
“We are resigned to this happening,” Durbin said. “It’s clear after all the days we spent on this, Republicans are afraid of a trial and afraid of the truth.”
Alexander said in a statement released late Thursday night that the prosecutors already had enough evidence to prove key factual allegations in the impeachment articles, but the judgment of Trump’s conduct should be left to voters.
“There is no need for more evidence to prove that the president asked Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter,” Alexander, who is retiring when his term ends next January, said. “The question then is not whether the president did it, but whether the United States Senate or the American people should decide what to do about what he did.”
Alexander said that, while Trump’s actions were “inappropriate,” he didn’t believe they justify removing a president from office. That reasoning dovetails legal arguments the president’s defense team made asserting broad protection for the president’s authority, even when used for personal political gain.
Bolton reportedly wrote in a book manuscript that Trump explicitly linked release of military aid to Ukraine in order to get that country’s government to announce an investigation of the Bidens, which would have aided the president’s re-election campaign by tarnishing one of his chief political rivals.
Trump lawyer Patrick Philbin argued that calling Bolton would add nothing to the case.
“Even if he gave that testimony, the articles of impeachment would still not rise to an impeachable offense,” Philbin said.
Focus on Democrats
The possibility of damaging testimony from the president’s senior aides about his dealings with Ukraine has always been considered the most significant and unpredictable aspect of the trial.
If the vote on witnesses fails as expected, the focus will shift to three Democrats who represent states Trump carried in the last election: Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Doug Jones of Alabama and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. None of them has said how they will vote on removing the president from office.
Jones, who is running for re-election in November in a solidly Trump state, said he remains undecided on the impeachment articles. “This case is not over,” he said after the Senate wrapped up work Thursday.
Democratic votes for acquittal would add bipartisan legitimacy to the verdict. In Bill Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial, 10 Republicans voted for acquittal on one charge and 5 Republicans for acquittal on the other, joining all Democrats in the chamber.
The country overwhelmingly supports hearing testimony from witnesses, according to multiple polls over the last month. In a Quinnipiac University poll taken Jan. 22 through 27, three-quarters of voters said the Senate should hear from witnesses. But as in most other surveys, the Quinnipiac poll also showed Americans are evenly divided on removing Trump from office.
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