Trump impeachment trial: Five key takeaways as president set to be acquitted

Several steps still remain before final verdict

Eileen Sullivan
Saturday 01 February 2020 10:55 GMT
Schumer reaction to Trump impeachment

After 10 days of arguments and deliberations, the Senate voted against hearing from new witnesses in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, signalling a vote to acquit him would likely come in the coming days.

House impeachment managers and Trump’s defence team made their final arguments for and against hearing from new witnesses as the Senate trial entered its final stages Friday before the evening vote. Not long before the session started, Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican for Alaska, announced that she would vote against a measure to hear new witnesses erasing any doubt that the Republicans would have the support to end the trial without considering new material.

Here are five key takeaways from the afternoon.

Senate will not consider new witnesses or evidence.

In a nearly party-line vote, the Senate decided not to hear testimony from witnesses or review evidence before it moves to vote on whether President Trump should be removed from office.

The 51-49 outcome was not surprising and paved the way for the Senate to acquit Mr Trump. Senate leaders are negotiating over the next steps to end the trial.

Many of the arguments from House managers over the past two weeks have been centred on the importance of hearing from witnesses, like Mr Trump’s former national security adviser, John Bolton, who has firsthand accounts of Mr Trump’s actions regarding Ukraine.

Two Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah, voted in flavour of hearing witnesses, as they had signalled ahead of the trial.

Democrats have said that a trial without witnesses and documents is not a fair one. Republicans said that they did not need to hear any additional information and that the Democrats brought a weak case.

The top Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer of New York, said the trial was a sham and a tragedy.

“To not allow a witness, a document – no witnesses, no documents – in an impeachment trial is a perfidy,” Mr Schumer said after the vote. “America will remember this day, unfortunately, where the Senate did not live up to its responsibilities.”

Managers made their final pleas after a new report from The New York Times.

In the hours before the vote, House impeachment managers made their final plea, citing a New York Times report that published about an hour before the trial started.

The report, which draws from new details from an upcoming book by John Bolton, shows that Donald Trump had a direct role in the Ukraine pressure campaign earlier than previously known, and senior White House advisers were aware of it.

“Yet another reason why we want to hear from witnesses,” said Rep. Adam Schiff Democrat for California, the lead manager.

In the book, Mr Bolton describes a meeting in early May at which Trump instructed him to call President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to press him to meet with Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. According to the book, one of Mr Trump’s defence lawyers for the impeachment trial, Pat Cipollone, was also in the meeting, which took place months before Mr Trump and Mr Zelensky spoke by phone on 25 July. That conversation ultimately set the impeachment proceedings in motion.

(John Bolton and President Trump inside the White House (AFP/Getty Images)
(John Bolton and President Trump inside the White House (AFP/Getty Images) (AFP via Getty Images)

The fight over witnesses had largely been an argument about hearing testimony from Mr Bolton, particularly as details about what he knows of Trump’s motives and his efforts to pressure Ukraine emerged in the past week.

Mr Trump blocked Mr Bolton from testifying in the House impeachment inquiry, but Mr Bolton has said he would comply with a subpoena to testify during the Senate trial.

More Republicans announced their intentions to acquit the president.

Even before the Senate trial resumed Friday, some Republican senators announced their plans to vote to acquit Mr Trump, and there was noticeably less note-taking in the Senate chamber compared with previous days of the trial.

“Can anyone doubt that at least half of the country would view his removal as illegitimate – as nothing short of a coup d’état?” Sen. Marco Rubio, Republican for Florida, wrote in a statement Friday.

His decision, he said, was made out of concern of further dividing the country.

Mr Rubio added that if the president was removed from office, it would be a victory for President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

“It is difficult to conceive of any scheme Putin could undertake that would undermine confidence in our democracy more than removal would,” he wrote.

Sen. Rob Portman, Republican for Ohio, said that he did find some of Mr Trump’s actions “wrong and inappropriate,” but he wanted to leave it to voters decide on a verdict in November.

“Our country is already too deeply divided and we should be working to heal wounds, not create new ones,” Mr Portman said in a statement.

Mr Trump’s former chief of staff scolds Senate for not hearing witnesses.

“It seems it was half a trial,” said John Kelly, Trump’s former chief of staff, hours before the Senate officially voted.

“If I was advising the United States Senate, I would say, ‘If you don’t respond to 75 per cent of the American voters and have witnesses, it’s a job only half-done,’” Kelly said, ahead of delivering a speech in New Jersey on Friday. “You open yourself up forever as a Senate that shirks its responsibilities.”

Mr Kelly appeared to be referring to a recent national poll from Quinnipiac University, which found that 75 per cent of independents think witnesses should testify. The independent vote is expected to be a critical one in November.

A retired four-star Marine general, Kelly was well-liked in the Senate – he was confirmed with bipartisan support to be Mr Trump’s first Homeland Security secretary – which made his criticism Friday even more pointed. He was later drafted to be the president’s

chief of staff with the hope he would bring order to a White House defined by chaos.

Earlier this week, Mr Kelly said he believed Mr Bolton’s account of the president’s dealings with Ukraine, which the president has denied.

“If John Bolton says that in the book, I believe John Bolton,” Mr Kelly said on Tuesday.

Kelly and Bolton overlapped at the White House for much of 2018 but were not always in lock step. On Friday, Mr Kelly described Mr Bolton as “an honest and an honourable guy,” and “a copious note-taker.”

There are still several steps before the final verdict.

Senators will vote at 4 pm on Wednesday to render a verdict in Mr Trump’s impeachment trial. But before then, they will vote on procedural motions on Friday and return at 11 am on Monday to give closing arguments, senators said. They will also have a chance to give floor speeches on Tuesday before the Wednesday vote.

“I’d rather conclude it right away,” said Sen Roy Blunt, Republican for Missouri. But the rules allowed for more time, and Democrats insisted, he added.

“It gives everybody the flexibility if they need to go somewhere over the weekend,” said Sen Mike Braun, Republican for Indiana.

The schedule means Mr Trump would deliver the State of the Union address on Tuesday night with his all but certain acquittal pending.

For the four senators running for the Democratic nomination to face Mr Trump in November, it will be a busy few days as they rush to Iowa ahead of the caucuses there Monday before needing to return to Washington for the closing phase of the trial.

The New York Times

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