McConnell Gets Trump Signoff for Vote Plan: Impeachment Update

Laura Litvan and Billy House

(Bloomberg) -- The Senate voted to block calling witnesses in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell scheduled final votes on the impeachment articles for Wednesday at 4 p.m. An acquittal is all but assured.

Here are the latest developments:

McConnell Gets Trump Signoff for Vote Plan (8:03 p.m.)

McConnell got approval from Trump before introducing the resolution that sets the final votes for Wednesday, according to a person familiar with the matter.

McConnell called Trump and the two discussed the details before the president agreed, the person said.

Minutes later, as senators entered the chamber to adopt the resolution -- and after Republicans’ earlier vote to block witnesses -- McConnell approached his desk to find White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, Trump’s lead defense lawyer, waiting next to it.

They exchanged smiles and a quick handshake, followed by the arrival of another Trump lawyer, Jay Sekulow, getting his own handshake from the majority leader. With Texas GOP Senator John Cornyn looking on, McConnell began to hold court, moving his hands as if describing how one directs traffic.

More hand gestures and laughter followed and eventually a McConnell fist pump. Then Cipollone drew in closer with a back-slap and more laughter.

McConnell had said before the trial that he would be coordinating with the White House.

Senate Locks In Final Votes for Wednesday (7:56 p.m.)

The Senate, in a 53-47 party-line vote, set the final votes in the trial for 4 p.m. Wednesday when Republicans will vote to acquit Trump. The Senate will be in session Monday and Tuesday for final arguments and debate.

Before the vote to adopt the resolution, Republicans defeated four amendments offered by Democrats that would have called as witnesses former National Security Advisor John Bolton, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and two other government officials. One of the resolutions would have required Chief Justice John Roberts to rule on motions to subpoena witnesses and documents.

Chief Justice Says He Won’t Break Tie Votes (7:21 p.m.)

Chief Justice John Roberts said it would be “inappropriate” for him to break any tie votes in a Senate impeachment trial.

His statement is likely to serve as solidifying precedent in any future impeachment trials.

Responding to an inquiry by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Roberts said “isolated episodes” in the 1868 impeachment of President Andrew Johnson weren’t enough to translate into a broad authority to cast such votes.

“The one concerned a motion to adjourn, the other concerned a motion to close deliberations,” said Roberts.

“If the members of this body, elected by the people and accountable to them, divide equally on a motion, the normal rule is that the motion fails,” Roberts instructed. “I think it would be inappropriate for me, an unelected official from a different branch of government, to assert the power to change that result so that the motion would succeed.”

Some Democrats had hoped Roberts might cast a vote if there had been a tie on the question of whether to call witnesses.

Schumer Confirms Final Votes to Be Wednesday (6:57 p.m.)

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer confirmed the final votes on conviction or acquittal will be at 4 p.m. Wednesday.

He said Democrats will offer four amendments Friday night to the GOP resolution that will set the final plans, and will vote against the final amendment because it doesn’t include the witnesses and documents sought by his party.

Schumer said closing arguments will be held Monday and senators will make speeches Monday through Wednesday, before the final votes.

Trump ‘Gratified’ by Vote Plan, Aide Says (6:46 p.m.)

Trump aide Eric Ueland said, “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.”

“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,” Ueland said.

Senate Vote on Trump Expected Wednesday (6:32 p.m.)

Senate Republicans are aiming to take the final votes at 4 p.m. Wednesday on the impeachment articles against Trump, said Senator Roy Blunt, a member of GOP leadership.

Blunt said Democrats have agreed to the plan, though there was no immediate confirmation from party leaders.

No weekend sessions are planned, and the Senate would be in session Monday and Tuesday to allow members to explain their votes. The Senate also expects to vote Friday night on a handful of amendments to the plan, Blunt said.

That would mean Trump’s almost-certain acquittal won’t come until after he delivers his State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday.

Ex-Ambassador Yovanovitch Retiring Friday (5:57 p.m.)

Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who was caught up in Trump’s impeachment saga, plans to retire by the end of the day Friday, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Yovanovitch was recalled from her post in May after a campaign by Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, who suspected that she was working to undermine the president and block investigations into Joe Biden’s family. Her retirement was first reported by National Public Radio.

In her testimony to the House impeachment inquiry, Yovanovitch lamented that “foreign corrupt interests” had managed to turn Giuliani and the president against her. She also expressed frustration with Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s refusal to publicly stand up for her.

After leaving Kyiv, Yovanovitch took up a fellowship at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University but had remained in the foreign service.

McConnell Says Trial to End in ‘Coming Days’ (5:48 p.m.)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement he will talk with House managers and Trump’s lawyers “to determine next steps as we prepare to conclude the trial in the coming days.” He gave no further details.

Senate Rejects Proposal to Call Witnesses (5:41 p.m.)

The Senate voted against seeking new witnesses or evidence in Trump’s impeachment trial, sending the process toward the final stages that will likely end with an acquittal of the president.

The 51-49 vote to block witnesses, one of the most consequential of the trial, fell mostly along party lines. Two Republicans -- Maine Senator Susan Collins and Utah Senator Mitt Romney -- had announced in advance that they would join Democrats in voting for witnesses.

It’s unclear when the final vote will be.

Senate Begins Vote on Witnesses (5:36 p.m.)

The Senate has begun voting on the question of witnesses.

Both Sides Finish Arguments on Witnesses (4:38 p.m.)

House managers and Trump’s defense have concluded their arguments on whether the Senate should call witnesses in Trump’s impeachment trial.

The next step is expected to be a Senate vote on that question, although Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn’t announced a time.

Trump Team Argues Against Witnesses (4:22 p.m.)

Trump’s legal team urged the Senate to reject Democrats’ bid to call witnesses and subpoena documents.

The two impeachment articles against the president are defective in any case and should be rejected because they would harm the constitutional separation of powers, said attorney Patrick Philbin.

He described the House investigation as using “slapdash, get it done quickly, unfair procedures” and said the managers are asking the Senate now to call witnesses and “drag it out.”

“That’s part of what makes this even more political, especially in an election year,” Philbin said. “The Senate is not here to do the investigatory work that the House didn’t do.”

“The reaction from this body should be to reject the articles of impeachment,” he said.

Another Trump lawyer, Jay Sekulow, said that if Democrats are allowed to call witnesses, the president’s defense team would seek to cross-examine witnesses who testified during the House investigation, including former National Security Council official Fiona Hill and NSC staffer Alexander Vindman.

Trial May Continue for Days, Democrat Says (4:10 p.m.)

Senator Debbie Stabenow, a member of Democratic leadership, raised the prospect of the impeachment trial continuing for several days before a vote on a verdict.

Stabenow said Democrats want to ensure that every senator gets a chance to come to the floor and explain their vote before the final tally on Trump’s guilt or innocence. Such speeches could take 10 minutes, she said.

The senators might not need to be in the chamber for these speeches, she said. That would help the four Senate Democrats running for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Stabenow said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer are negotiating on how the rest of the trial should play out after Friday’s planned vote on whether to call witnesses, which is almost certain to fail.

McConnell could try to reach such a bipartisan deal or, if he gets 51 Republican votes behind him, draft a resolution closing down the trial on his own terms. Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, said she couldn’t predict what will happen.

Lawyer Offers Parnas Testimony on Ukraine (3:25 p.m.)

Lev Parnas’s lawyer told Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in a letter that his client is prepared to testify that he worked with Rudy Giuliani to inform Ukrainian officials that U.S. aid would be withheld unless that country announced investigations of the 2016 election and Joe Biden.

Attorney Joseph Bondy’s letter said that Parnas would explain his effort “to directly convey the president’s ‘quid pro quo’ of demanding public announcements of anti-corruption proceedings regarding the 2016 election and the Bidens in exchange for American financial aid.”

“Mr. Parnas would testify that at all times he was acting at the direction of Mr. Giuliani, on behalf of his client the president, and that the president and a number of people in his administration and the GOP were aware of the demands being imposed upon Ukraine,” Bondy wrote.

Parnas has been indicted on campaign finance charges and has turned over information about the Ukraine matter to House committees.

No Agreement on Vote Timing, Schumer Says (3 p.m.)

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said there’s no agreement with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on when a final vote on the impeachment articles may be held.

“There is no agreement between leader McConnell and myself,” Schumer told reporters. “We do not want this rushed through, we do not want this in the dark of night.”

Schiff Cites Report on Cipollone in Meeting (1:51 p.m.)

Top House manager Adam Schiff said an argument for witnesses is made by a New York Times article Friday about John Bolton’s upcoming book that names Trump’s lead lawyer, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, as having been present during an Oval Office meeting on Ukraine.

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

The Times said Bolton’s book describes an Oval Office meeting in early May in which the president directed Bolton to pave the way for Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani to meet with Ukraine’s new president during Giuliani’s planned trip to that country to discuss the investigations sought by Trump.

The meeting was attended by Trump, Bolton, Giuliani, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and Cipollone, the Times said.

“The facts will come out, they will continue to come out,” Schiff said. “And the question before you today is whether they will come out in time for you to make a complete and informed judgment as to the guilt or innocence of the president.”

Murkowski Will Vote Against Witnesses (1:16 p.m.)

Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski said she’ll vote against additional witnesses, almost certainly ending House prosecutors’ effort to introduce new evidence in Trump’s Senate trial and paving the way for an acquittal.

Murkowski was the last Republican considered a potential vote in favor of hearing from witnesses like former National Security Advisor John Bolton. With Murkowski’s announcement, the vote is expected to fall short of a majority, even if backed by all 47 Democrats and independents, as well as both Republicans who announced support, Mitt Romney and Susan Collins.

“Given the partisan nature of this impeachment from the very beginning and throughout, 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.”

Senate Nears Vote on Calling Witnesses (1:15 p.m.)

The Senate opened Friday’s session that will lead to a pivotal vote on whether to call witnesses in Trump’s impeachment trial. Two Republicans, Susan Collins and Mitt Romney, say they will join Democrats in backing new witnesses and documents.

Top Court Sets Argument on Trump Records (12:55 p.m.)

The U.S. Supreme Court set arguments for March 31 on Trump’s bid to keep his financial and tax records secret, a fight that will shape Democrats’ power to investigate the president after the impeachment fight ends.

Trump is challenging subpoenas from the House and a New York grand jury to his banks and accounting firms. He is asking the court to sharply limit Congress’s powers and give the president immunity from state criminal probes while in office.

The cases are separate from the Senate impeachment trial. The House panels say they are pursuing legislative goals, including updating ethics laws and trying to guard against foreign influence in the 2020 election.

A ruling is likely to come in late June, in the heat of the presidential campaign.

White House Says Trial Could Go to Next Week (12:22 p.m.)

The Senate trial could stretch past Friday’s session and into next week because of Senate rules on debate, according to two senior White House officials.

Democrats have said they will push for senators to explain their votes in public, which could take hours. That process would be determined by a majority vote in the Senate.

Next week’s calendar is complicated because of Monday’s Iowa caucuses and Tuesday’s State of the Union address. Senate Republicans have been pushing to end the trial Friday, although it could extend into a Saturday session.

Senator Mike Rounds, a Republican from South Dakota, said he would gladly state the reasoning for his vote in public, and he would be okay with the trial continuing to next week, though he would rather it end today.

Senator Kevin Cramer, a Republican from North Dakota, said he doesn’t see the trial going into next week since the Democratic senators seeking their party’s 2020 nomination want to get to Iowa.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally, said it wouldn’t be in Democrats’ interest to let the trial’s conclusion slip to next week.

“I think it’s a mistake and it will blow up in their face,” Graham said. “There’s no reason for it.”

Democrats Push to Open Final Deliberations (12:08 a.m.)

Senator Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, said Friday he plans to file a motion to make deliberations public after closing arguments, rather than held in a closed session. Brown declined to discuss the specifics of the measure, but it could amend Senate impeachment rules that allow senators to deliberate behind closed doors.Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also said he wants each senator to be able to explain their final vote in public. Schumer said he would discuss with Democratic lawmakers at lunch about what other types of motions they would like to file.“I believe the American people should hear what every senator thinks and why they’re voting the way they’re voting,” he said.

Any change to Senate rules would require at least 51 votes, meaning that four Republicans would have to join all Democrats and independents in voting for such a motion. Giving each senator time to discuss their vote in public could extend the trial, possibly into next week.

Democrat Resigned to Acquittal, No Witnesses (10:21 a.m.)

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, a member of Democratic leadership, said his party is “resigned” to the Republican-led Senate acquitting Trump without calling any additional witnesses, a vote expected to happen on Friday.

“We are resigned to this happening,” Durbin said. “It’s clear after all the days we spent on this: Republicans are afraid of a trial and afraid of the truth.”

Durbin said he doesn’t think Chief Justice John Roberts would weigh in to break a tie on the vote to call witnesses.

If only three Republicans join all 47 Democrats and independents to call witnesses, then the vote would be 50-50 and fail to reach the simple majority needed to accept the motion.

Utah Republican Mitt Romney will vote in favor of seeking new evidence, according to a GOP aide. Maine Senator Susan Collins said Thursday she will vote for witnesses, but Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander said he will oppose the motion. The effort to call new witnesses could reach 50 votes if Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski supports it, but that would not be enough for the measure to pass -- unless Roberts steps in.

Trial to Enter What May Be Its Last Day (6 a.m.)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell probably gained the votes to block a call for witnesses when Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee announced late Thursday that he’ll vote to block witnesses.

Republican Susan Collins of Maine, who faces a tough re-election bid this fall, said she would vote in favor of considering witnesses, while Mitt Romney of Utah has said he’s likely to do the same. Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski said Thursday night she would “keep reading” and didn’t say how she is leaning.

Alexander’s announcement is “a big, big deal,” Republican Ted Cruz of Texas said on Fox News Thursday night. He said the chances of calling witnesses have “plummeted” and he now expects acquittal of Trump on Saturday.

Without Alexander, “they’re not going to break 50” votes to call witnesses, Cruz said.

Catch Up on Impeachment Coverage

Key Documents

Here is the House Democrats’ web page containing documents related to the impeachment trial. House Democrats’ impeachment brief is here. Trump’s initial reply is here, and his lawyers’ trial brief is here.The House impeachment resolution is H.Res. 755. The Intelligence Committee Democrats’ impeachment report is here.Gordon Sondland’s transcript is here and here; Kurt Volker’s transcript is here and here. Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch’s transcript is here and here; the transcript of Michael McKinley, former senior adviser to the secretary of State, is here. The transcript of David Holmes, a Foreign Service officer at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, is here.The transcript of William Taylor, the top U.S. envoy to Ukraine, is here and here. State Department official George Kent’s testimony is here and here. Testimony by Alexander Vindman can be found here, and the Fiona Hill transcript is here. Laura Cooper’s transcript is here; Christopher Anderson’s is here and Catherine Croft’s is here. Jennifer Williams’ transcript is here and Timothy Morrison’s is here. The Philip Reeker transcript is here. Mark Sandy’s is here.

--With assistance from Greg Stohr, Erik Wasson, Jordan Fabian, Jennifer Jacobs, Laura Davison, Billy House, Nick Wadhams, Steven T. Dennis and Daniel Flatley.

To contact the reporters on this story: Laura Litvan in Washington at llitvan@bloomberg.net;Billy House in Washington at bhouse5@bloomberg.net

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

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