Senate rejects motion for witnesses at Trump impeachment trial

Trial now moves toward acquittal, but schedule far from certain

House managers Rep. Sylvia R. Garcia, D-Texas, and Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., walk to the Senate chamber for the start of the Senate impeachment trial proceedings on Jan. 31. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
House managers Rep. Sylvia R. Garcia, D-Texas, and Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., walk to the Senate chamber for the start of the Senate impeachment trial proceedings on Jan. 31. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted January 31, 2020 at 5:42pm

The Senate on Friday rejected a motion to hear from additional witnesses or to see new documents in its impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, ending weeks of speculation over whether Republicans would break with their party to extend the trial.

Republican senators largely stuck together in Friday’s pivotal 49-51 vote that would have allowed the body to subpoena new information before voting on whether to remove Trump from office on the two articles of impeachment presented by House impeachment managers.

The Senate adjourned, subject to the call of the chair, immediately after the vote as both parties huddled to determine next steps. The White House and Republicans leaders in the Senate had hoped to hold the vote to acquit Trump Friday night, but that may not happen.

“Senators will now confer among ourselves, with the House Managers, and with the President’s counsel to determine next steps as we prepare to conclude the trial in the coming days,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement.

Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York called the outcome of the vote “a grand tragedy.”

“The Senate turned away from truth and went along with a sham trial,” he said.

Schumer said he would be meeting with the Democratic caucus to discuss next steps for the impeachment trial, but would not signal to reporters what those could be.

Leaving the chamber, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, a Democratic presidential contender, responded to a reporter’s shouted question of “Are you going to Iowa?”

“Eventually,” she replied.

For weeks, Democrats have urged the Senate to subpoena documents from the White House Office of Management and Budget and to compel the testimony of Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton.

Democrats say that Bolton and those documents can definitively prove that Trump withheld military aid for Ukraine in exchange for a political favor from that country.

The motion’s outcome was preordained.

Late Thursday night, Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander, who will retire at the end of his term and was seen as potential “yes” vote on the motion, said that he would vote against calling additional witnesses. And early Friday afternoon, Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski, seen as another potential swing vote on the motion, announced that she too would vote against hearing from additional witnesses.

Two Republicans — Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah —supported the motion, which all Democrats supported.

Friday’s debate on the motion was lively following a New York Times report earlier in the day that Trump told Bolton to pressure Ukrainian government officials to produce damning information on Democrats.

The Times, citing an unpublished manuscript of Bolton’s coming memoir, said that acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and White House counsel Pat Cipollone — who argued in Trump’s defense on the Senate floor — were in the Oval Office when Trump ordered Bolton to advance the scheme.

Lead House impeachment manager Adam B. Schiff of California opened debate on the motion predicting that more information damaging to Trump would surface.

“Just as we predicted, and it didn’t require any great act of clairvoyance, the facts will come out, they will continue to come out,” Schiff told the Senate. “The question before you today is whether they will come out in time for you to make a complete and informed judgment.”

Debate on the motion was divided into two hours for each side, first giving the House managers a chance to make their case with Cipollone sitting just a few feet away.

Trump’s defense team argued that if any new witnesses were called, like Bolton or others on the Democrats’ wish list, that the president’s counsel would also get to call witnesses, including some who testified before the House Intelligence Committee whom Trump’s defense didn’t get to cross-examine.

They repeated the argument that the Senate should not be tasked with introducing new information, alleging that the House investigators failed to do their job and are asking the Senate to finish it. Patrick Philbin and Jay Sekulow did not use all the two hours they were permitted to argue against calling witnesses.

“I am not going to take the time, your time, which is precious, to go over each and every allegation about witnesses that I could. I could do it, I could stand here  for a long time. But I will not do that. I will just say this: They created the record. Do not allow them to penalize the country and the Constitution because they failed to do their job,” Sekulow said.

Katherine Tully-McManus, Lindsey McPherson and Michael Macagnone contributed to this report.