Watch live: Senate to vote on Trump trial witnesses with end in sight
WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Donald Trump appeared headed for all-but-certain impeachment acquittal as senators prepared on Friday to reject efforts to call more witnesses and moved to start bringing a close to only the third impeachment trial in American history.
The timing of a final vote on Trump was still uncertain. But the outcome was increasingly clear after a key Republican, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, announced he didn't need to see or hear more testimony. He said the Democrats had proved their case, that Trump abused power and obstructed Congress, but he did not think Trump's actions rose to the impeachable level.
Eager for acquittal, the president and his allies in the Republican majority are brushing past new revelations from John Bolton, his former national security adviser, as well as historic norms that could make this the first Senate impeachment trial without witnesses. They resisted any efforts by Democrats to keep the proceedings going for weeks.
Voting on the witness question was expected late Friday after hours of debate, with other votes stretching well into the evening. The timing was not set.
Democrats warned the outcome won’t mean a true acquittal for Trump but a cover-up.
“They’re about to dismiss this with a shrug and a ‘Who cares?’" said the Senate's third-ranking Democrat, Patty Murray of Washington. "The full truth will come out.”
The impeachment of the president is playing out in an election year before a divided nation. Primary voting begins Monday in Iowa and Trump wants action on his trial finished in time for his State of the Union address next Tuesday.
Protesters stood outside the Capitol as senators arrived on Friday, but few visitors have been watching from the Senate galleries.
Despite the Democrats’ singular, sometimes-passionate focus on calling witnesses after revelations from John Bolton, the former national security adviser, the numbers are now falling short. It would take four Republicans to break with the 53-seat majority and join with all Democrats to demand more testimony.
Chief Justice John Roberts, in the rare role presiding over the impeachment trial, could break a tie, but that seems unlikely.
Alexander said in a statement late Thursday there was “no need for more evidence,” giving the Trump team the likelihood of a Senate vote in its direction. Not that he accepted Trump's repeated claim of “perfect” dealings with Ukraine.
Alexander told reporters at the Capitol that after "nine long days and hearing 200 video clips of witnesses ... I didn't need any more evidence because I thought it was proved that the president did what he was charged with doing."
Said Alexander: "But that didn't rise to the level of an impeachable offense, so I didn't I didn't need any more evidence to make my decision.”
Asked whether Trump deserved reelection in the wake of such wrongdoing, Alexander said, “Everyone will have to make that decision for themselves.”
Trump was impeached by the House last month on two charges, first that he abused his power like no other president, jeopardizing Ukraine and U.S.-Ukraine relations. Democrats say Trump asked the vulnerable ally to investigate Joe Biden and debunked theories of 2016 election interference, withholding American security aid to the country as it battled Russia at its border. The second article of impeachment says Trump then obstructed the House probe in a way that threatened the nation's three-branch system of checks and balances.
Before Alexander's statement, Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said late Thursday she would vote to allow witnesses in the impeachment trial, briefly raising Democrats' hopes for a breakthrough.
But Alexander weighed in minutes later.
Collins, Alexander and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska played an outsize role in the final hours of debate with pointed questions. Another Republican senator, Mitt Romney of Utah, has made clear he will vote for witnesses.
Murkowski was expected to announce her decision on Friday, ahead of voting.
Democrats built pressure on senators for testimony, but Trump's lawyers argued it would take too long as they sped forward, even after Bolton's potential eyewitness account to Trump's actions detailed in a forthcoming book brought uncertainty.
Bolton's forthcoming book contends he personally heard Trump say he wanted military aid withheld from Ukraine until it agreed to investigate the Bidens. Trump denies saying such a thing.
Thursday's testimony included soaring pleas to the senators-as-jurors who will decide Trump's fate, to either stop a president who Democrats say has tried to cheat in the upcoming election and will again, or to shut down impeachment proceedings that Republicans insist were never more than a partisan attack.
“Let’s give the country a trial they can be proud of,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, the lead prosecutor for House Democrats. He offered to take just one week for depositions of new witnesses, sparking new discussions.
Trump attorney Eric Herschmann declared the Democrats are only prosecuting the president because they can't beat him in 2020.
“We trust the American people to decide who should be our president,” Herschmann said. “Enough is Enough. Stop all of this.”
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was toiling to keep Friday's vote on schedule even as the trial was unearthing fresh evidence from Bolton's new book and raising alarms among Democrats and some Republicans about a Trump attorney’s controversial defense.
In a day-after tweet, Trump attorney Alan Dershowitz, complained about the portrayal of his Wednesday night testimony when he said a president is essentially immune from impeachment if he believes his actions to be in the “national interest.”
That idea frustrated some inside the White House, who felt Dershowitz's claim was unnecessary and inflammatory — irking senators with a controversial claim of vast executive powers. But those officials left it to Dershowitz to back away, wary that any public White House retreat would be viewed poorly by the president.
“I said nothing like that,” the retired professor tweeted Thursday.
His words Wednesday night: "Every public official that I know believes that his election is in the public interest. And if a president does something which he believes will help him get elected is in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment."
Asked about it in the trial Thursday, Democrat Schiff, said, "Have we learned nothing in the last half century?”
Schiff drew on the lessons of the Nixon era to warn of a “normalization of lawlessness” in the Trump presidency.
The focus was more narrow as debate closed Thursday night: What would Collins, Alexander and Murkowski do?
Murkowski drew a reaction when she asked simply: "Why should this body not call Ambassador Bolton?"
Alexander, whose career was influenced by the late Howard Baker — who broke with his party over Richard Nixon — also captured attention when he questioned partisanship in the proceedings thus far.
In response to Alexander and others, Democrat Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, a congressional staffer during Watergate and now a House prosecutor, told the senators that the Nixon impeachment also started as a partisan inquiry before a bipartisan consensus emerged. She told them while the House acted on party lines against Trump, the Senate — "the greatest deliberative body on the planet'' — has a new opportunity.
Senators dispatched more than 100 queries over two days. The questions came from the parties' leaders, the senators running for the Democratic nomination against Trump and even bipartisan coalitions from both sides of the aisle.
Trump's lawyers focused some of their time Thursday refloating allegations against Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who served on the board of a gas company in Ukraine while his father was vice president. Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., one of the managers, said the Bidens have little to tell the Senate about Trump's efforts to “shake down” Ukraine for his campaign.
The White House has blocked its officials from testifying in the proceedings and objected that there is “significant amounts of classified information" in the manuscript. Bolton resigned last September — Trump says he was fired — and he and his attorney have insisted the book does not contain any classified information.
Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Andrew Taylor, Matthew Daly, Laurie Kellman and Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.
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