Murkowski to vote 'no' on witnesses, dashing Democrats' hopes of extending trial

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThe Hill's Morning Report - Sanders takes incoming during intense SC debate Overnight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — Lawmakers raise alarms over Trump coronavirus response | Top official warns virus appears inevitable in US | Democrats block two Senate abortion bills Overnight Energy: Critics pile on Trump plan to roll back major environmental law | Pick for Interior No. 2 official confirmed | JPMorgan Chase to stop loans for fossil fuel drilling in the Arctic MORE (R-Alaska) will vote against a motion to consider to consider subpoenas of new witnesses and documents at President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump passes Pence a dangerous buck Overnight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — Trump taps Pence to lead coronavirus response | Trump accuses Pelosi of trying to create panic | CDC confirms case of 'unknown' origin | Schumer wants .5 billion in emergency funds Trump nods at reputation as germaphobe during coronavirus briefing: 'I try to bail out as much as possible' after sneezes MORE’s impeachment trial, giving Republicans 51 votes to wrap up the trial soon.

Murkowski said she had worked to produce a fair process modeled after the Clinton impeachment trial, but blamed the House for rushing "flawed" impeachment articles.

“I worked for a fair, honest and transparent process, modeled after the Clinton trial, to provide ample time for both sides to present their cases, ask thoughtful questions, and determine whether we need more," she said. “The House chose to send articles of impeachment that are rushed and flawed. I carefully considered the need for additional witnesses and documents, to cure the shortcomings of its process, but ultimately decided that I will vote against considering motions to subpoena."

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Murkowski also said the trial had not been fair and that Congress had failed as an institution.

“Given the partisan nature of this impeachment from the very beginning and throughout, I have come to the conclusion that there will be no fair trial in the Senate. 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," she said. 

“It has also become clear some of my colleagues intend to further politicize this process, and drag the Supreme Court into the fray, while attacking the chief justice. I will not stand for nor support that effort. We have already degraded this institution for partisan political benefit, and I will not enable those who wish to pull down another.

“We are sadly at a low point of division in this country."

Murkowski had been the last undecided Republican senator, giving Democrats hope of a 50-50 tie on the crucial procedural question of subpoenaing witnesses such as former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonOvernight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — Trump taps Pence to lead coronavirus response | Trump accuses Pelosi of trying to create panic | CDC confirms case of 'unknown' origin | Schumer wants .5 billion in emergency funds Bolton's lost leverage Azar downplays chance Trump will appoint coronavirus czar MORE.

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Two Republicans, Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Sanders takes incoming during intense SC debate Overnight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — Lawmakers raise alarms over Trump coronavirus response | Top official warns virus appears inevitable in US | Democrats block two Senate abortion bills Democrats block two Senate abortion bills MORE (Maine) and Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyOrange County declaring local health emergency in response to coronavirus Why Bernie Sanders won the debate Lawmakers raise alarms over Trump coronavirus response MORE (Utah), said in recent days they would likely vote for additional subpoenas, and confirmed their “yes” votes in announcements late Thursday and early Friday.

Senate Republican leaders felt confident last week that Murkowski would likely vote against calling new witnesses and documents. But that confidence evaporated after The New York Times reported Sunday that Bolton had claimed in an unpublished manuscript that Trump explicitly linked military aid for Ukraine to an investigation of former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden looks to shore up lead in S.C. Hillicon Valley: Dems cancel surveillance vote after pushback to amendments | Facebook to ban certain coronavirus ads | Lawmakers grill online ticketing execs | Hacker accessed facial recognition company's database Vulnerable Democrats brace for Sanders atop ticket MORE.

Murkowski made it clear to colleagues that she wanted to hear from Bolton but also expressed concern about letting the trial turn into an extended partisan procedural battle, with the prospect of Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump passes Pence a dangerous buck Democratic mega-donor reaching out to Pelosi, Schumer in bid to stop Sanders: report Trump administration freezes funding for study of hurricane barriers: report MORE (D-N.Y.) forcing vulnerable GOP incumbents to take a slew of tough votes.

She wrestled with the question of voting for additional subpoenas late into Thursday night, telling reporters shortly before 11 p.m. Thursday that she would review two volumes of copious notes from the trial before announcing her decision the following morning.

“You can actually take pictures of my two volumes here,” Murkowski told a crowd of reporters after she left the Senate chamber late Thursday. “I’m going to go back to my office [and] put some eye drops in so I can keep reading. And I’ve been forming a lot of thoughts.”

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Murkowski dropped hints throughout the 16-hour round of senators questioning the House impeachment managers and the White House defense team that she was strongly considering whether to call Bolton to testify.

In a question submitted to Trump’s lawyers Thursday evening, she asked why Bolton shouldn’t be called to testify.  

White House deputy counsel Patrick Philbin argued that it would set a bad precedent for the Senate to take up the investigative work of impeachment charges that he said should have been completed by the House.

“The most important consideration, I think, that this chamber has before it … has to do with the precedent that is established here for what kind of impeachment proceeding this body will accept from now going forward,” he said.

Philbin warned that issuing new subpoenas would set a “new normal” and perhaps embolden the House to pass future articles of impeachment against a president of the opposite party without full investigation.

Murkowski sat next to Collins on the Senate floor throughout the trial and the two senators passed notes back and forth during the senators’ question time, providing a hint they might vote the same way on the question of witnesses.

Murkowski was also seen chatting regularly with Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderLawmakers raise alarms over Trump coronavirus response Bill Barr is trying his best to be Trump's Roy Cohn The Trump administration's harmful and immoral attack on children MORE (R-Tenn.), who until late Thursday night was also undecided on the question of witnesses. They met together before a dinner of the entire Senate Republican Conference and were regularly spotted sitting next to each other at GOP meals.  

When Alexander announced Thursday that he would vote against subpoenaing new evidence for the trial, it was a sign that Murkowski would as well.

Senate Republicans thought it was unlikely a vote on subpoenaing additional witnesses and documents would end in a tie, which may have put pressure on Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to cast a tie-breaking vote.

“I expect not to have a tie vote, by the way. I think it’s going to be 51 to 49,” Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) predicted Thursday evening.