Senate Speeds Toward Likely Trump Acquittal As Lawyers Close

The Senate sped toward a near-certain acquittal of Donald Trump Saturday in his second impeachment trial after House managers and the former president’s defense struck a deal that avoided a standoff over testimony.

Chances of conviction, always slim, plunged shortly before senators gathered for the proceedings when Republican leader Mitch McConnell informed his GOP colleagues he would vote to acquit. That sent a powerful signal to any wavering Republicans not to support conviction, which would require the votes of 17 Republicans.

The House managers initially asked for testimony from Republican Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler but then agreed to instead enter into the record her statement about a phone call between Trump and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy in which, by her account, Trump rebuffed a request for help during the Capitol riot.

Lead impeachment manager Representative Jamie Raskin in closing said Trump “abused his office by siding with the insurrectionists at almost every point, rather than the Congress of the United States, rather than with the Constitution.”

“It’s now clear beyond a doubt he supported the actions of the mob and so he must be convicted. It’s that simple,” he added.

Trump lawyer Michael van der Veen countered that Trump’s fiery speech to supporters before the attack on the Capitol was well within ordinary political rhetoric and said the former president never urged the crowd to turn to violence.

“Despite all of the video played, at no point in their presentation did you hear the House managers play a single example of Mr. Trump urging anyone to engage in violence of any kind,” he said, calling the Democrats’ claims “false and defamatory.”

House managers initial request for witnesses surprised Senate Democrats and left many lawmakers unsure what might come next.

After the Senate voted 55-45 consider the witness request, the chamber went into recess while leaders, impeachment managers and Trump’s defense lawyers negotiated the compromise. A fight over witnesses threatened to prolong the trial and potentially interrupt work on President Joe Biden’s agenda. A White House official said the administration wasn’t involved in the discussion about calling witnesses.

Herrera Beutler, one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in the House, said in a statement Friday night that McCarthy told her he asked Trump to call off his supporters. According to Herrera Beutler’s account, Trump first claimed that the rioters were members of the leftist movement Antifa. When McCarthy responded that they were indeed his supporters, Trump told him, “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are,” Herrera Beutler said in the statement.

Trump’s attorney Michael van der Veen said, “it’s my understanding it’s been reported that Mr. McCarthy disclaims rumors that have been the basis of this morning’s antics.” He threatened to request 100 or more witnesses if the Senate moved forward.

McCarthy’s office didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Raskin read Herrera Beutler’s entire statement into the record before moving on to his final arguments.

McConnell’s decision, first reported by Politico, is likely to have a significant impact on any Republicans who had been wavering on a verdict, which is expected later Saturday.

“While a close call, I am persuaded that impeachments are a tool primarily of removal and we therefore lack jurisdiction,” McConnell said in his message to Republicans.

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