WASHINGTON – On Friday, the 11th day of the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, the Senate voted not to allow additional witnesses or evidence, setting the stage for a final vote next week on two articles accusing him of abuse of office and obstruction of Congress.
The 51-49 vote against more witnesses and evidence came after the Trump’s defense team argued that the additions would not be unnecessary because the president committed no impeachable offenses.
“Do these allegations rise to the level..sufficient for a removal of office for a duly elected president of the United States? It doesn’t, especially so when we are in an election year,” Jay Sekulow, one of Trump’s lead attorneys, told senators.
The lead House manager, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, reminded the Senate that, in the words of James Madison, it was the “great anchor of the government.”
“There is a storm moving through this Capitol,” Schiff said. “Its winds are strong and they blow us in uncertain and dangerous directions. Remove that anchor and we are adrift. But if we hold true, if we have faith that the ship of state can survive the truth, this storm shall pass.”
But the Republican senators, except for two, held firm against witnesses and, presumably, are determined to acquit Trump.
Under an agreement between Republican leaders and the White House, the final vote whether to convict or acquit Trump is scheduled for Wednesday at 4 p.m. – the day after the president is scheduled to deliver his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress. Before that, attorneys for the president and the House Democratic managers will make final arguments on Monday, and senators will be permitted to speak Tuesday about their positions on the case.
The Senate’s Republican majority Friday also rejected a series of follow-up Democratic amendments calling for specific witnesses, including former National Security Adviser John Bolton, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, two other Office of Management and Budget officials, and for subpoenaing documents from the OMB and the Departments of State and Defense. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, proposed an amendment to authorize Supreme Court Justice John Roberts to rule on motions to subpoena relevant witnesses and documents, but that, too, was rejected.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said the Senate’s first no-witness vote was “a perfidy.”
“America will remember this day, unfortunately, where the Senate did not live up to its responsibilities… turned away from truth and went along with a sham trial,” he told reporters. “If the president is acquitted with no witnesses, no documents, the acquittal will have no value… It is a tragedy on a very large scale.”
Van Hollen, D-Maryland, tweeted: “By blocking the sworn testimony of key witnesses, GOP senators just told America they are more interested in covering up the truth than finding it. For the first time in our history, they blocked all witnesses in an impeachment trial. There is no vindication in a sham trial.”
Trump took to Twitter shortly before the vote on witnesses: “The Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats keep chanting “fairness”, when they put on the most unfair Witch Hunt in the history of the U.S. Congress. They had 17 Witnesses, we were allowed ZERO, and no lawyers. They didn’t do their job, had no case. The Dems are scamming America!”
Surprisingly, some Republicans appeared to acknowledge that Trump did wrong. He is charged in connection with his withholding of nearly $400 million in military aid from Ukraine in exchange for an announcement of investigations by that nation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, and into alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
“Just because actions meet a standard of impeachment does not mean it is in the best interest of the country to remove a president from office,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R- Florida, said in a statement Friday.
Democrats saw the critical witness vote differently.
“I was so bitterly disappointed in my colleagues for voting uniformly in a partisan way and putting party above country,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, told reporters following the vote.
House impeachment managers presented their last-ditch arguments to senators – and Trump’s lawyers countered – amidst new revelations outside the Senate chamber.
The New York Times reported a new excerpt from Bolton’s unpublished book detailing a May 2019 meeting in which Mulvaney, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and Bolton were all in the same room discussing withholding aid from Ukraine and letting President Volodymyr Zelensky know about it. Schumer called the news a “thunderbolt.”
Later, the attorney for Rudy Giuliani operative Lev Parnas wrote a letter to McConnell stating that his client had information “directly relevant to the president’s impeachment inquiry,” including Parnas’s “actions in Ukraine on behalf of the President, as directed by Mr. Giuliani.”
“The truth will come out — and it’s continuing to,” Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colorado, another House manager, told senators. “The question here, before this body, is what do you want your place in history to be?”
Key Republican senators whom Democrats have been trying to convince of their pro-evidence stance announced their decisions before the day’s proceedings: Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander announced they had decided to vote “no,” while Maine’s Susan Collins and Utah’s Mitt Romney said they supported hearing from new witnesses.
In Alexander’s announcement, the senator called Trump’s pressure on Zelensky “inappropriate.”
“I worked with other senators to make sure that we have the right to ask for more documents and witnesses, but there is no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven and that does not meet the United States Constitution’s high bar for an impeachable offense,” Alexander said in a statement Thursday night.
Collins said in a statement Thursday that the Senate should follow the model used in President Bill Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial, during which she also supported calling new witnesses.
“I believe hearing from certain witnesses would give each side the opportunity to more fully and fairly make their case, resolve any ambiguities, and provide additional clarity,” Collins wrote.
Four senators running for president – independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Democrats Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Michael Bennet of Colorado and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts – have been held in Washington for days with Monday’s Iowa caucuses looming.
Klobuchar said she believes the American people will understand her potential absence from the caucuses.
“Bring it on,” Klobuchar said of the conflicting events. “I’m in the arena, I have a job to do.”
Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-New York, announced that he would have to miss the remainder of the trial to care for his wife, who’s battling pancreatic cancer. In a tweet Friday afternoon, the congressman said he had “every faith in (his) colleagues and hope(s) the Senate will do what is right.”