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Democrats say calling witnesses in Trump impeachment trial could have cost them GOP votes

William Cummings, USA TODAY
·5 min read
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Impeachment managers in the Senate trial of former President Donald Trump Sunday defended their decision not to call witnesses.

Del. Stacey Plaskett of the U.S. Virgin Islands, confirmed on CNN's "State of the Union" that managers were told calling witnesses – a move that could have extended the trial for weeks – could have cost the support of one or more of the seven Republicans who voted to convict.

Host Jake Tapper said a Democratic senator told him that if the trial was not concluded quickly, they would lose GOP senators, such as Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina.

"We heard that," Plaskett said, adding she agreed it was "possible" the time required to gather witness testimony would have weakened the little GOP support they had.

But Plaskett denied that concern factored into their decision to reach a compromise that allowed the addition of a statement from Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., into the trial record without having to depose her.

When Tapper asserted that witnesses "might have made the case more compelling," Plaskett quickly interjected to ask him if he thought they would have convinced any more senators to convict. When Tapper acknowledged he didn't know, Plaskett flashed a dubious expression.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., agreed the impeachment managers "might have lost votes if they had moved forward with a week or two or three weeks of argument over witnesses."

"They weren't going to get any more Republican votes than they had," Murphy told CNN. "I think they made the right decision to move to closing arguments."

Before Saturday, impeachment managers had indicated they did not intend to call witnesses, arguing they had made their case without them. But after Herrera Beutler issued a statement Friday saying that Trump had rebuffed a plea from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to urge the rioters to stop, Raskin made an unexpected request to depose her.

The Senate quickly followed with a 55-45 vote to approve his request, sending the proceedings into chaos as the House managers, defense lawyers and senators scrambled to determine how the rules over how the addition of witnesses would be handled.

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler: Spokesman says congresswoman would have 'testified under oath' if subpoenaed

More: Surprise vote for witnesses in Trump trial stemmed from statement from GOP Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler

Several Republican senators and Trump's attorneys responded by insisting they would issue subpoenas for hundreds of defense witnesses, including top Democrats such as Vice President Kamala Harris. And speculation mounted about what other witnesses Democrats might call, including figures close to Trump who could have shed more light on his response to riots.

Del. Stacey Plaskett, D-Virgin Islands, answers questions at a news conference after the conclusion of former President Donald Trump's second impeachment trial Feb. 13, 2021, in Washington.
Del. Stacey Plaskett, D-Virgin Islands, answers questions at a news conference after the conclusion of former President Donald Trump's second impeachment trial Feb. 13, 2021, in Washington.

But Plaskett said such testimony would require subpoenas, which could have meant lengthy court battles. She pointed out that Democrats were still fighting in court over testimony related to Trump's first impeachment.

"We knew that these were hostile witnesses. They were not going to testify," she said.

When asked on NBC News' "Meet the Press" why he made the last-minute request to depose Herrera Beutler, lead impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., said his team had "tried mightily to get in touch with her" but without success after she issued her statement Friday. Raskin seemed unaware that Herrera Beutler had first related her account of McCarthy's phone call with Trump a month before.

Plaskett said the impeachment managers "didn't back down" when they accepted the compromise regarding Herrera Beutler's statement. "I think what we did was, we got what we wanted, which was her statement, which was what she said, and had it put the record," she said.

Both Raskin and Plaskett said that witness testimony would never have made the difference in the outcome of the trial, because they had clearly established Trump's role in inciting the mob that attacked the Capitol. And they argued that additional evidence would not have mattered for lawmakers like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., who voted to acquit because they believed it was unconstitutional to impeach a president who was no longer in office.

"We could have had 1,000 witnesses but that could not have overcome the kinds of silly arguments that people like McConnell and Capito were hanging their hats on," Raskin said.

After voting to acquit, McConnell delivered a sharp rebuke of Trump's role in inflaming the mob that stormed the Capitol and his response to the insurrection, accusing him of "dereliction of duty" and using language that often mirrored the charges leveled at Trump by the impeachment managers.

"As you heard from Mitch McConnell, his closing statement was what we said. He agreed with us," Plaskett said Sunday.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told "Meet the Press" that once McConnell decided to acquit despite largely agreeing with the charge against Trump, no witness could have changed the outcome of the trial.

"We were never going to reach 67 votes in the Senate without Mitch McConnell voting guilty," Durbin said.

Plaskett told CNN she understood the "angst" and belief among some Democrats that if they had called witnesses, "the senators would have done what we wanted."

"But, listen, we didn't need more witnesses. We needed more senators with spines," she said.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump impeachment: Stacey Plaskett says witnesses may have cost votes