WASHINGTON — After three pivotal Republican senators indicated Thursday night whether they would vote to call witnesses in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, all eyes turned to another Republican, Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
And the Alaska senator was turning to Visine.
“I’m going to go back to my office and put eye drops in so I can keep reading,” Murkowski told reporters as she left the Senate, pointing to two volumes of notes she’d taken during the trial. “I’ve been forming a lot of thoughts so that’s going to be my job now at almost 11:00.”
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., had just announced that he would not join with Democrats in Friday’s vote on whether to extend the trial by issuing subpoenas for witnesses and documents.
“There is no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven and that does not meet the United States Constitution’s high bar for an impeachable offense,” Alexander said.
Two other key GOP senators – Maine’s Susan Collins and Utah’s Mitt Romney – had said they did want to learn more.
“I believe hearing from certain witnesses would give each side the opportunity to more fully and fairly make their case, resolve any ambiguities, and provide additional clarity,” Collins said.
Because a majority of the Senate sets policy in the trial, the 47 Senate Democrats need at least four of the 53 Republicans to support subpoenas to summon witnesses or seek documents, as House managers have urged.
If Murkowski votes for witnesses and no other senator crosses party lines, that would set up a 50-50 tie. It’s not clear whether Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial, would break the tie.
If Murkowski decides she’s heard enough, that likely sets up a 51-49 vote against witnesses.
Murkowski offered a hint about her thinking when she asked Trump’s defense team Thursday why the Senate shouldn’t call Bolton.
“This dispute about material facts weighs in favor of calling additional witnesses with direct knowledge,” Murkowski said in the written question, read by Roberts.
In an upcoming book, Bolton reportedly contradicts a key aspect of Trump’s defense argued by his lawyers in the Senate trial: that there are no witnesses who have linked Trump’s withholding of military aid to Ukraine to investigations of former Vice President Joe Biden, his son Hunter Biden or a debunked theory about Ukraine meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.
Patrick Philbin, a deputy White House counsel, warned that agreeing to call additional witnesses would establish new standards for impeachment, if the House can send “half-baked” cases and leave the Senate to complete the investigation. Philbin also said Bolton hadn’t confirmed the newspaper report.
“It will do grave damage to this body as an institution to say that the proceedings in the House don’t have to really be complete,” Philbin said. “That’s not the way that this chamber should allow impeachments to be presented to it.”
Trump has denied telling Bolton that the Ukraine aid was tied to investigations but ordered him not to testify in the House’s investigation.
– Maureen Groppe
Judgment day for Trump?
Friday is shaping up to be judgment day for President Donald Trump.
The GOP-controlled Senate could wrap up the impeachment trial for Trump and acquit him, or decide to prolong the proceedings – possibly for weeks – by calling witnesses to testify. That would postpone a final vote on whether to remove him from office.
Thursday ended with the second round of questions being asked but with no certainty to how senators would vote on adding witnesses.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other GOP leaders have balked at the idea of more witnesses, notably John Bolton. In his forthcoming book, Trump’s former national security adviser writes that the president told him to withhold military aid to Ukraine until Ukraine announced political investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
Democrats, who control 47 of the chamber’s 100 seats, have been trying to convince at least four Republican senators to join them in demanding Bolton and other administration witnesses appear to discuss the president’s conduct regarding Ukraine.
If Democrats fail, the third impeachment of a president in U.S. history will end like the previous two.
The House on Dec. 18 impeached Trump on two articles – abuse of power and obstruction of Congress – after hearings by the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees into whether he tried to leverage the aid to Ukraine in exchange for digging up dirt on the Bidens.
The Senate trial began Jan. 21 with House Democratic lawmakers acting as prosecutors laying out the case against Trump over three days. Trump’s lawyers then began their defense of the president on Saturday and wrapped up Tuesday. As required by Senate rules, both sides – Republican and Democratic senators – were given a chance to pose follow-up questions to the Democratic House managers and Trump’s defense team on Wednesday and Thursday.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing, saying he had a duty to make sure any country receiving aid is meeting its obligations and that impeachment over this issue would weaken any president’s ability to carry out policy. His lawyers and political allies also say this impeachment effort lacks merit because no specific crime is being alleged.
Democrats contend Trump never cared about corruption in Ukraine until he saw Joe Biden emerge as the biggest threat to his 2020 reelection. The withholding of money in order to get Ukraine to announce the investigations and weaken Biden in the process is exactly the kind of “high crime” that the nation’s founding fathers were referencing when they created the impeachment mechanism.
Whatever the outcome, the process has left raw feelings on both sides of the aisle.
“Like war, impeachment is hell, or at least presidential impeachment is hell,” Trump lawyer Ken Starr, who led the investigation that led to Bill Clinton’s impeachment more than 20 years ago, told senators Monday. “Those of us who lived through the Clinton impeachment, including members of this body, full well understand that a president impeachment is tantamount to domestic war.”
– Ledyard King