Senate Republicans face pivotal moment on impeachment witnesses
Republicans in the Senate are facing new pressure to subpoena key witnesses on the impeachment trial of President Trump.
The Senate was headed into the second week of the trial facing a pivotal vote on the subject, and it looked like Democrats would almost certainly not win the four GOP votes needed to subpoena new witnesses.
But that was before a report Sunday night in The New York Times.
The report, based on an unpublished manuscript by Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton, said Bolton in his forthcoming book claims the president tied $391 million in aid to Ukraine to his requests for that country to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
Democrats immediately pounced on the news, with the Democratic impeachment managers saying there was no excuse for GOP senators not to vote for witnesses.
Bolton is one of the witnesses most important to hear from, Democrats were saying even before the new report.
“Senators should insist that Mr. Bolton be called as a witness, and provide his notes and other relevant documents. The Senate trial must seek the full truth and Mr. Bolton has vital information to provide,” the House managers said in a statement.
The White House was aware of the claims in Bolton’s book, thought it is not clear for how long.
“Ambassador Bolton’s manuscript was submitted to the NSC for pre-publication review and has been under initial review by the NSC. No White House personnel outside NSC have reviewed the manuscript,” National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot said in a statement.
Senate Republican leaders before the Bolton revelations had voiced confidence that they will keep their conference unified enough to defeat a motion to subpoena new evidence, which could allow the trial to wrap up at the end of the week.
The GOP is almost certain to lose the vote of Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) on Saturday said that “it’s very likely” he’ll vote for additional witnesses.
The third and fourth GOP votes required by Democrats to win a majority have been seen as trickier gets.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said Saturday she is reviewing her notes and dismissed speculation that she is leaning against new witnesses.
“There are a lot of people trying to divine tea leaves,” Murkowski quipped about the intense scrutiny over her statements.
Murkowski insisted she is keeping an open mind on voting for subpoenas for Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the lead manager of the House impeachment team, irritated Collins and other GOP senators when he said in his closing statement on Friday night that they feared crossing Trump.
Murkowski, however, said Schiff’s remarks wouldn’t factor in her decision making.
“I’ve taken a lot of notes — it takes me back to law school. What I haven’t done is I haven’t gone through any of those, but along the way I made little asterisks and notations about what I want to see, what questions I still have. So I have lot of work to do on my own,” she said.
Democrats had been growing more pessimistic about winning the witness vote, but the report in the Times gave new momentum to their calls.
A vote could take place soon.
Trump’s defense team, which used only a couple hours of its allotted floor time on Saturday, will renew its arguments at 1 p.m. Monday but is not expected to use its full 24 hours.
Senate Democrats say they plan to use the full 16 hours to ask questions after opening arguments, which sets up a debate Wednesday or Thursday on whether it should be in order to call for additional evidence.
If that motion fails, the trial could be wrapped up by the end of the week.
GOP leaders have warned their colleagues that Trump will invoke executive privilege over his conversations with Bolton and Mulvaney and that a court fight to settle it might drag the trial out for weeks.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), one of the impeachment managers, admitted Sunday, before the Times report, that she has no idea what to expect from potential GOP swing votes such as Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) or Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), who both face reelection this year and potential primary challenges.
“As I speak and I sit there, I find myself looking at the senators — a lot of them I served with when they were in the House — and wondering what’s going through their minds,” she said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday
Democrats say that vulnerable GOP incumbents will pay a political price in November’s general election if they vote against witnesses, pointing to recent polls showing strong public support for calling additional evidence, even among Republicans.
But GOP incumbents also have to weigh the backlash from the GOP base if they vote to extend the trial of a president who has maintained strong approval ratings among Republican voters.
White House counsel Pat Cipollone argued Saturday that voting to remove Trump from office would be a far greater subversion of democracy than anything Democrats have charged Trump with.
“They’re asking you to remove President Trump from the ballot in an election that’s occurring in approximately nine months,” he said. “They’re here to perpetrate the most massive interference in an election in American history.”
Jordain Carney contributed.