The Senate voted against seeking new evidence in Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, sending the process into the final stages that’s all but certain to end with the eventual acquittal of the president.
The 51-49 vote, one of the most consequential of the trial, fell mostly along party lines. Two Republicans-- Maine Sen.Susan Collins and Utah Sen. Mitt Romney-- joined all 47 Senate Democrats and independents in voting for additional testimony and documents. Two Republicans who had considered voting for witnesses -- Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski -- voted against the motion.
With that crucial vote over, the Senate recessed for the two parties to plan their strategy for the trial’s final phases. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said lawmakers 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.”
And on Fiday night, reports emerged that Republican senators are now aiming for a final vote on the articles of impeachment against Trump on Wednesday. Sen. Roy Blunt, a member of GOP leadership, said Democrats have agreed to the plan.
That would put the resolution of the case just after Trump's State of the Union speech, set for Tuesday.
Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said that with the decision not to seek more evidence in the trial, 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.”
Democrats want to ensure that all senators get the chance to publicly declare on the Senate floor the rationale for their votes before the final tally on Trump’s guilt or innocence. With 67 votes needed to convict Trump in the GOP-led chamber, the president is expect to be easily acquitted.
“We feel strongly that this needs to be a fair trial and that each member gets an opportunity to say how they feel and say how they came to their decision,” Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a member of Democratic leadership, said.
‘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 former Trump National Security Advisor John 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. And one of the officials present during the May discussion, according to Bolton, was White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, who is leading 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 scrambling to head off the chance that Democrats would get four Republican senators to agree with them.
Rep. Adam Schiff, who is leading the House impeachment managers, cited the Times report in his final appeal to Republicans to call new witnesses in the trial. 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.
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