Trial highlights: After drama, quick vote to block witnesses
WASHINGTON (AP) — After a dramatic night and a day of expectation, the Senate voted in quick order to block Democratic calls for new witnesses and documents at President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial. The 51-49 vote Friday, just before the dinner hour Eastern time, all but ensures Trump’s acquittal when senators answer the final impeachment roll call on Wednesday.
While the vote against witness testimony was decisive, the result was expected after retiring GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said late Thursday night he was against seeking new evidence. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the lone holdout, quickly followed by announcing her “no” vote as senators convened Friday afternoon.
Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah voted along with the Democrats for witnesses, but that was not enough.
Highlights of Friday’s session and what’s ahead as senators conduct just the third impeachment trial of a president.
LET VOTERS DECIDE
Alexander and other Republicans said that even if Trump committed offenses charged by the House, they are not impeachable — especially in an election year when voters will get to render their verdict on Trump in November.
“I didn’t need any more evidence because I thought it was proved that the president did what he was charged with doing,” Alexander told reporters Friday. “But that didn’t rise to the level of an impeachable offense.”
Trump is charged with improperly seeking to influence a key U.S. ally, Ukraine, to aid investigations of his political rivals in exchange for badly needed military aid.
In a statement Thursday night, Alexander said the question “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. I believe that the Constitution provides that the people should make that decision in the presidential election that begins in Iowa on Monday.”
‘CONGRESS HAS FAILED’
Murkowski, who has criticized Trump’s behavior, said she, too, would oppose more testimony in the charged atmosphere.
“Given the partisan nature of this impeachment from the very beginning I have come to the conclusion that there will be no fair trial in the Senate,″ Murkowski said in a statement. “I don’t believe the continuation of this process will change anything. It is sad for me to admit that, as an institution, the Congress has failed.″
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer used even stronger words, saying the vote to reject witnesses was “a grand tragedy,″ one of the worst in the Senate’s history.
“America will remember this day, unfortunately, where the Senate did not live up to its responsibilities, where the Senate turned away from truth and went along with a sham trial,″ Schumer said immediately after the vote.
If Trump is acquitted as expected by the Republican controlled Senate, “the acquittal will have no value because Americans will know that this trial was not a real trial,″ Schumer said.
Trump is almost assured of eventual acquittal with the Senate nowhere near the 67 votes needed for conviction and removal.
To hear more witnesses, it would have taken four Republicans to break with the 53-seat majority and join with all Democrats in demanding more testimony. But that effort fell short.
Chief Justice John Roberts, presiding over the impeachment trial, said he lacked authority to break a 50-50 tie, should one have emerged, but the issue was never tested. “It would be inappropriate for me, an unelected official from a different branch of government, to assert the power to change that result so that the motion would succeed,″ Roberts said.
Murkowski noted in announcing her decision to oppose witnesses that she did not want to drag the chief justice into the partisan fray.
After the much-anticipated vote on witnesses, senators moved to push off final voting on Trump’s fate to Wednesday.
The delay in timing showed the weight of a historic vote bearing down on senators, despite prodding by Trump, who is eager to have acquittal behind him in an election year. He will deliver his State of the Union speech Tuesday night.
Under an agreement approved Friday night, the trial will resume Monday for closing arguments by the two legal teams, with time Monday and Tuesday for senators to speak. The final vote on the two articles of impeachment would be Wednesday afternoon, the day after Trump’s speech.
White House aide Eric Ueland said Trump “is gratified the Senate will set a schedule for his acquittal as quickly as possible. We do not believe that schedule interferes with his ability to deliver a strong, confident State of the Union next week in the House of Representatives to the country and the world.″