WASHINGTON – Demands by Democrats to call witnesses in the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump evidently failed Friday when Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she would oppose the motion.
The Senate was headed toward a late afternoon vote on the witness question, with little doubt about the outcome. No more than two Republican senators, Mitch Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine, had indicated they would support seeking additional testimony, so the only question remaining was when the final vote on the president’s guilt would occur.
A tentative deal between the two parties began to leak mid-afternoon in which the Senate would take the weekend off, conduct the last two days of the trial on Monday and Tuesday, and hold a final vote on Wednesday, the day after Trump delivers his State of the Union address to Congress.
Removing Trump from office was always a near impossibility, but the prospect of calling witnesses such as John Bolton, the president’s former national security adviser, could have prolonged the trial and resulted in new disclosures that, Republicans feared, might have damaged the president further.
Murkowski’s announcement deprived Democrats of their last hope that they could find enough Republicans to make a majority in favor of witnesses, or reach a tie that might allow Chief Justice John Roberts, the presiding officer in the trial, to make the decision. A ruling by Roberts in the Democrats’ favor was considered a remote possibility at best.
Murkowski’s statement indicated part of her motivation in voting against calling witnesses was to protect Roberts from being put into that difficult position.
Murkowski said it was “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,” Murkowski’s statement said. “We have already degraded this institution for partisan political benefit, and I will not enable those who wish to pull down another.”
Murkowski’s statement also made the cryptic assertion that she had “come to the conclusion that there will be no fair trial.”
Democrats have argued that without witnesses the trial will not be fair. But Murkowski seemed to conclude that even with witnesses the trial would not be fair, leaving open the question of what a fair trial would look like in her opinion.
“I don’t believe the continuation of this process will change anything,” she said. “It is sad to admit that, as an institution, the Congress has failed.”
Even before Murkowski’s statement Democrats were on the verge of defeat as of Thursday night, when Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., briefly raised hopes he might vote in favor of witnesses before deciding that they weren’t necessary because the case against Trump had already been proved.
But, evidently accepting the constitutional argument made by Trump’s lawyer Alan Dershowitz, Alexander said he didn’t believe the president’s actions warranted his removal from office.
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