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Senate rejects impeachment witnesses, setting up Trump acquittal

Senate Republicans rejected a mid-trial effort to call witnesses and documents on Friday, paving the way for President TrumpDonald TrumpIran's leader vows 'revenge,' posting an image resembling Trump Former Sanders spokesperson: Biden 'backing away' from 'populist offerings' Justice Dept. to probe sudden departure of US attorney in Atlanta after Trump criticism MORE’s acquittal on two articles of impeachment passed by the House.

Senators voted 49-51, with Republican Sens. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyFor Biden, a Senate trial could aid bipartisanship around COVID relief Bipartisan Senate gang to talk with Biden aide on coronavirus relief GOP senator calls Biden's COVID-19 relief plan a 'non-starter' MORE (Utah) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsFor Biden, a Senate trial could aid bipartisanship around COVID relief Limbaugh falsely says Biden didn't win legitimately while reacting to inauguration Bipartisan Senate gang to talk with Biden aide on coronavirus relief MORE (Maine) breaking ranks to join Democrats in voting for witnesses. Fifty-one votes were needed to approve witnesses.

The vote is a significant win for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump selects South Carolina lawyer for impeachment trial McConnell proposes postponing impeachment trial until February For Biden, a Senate trial could aid bipartisanship around COVID relief MORE (R-Ky.) and Trump, letting them bypass a messy floor fight over hearing testimony from former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonPence, other GOP officials expected to skip Trump send-off NSA places former GOP political operative in top lawyer position after Pentagon chief's reported order After insurrection: The national security implications MORE and other witnesses.

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The GOP leader has said publicly and privately that he did not want witnesses, warning that it set up a “mutually assured destruction” because both sides would call controversial witnesses. 

"There is no need for the Senate to re-open the investigation which the House Democratic majority chose to conclude and which the Managers themselves continue to describe as 'overwhelming' and 'beyond any doubt,'" McConnell said.

"Never in Senate history has this body paused an impeachment trial to pursue additional witnesses with unresolved questions of executive privilege that would require protracted litigation. We have no interest in establishing such a new precedent, particularly for individuals whom the House expressly chose not to pursue," the GOP leader continued in his statement. 

"Senators 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."

Whether or not witnesses would be called was the big wildcard of Trump’s trial, as the president's acquittal has been all but guaranteed in the GOP-controlled body, where 67 votes are needed for conviction. 

The witness fight reached a fever pitch in the days leading up to Friday’s vote as Republicans faced intense pressure to call Bolton after The New York Times reported that he will claim, in his upcoming memoir, that Trump tied Ukraine aid to the country helping investigate Democrats, including former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenRev. Barber says best way to undercut extremism is with honesty Biden requires international travelers to quarantine upon arrival to US Overnight Defense: House approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee | Biden to seek five-year extension of key arms control pact with Russia | Two more US service members killed by COVID-19 MORE and his son Hunter Biden. 

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Bolton’s allegation threatened to upend McConnell’s plan for a quick trial, and Republicans threw out a range of potential responses from requesting that the White House send over a copy of the unpublished manuscript to subpoenaing Bolton himself, who has offered to testify. 

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneNRSC chair says he'll back GOP incumbents against Trump primary challengers Biden steps into debt fight on Capitol Hill McConnell faces conservative backlash over Trump criticism MORE (R-S.D.), the chief GOP vote counter, declined to say as late as Thursday that he thought they had a lock on the votes.

Democrats wanted to call four witnesses and compel the administration to hand over documents related to the delayed Ukraine aid. In addition to Bolton they wanted to hear from acting chief of staff Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyConsumer bureau director resigns after Biden's inauguration FDA chief says he was 'disgusted' by Capitol riots, considered resigning Biden consumer bureau pick could take over agency on Inauguration Day MORE; Robert Blair, a Mulvaney adviser; and Michael Duffey, an Office of Management and Budget (OMB) staffer. 

The Senate’s Friday vote was on if it would be in order to consider new witnesses or documents. If Democrats had succeeded, which would have required the support of four GOP senators, both sides would have been able to make motions for specific individuals. The Senate would then have had subsequent votes on those requests. 

But Republicans warned their colleagues that if they agreed to call Bolton, they were paving the way for a messy floor fight and likely a protracted legal battle that could leave the trial in limbo for months. 

“I think people are just now beginning to understand that ... it’s not just one witness and it could entail months of delay,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynLimbaugh falsely says Biden didn't win legitimately while reacting to inauguration Top Texas Democratic Party staffers to step down after underwhelming election results K Street navigates virtual inauguration week MORE (R-Texas). 

Pat Philbin, a member of Trump’s legal team, warned during opening arguments that the president had a “long list” of witnesses he wanted to call if Bolton was subpoenaed. 

Trump had indicated he would invoke executive privilege to try to prevent Bolton from testifying, arguing that allowing his former adviser to testify could set him to discuss, or be asked about, sensitive national security matters.  

McConnell had only three votes to lose in the battle, but after Sen. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderCongress addressed surprise medical bills, but the issue is not resolved Trump renominates Judy Shelton in last-ditch bid to reshape Fed Senate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes MORE (R-Tenn.) late Thursday announced he would oppose new witnesses, it was clear he would win.

On Friday, Sen. Lisa Murkwoski (R-Alaska) said she would not vote to allow witnesses, ensuring there would not be a tie vote that might raise the question of involvement by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial. 

“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,” Murkowski said. 

Alexander explained his decision by saying that while Trumps’s behavior was “inappropriate,” it was not impeachable. He said there was no need to hear more evidence on the matter.

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Sen. Ben SasseBen SasseSenate approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee Budowsky: Democracy won, Trump lost, President Biden inaugurated Pompeo labels China's treatment of Uighurs 'genocide' MORE (R-Neb.) told reporters unprompted on Friday that Alexander “speaks for lots and lots of us.” 

But some Senate Democrats panned Alexander on Friday. Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyBiden signs executive order invoking 2-year lobbying ban for appointees K Street navigates virtual inauguration week Senate Democrats make democracy reform first bill of new majority MORE (D-Ore.) called his decision an “offense.” 

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerNRSC chair says he'll back GOP incumbents against Trump primary challengers Schumer becomes new Senate majority leader US Chamber of Commerce to Biden, Congress: Business community 'ready to help' MORE (D-N.Y.) railed against Republicans and Trump ahead of Friday’s vote. 

“If my Republican colleagues refuse to even consider witnesses and documents in this trial, this country is headed towards the greatest cover-up since Watergate,” Schumer said.  

“If my Republican colleagues refuse to even consider witnesses and documents in the trial, what will the president conclude? We all know: he'll conclude he can do it again, and congress can do nothing about it. He can try to cheat in his election again, something that eats at the roots of our democracy,” he added.