Senate slams door on witnesses in Trump impeachment trial

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate on Friday rejected calling witness to the impeachment trial of President Trump, falling short by a slim margin and setting up a final vote to end the proceedings.

Two Republicans — Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine — voted with all 47 Senate Democrats in favor of considering votes to call witnesses and to subpoena documents from the White House.

Two more votes were needed to reach the simple majority needed to pass the resolution. 

The Senate spent a long block of time late Friday before the vote working out an agreement on how the trial will end, but had not yet reached an agreement on when a final vote regarding the president’s guilt or innocence will take place. A 67-vote supermajority is needed to convict, and that was never a likely outcome.

The no-witnesses outcome had been expected since late Thursday when a possible key swing vote, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., announced just before midnight that he would oppose calling witnesses.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Friday that a trial without witnesses would be a “sham trial” and the “greatest cover up since Watergate.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowsy is seen casting a "No" vote for calling witnesses in the impeachment trial of Donald Trump. (Senate TV via Yahoo News)

Alexander said the impeachment proceedings “proved” the president inappropriately withheld military assistance from Ukraine to pressure the government there to announce investigations that could hurt Joe Biden, a rival for the presidency, but that he did not think it merited removing Trump from office.

Democrats had insisted since the House of Representatives formally impeached Trump in December that the Senate should allow new witnesses to testify before the Senate. They requested four top Trump officials in particular to come: Mick Mulvaney, acting White House chief of staff; John Bolton, former national security adviser; Michael Duffey, Office of Management and Budget associate director for national security; and Robert Blair, senior adviser to the acting White House chief of staff.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., delayed sending the articles of impeachment over to the Senate until mid-January, in an ultimately fruitless effort to extract concessions from McConnell on the issue of calling these witnesses. 

McConnell also defeated efforts to get a witness agreement at the beginning of the trial, nearly two weeks ago. He obtained support from all Republican senators for trial rules that put off the question until after six days of opening arguments and two days of questions. He did so in part by releasing an initial set of rules that were so stringent that it gave him ways to make concessions in exchange for support from key senators who might have otherwise considered voting in favor of calling witnesses at the beginning of the trial.

This past Sunday, news of allegations in Bolton’s book — that he had firsthand knowledge of Trump’s directing the pressure campaign on Ukraine — provided the last real jolt of energy toward calling witnesses. But many Republican senators coalesced around the argument that Trump had behaved badly but that his actions did not “meet the Constitution’s ‘treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors’ standard for an impeachable offense,” as Alexander said in his statement Thursday night.

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., told CNN that Alexander “speaks for lots and lots of us” Republican senators.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, echoed Alexander’s rationale in a statement issued Friday 

“I believe that some of the president’s actions in this case – including asking a foreign country to investigate a potential political opponent and the delay of aid to Ukraine – were wrong and inappropriate,” Portman said. “But I do not believe that the president’s actions rise to the level of removing a duly-elected president from office and taking him off the ballot in the middle of an election.”

If the president were found guilty by the Senate and removed from office he would also be barred from holding public office ever again.

Alexander and Portman were echoing a version of the argument made by Trump attorney Alan Dershowitz, who said only a criminal act that was meant to personally enrich the president could be the basis for removing the president.

Lead House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., called Dershowitz’s rationale a “descent into constitutional madness.”

Constitutional lawyers said the Dershowitz defense would give this president, and any future president, carte blanche to abuse his or her power.

Other Republican senators who announced their opposition to new witnesses on Friday offered a variety of other reasons for their decision.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said Friday that she would vote against witnesses in part because she did not want to create a 50-50 tie that would require Chief Justice John Roberts, who presides over the trial, to either break the tie with a ruling or allow the measure to fail by abstaining from weighing in.

And Murkowski took aim at colleagues like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who asked a question on Thursday taking aim at Roberts. Since senators submit their questions in writing, that put the chief justice in the position of reading a question about himself.

“Does the fact that the Chief Justice is presiding over an impeachment trial in which Republican senators have thus far refused to allow witnesses or evidence contribute to the loss of legitimacy of the Chief Justice, the Supreme Court, and the Constitution?” said Roberts, as he read out Warren’s question.

Murkowski was clearly not pleased with Warren’s tactic and alluded to it in her statement.

“It has also become clear some of my colleagues intend to further politicize this process, and drag the Supreme Court into the fray, while attacking the Chief Justice. I will not stand for nor support that effort. We have already degraded our institution for partisan political benefit, and I will not enable those who wish to pull down another,” Murkowski said.

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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., walks away from the media to the Senate chamber during a break in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump at the Capitol Wednesday Jan 29, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y., center, steps up to a microphone as Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., left, and Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., finish speaking with reporters during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
As President Donald Trump's impeachment trial shifts to questions from senators, the lawmakers use these cards to hand-write their inquiries which are passed up to Chief Justice John Roberts, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, pauses as he speaks to a reporter outside the Senate chamber during a break in President Donald Trump's impeachment trial, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, right, confers with his communications staffer Katie Mulhall Quintela, left, during a break in President Donald Trump's impeachment trial at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Democratic impeachment manager House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., right, walks out of the Senate chamber during a break in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump at the Capitol Wednesday Jan 29, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., walks out of the Senate chamber during a break in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump at the Capitol Wednesday, Jan 29, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
House Democratic impeachment manager, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., walks out of the Senate chamber during a break in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump at the Capitol Wednesday Jan 29, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
House Democratic impeachment manager Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., right, walks out of the Senate chamber during a break in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump at the Capitol, Wednesday, Jan 29, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, right, speaks to the media during a break in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump at the Capitol, Wednesday, Jan 29, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y., waits to speaks with reporters during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, rides an escalator before speaking with reporters during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks with reporters during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the lead Democratic manager, leaves the Senate chamber during a break as the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress stretches into the night, in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y. waits to speak with reporters during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., leaves the Senate chamber during a break as the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress stretches into the night, in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., talks to the media break in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol Wednesday Jan 29, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., center, walks with aides to the Senate chamber after a break in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol Wednesday Jan 29, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
In this image from video, presiding officer Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts reads a question during the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. (Senate Television via AP)
In this image from video, House impeachment manager Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., answers a question during the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. (Senate Television via AP)
In this image from video, House impeachment manager Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, answers a question during the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. (Senate Television via AP)
In this image from video, Eric Herschmann, an attorney for President Donald Trump, answers a question during the impeachment trial against Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. (Senate Television via AP)
In this image from video, Eric Herschmann, an attorney for President Donald Trump, answers a question during the impeachment trial against Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. (Senate Television via AP)
In this image from video, White House counsel Pat Cipollone answers a question during the impeachment trial against Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. (Senate Television via AP)
In this image from video, House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., speaks during the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. (Senate Television via AP)
In this image from video, White House counsel Pat Cipollone speaks during the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. (Senate Television via AP)
In this image from video, House impeachment manager Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., answers a question during the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. (Senate Television via AP)
In this image from video, House impeachment manager Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, walks from the podium after answering a question during the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. (Senate Television via AP)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walks to the Senate chamber after a break in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol Wednesday Jan 29, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts departs at the end of the day in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts departs at the end of the day in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., speaks with reporters as he departs at the end of the day in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
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