February 28, 2021

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Senate votes to allow witnesses

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The Senate reversed course on Saturday and declined to call witnesses, after a surprise vote allowing testimony threatened to delay the end of former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial.

After reaching an agreement to bypass calling witnesses, the House impeachment managers and Trump’s lawyers moved on to up to four hours of closing arguments. The Senate is expected to acquit the former president of inciting an insurrection later in the day.

The chamber could have with a simple majority called specific witnesses.

The Senate voted to allow witnesses by a 55-45 margin, as five Republicans joined all Democrats. The GOP senators were Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah and Ben Sasse of Nebraska.

While the other four Republicans are considered the most likely in their party to vote to convict Trump, Graham is a Trump ally who has coordinated with the former president’s lawyers during the trial.

In this screenshot taken from a congress.gov webcast, lead House impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) speaks on the fifth day of former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial at the U.S. Capitol on February 13, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Congress.gov | Getty Images

Footage of the Senate floor after the vote showed lawmakers huddling and discussing how to proceed following the twist in the case.

The vote to call witnesses comes as more details were revealed Friday night about an expletive-laden argument between House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy and Trump in a phone call as the Capitol riot was unfolding, in which Trump appeared to side with rioters and said they were more “upset” over the election results than McCarthy.

Lead impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., called Saturday for the deposition of Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-WA, who had confirmed what was said on the call.

“Last night Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington State issued a statement confirming that in the middle of the insurrection when House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called the president to beg for help President Trump responded, and I quote, ‘Well, Kevin I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are,'” Raskin, D-Md., during Saturday’s hearing.

“Needless to say this is an additional critical piece of corroborating evidence further confirming the charges before you as well as the president’s willful dereliction of duty and desertion of duty as commander of the United States, his state of mind and his further incitement of the insurrection on January 6th,” he said.

Trump lawyer Michael van der Veen responded by saying “we should close this case out today” and that the call to subpoena witnesses shows the House didn’t properly investigate the riots.

“First of all this is the proper time that we were assigned to talk about witnesses,” Raskin responded. “This is completely within the course of rules set forth by the Senate. There’s nothing remotely unusual about this.”

Throughout Friday night’s question-and-answer session, Trump’s legal team repeatedly declined to say what the former president knew about the threats to former Vice President Mike Pence’s life and when.

It led an exasperated Raskin to urge the lawyers to “bring your client up here and have him testify under oath about why he was sending out tweets denouncing the vice president of the United States while the vice president was being hunted down by a mob.”

Republicans who have signaled they will vote to acquit Trump warned they could try to drag out the trial and process of calling witnesses. One GOP senator also argued the move could delay confirmation of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet and passage of Democrats’ $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.

“No end in sight. This could drag on indefinitely,” tweeted GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who has opposed both the trial and the pandemic aid plan.

Democrats have rushed to boost the health-care system and economy without Republican votes before March 14, when programs buoying jobless Americans expire. Many GOP lawmakers have resisted any more federal spending to respond to the pandemic.

As the Senate decided how to move forward, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., told NBC News that “every idea is on the table right now, it’s just kind of the wild, wild west here.” He said deposition of potential witnesses could take “a couple weeks,” which could allow the chamber to suspend the trial and approve a relief package.

Meanwhile, it is unclear whether calling witnesses would affect the votes of any senators who had already made up their minds. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, for instance, told colleagues he would vote to acquit Trump, NBC News confirmed earlier Saturday.

The Kentucky Republican argued the chamber did not have the jurisdiction to convict a former president. The House impeached Trump when he was still president, and McConnell declined to use emergency powers to bring the Senate back before Biden’s inauguration.

2021-02-13 10:39:00

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