Senate Locks In Final Trump Trial Vote After Rejecting Witnesses

Billy House, Daniel Flatley, Laura Litvan and Steven T. Dennis

(Bloomberg) -- The Senate sent the months-long impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump to its final stages with a vote to acquit the president set for Wednesday, after Republicans defeated Democrats’ efforts to call new witnesses.

Senators will hear closing arguments Monday from lawyers for both sides, then will have two days for debate before voting at 4 p.m. Wednesday -- pushing the votes past Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday evening.

Moderate Senator Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, voted against calling witnesses Friday after being viewed as one of four in her party who might give Democrats enough support to force the Senate to call former National Security Advisor John Bolton and perhaps others.

She said the House had sent over a “flawed” impeachment and that she was “frustrated and angry at all sides.” After Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah decided to vote yes, Murkowski said the possibility that her vote would lead to a 50-50 tie weighed “heavy” on her.

Chief Justice John Roberts said, when queried Friday by Democrats, that Senate rules require a motion to fail on a tie vote and that he wouldn’t cast a vote to change that result.

The remaining trial schedule allows Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bennet to make quick trip to Iowa before that state’s crucial caucuses on Monday night. The senators, however, will have to be back in Washington Monday when they are required to be in their seats for four hours of closing arguments at 11 a.m.

Handshakes From McConnell

After the Senate scheduled the final vote, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell -- who had said before the trial that he would work with the White House -- immediately made his way down the table of Trump’s defense lawyers, shaking hands with White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, Trump’s private lawyer Jay Sekulow, and their colleagues. They smiled and talked in a congratulatory manner.

With Trump assured of acquittal, there’s also a chance he may pick up one or more Democratic votes.

Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, said he still hasn’t decided whether he will vote to convict or acquit Trump. “I won’t know until I walk in,” he said Friday, adding that he will look “at every angle I possibly can.”

Friday’s 51-49 vote blocking witnesses, one of the most consequential of the trial, fell mostly along party lines except for Collins and Romney. Another Republican who considered voting for witnesses, Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander, voted against the motion.

Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said that with the decision not to seek more evidence, the Senate “turned away from truth and went along with a sham trial.“

“America will remember this day, unfortunately, when the Senate did not live up to its responsibilities,” Schumer said. “If the president is acquitted with no witnesses and no documents, then the acquittal has no value.”

McConnell called Trump Friday to get his approval for the vote schedule, and the president agreed, according to a person familiar with their conversation.

The new schedule gives senators time before Wednesday’s final vote to publicly explain on the Senate floor how they decided whether Trump deserved to be removed from office on the House charges that he abused the power of his office and obstructed Congress.

The Senate also rejected all four amendments Democrats offered Friday in a last-ditch effort to subpoena additional witnesses and documents.

Explaining Their Votes

Republicans, who control the chamber, have argued that it wasn’t necessary to draw out the trial since it would take 67 votes to convict the president. Even though Democrats on Friday said they were resigned to Trump’s eventual acquittal, they said senators should be able to explain how they planned to vote.

“The president is gratified that finally, at long last, after multiple delays, the Senate will set a schedule for his acquittal as quickly as possible,” Eric Ueland, Trump’s director of legislative affairs, said Friday. “We do not believe that that schedule interferes with his ability to deliver a strong and confident State of the Union message next week in the House of Representatives to the country.”

‘No Fair Trial’

The outcome of the vote on witnesses was sealed when Murkowski announced Friday that she would vote against bringing in new evidence. She was one of the last Republicans who remained publicly uncommitted.

“I have come to the conclusion that there will be no fair trial in the Senate,” Murkowski said. “I don’t believe the continuation of this process will change anything. It is sad for me to admit that, as an institution, the Congress has failed.”

The vote on witnesses came on the same day the New York Times reported that Bolton wrote in an unpublished manuscript that the president directed his aides in May to help pressure Ukrainian officials to dig up damaging information on a Democratic rival.

That was two months before Trump asked Ukraine’s president in a phone call to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, who had served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. One of the officials present during the May discussion, according to Bolton, was Cipollone, the leader of the defense team.

Bolton was one of the main witnesses Democrats wanted to call in the trial, and he had said he’d be willing to testify under subpoena. An earlier revelation from his manuscript -- that Trump directly linked the release of military aid for Ukraine to help with digging up dirt on Democrats -- had GOP leaders working to head off the chance that Democrats would get four Republican senators to agree with them.

Final Appeal

Representative Adam Schiff of California, who is leading the House impeachment managers, cited the Times report in his final appeal to Republicans to call new witnesses. He said the presence of Cipollone in the meeting made him a fact witnesses to the events at the heart of the impeachment charges.

“There is a new fact which indicates that Mr. Cipollone was among those who were in the loop, yet another reason why we ought to hear from witnesses,” Schiff said Friday.

The vote may have political ramifications for senators up for re-election in 2020. Democrats accused Republicans of attempting to “cover up” Trump’s alleged crimes, and they have vowed to remind voters in November of how their senators voted on the matter.

A Quinnipiac University poll published this week found that 75% of respondents favored witnesses in the Senate trial, including 49% of Republicans.

Four Republican senators facing tough re-election campaigns this year -- Cory Gardner of Colorado, Martha McSally of Arizona, Joni Ernst of Iowa, and Thom Tillis of North Carolina -- all voted against calling new witnesses.

--With assistance from Mike Dorning, Laura Davison, Jordan Fabian, Jennifer Jacobs and Erik Wasson.

To contact the reporters on this story: Billy House in Washington at bhouse5@bloomberg.net;Daniel Flatley in Washington at dflatley1@bloomberg.net;Laura Litvan in Washington at llitvan@bloomberg.net;Steven T. Dennis in Washington at sdennis17@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net, Laurie Asséo, John Harney

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