The Senate was thrown into disarray and chaos Saturday after senators voted to consider allowing witnesses be called during former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial. The move had many in the Democratic base cheering as it brought an unexpected twist to what everyone had expected was going to be a quick acquittal on Saturday. But the excitement didn’t last long. Shortly after the vote, the House impeachment managers, Trump’s legal team, and leaders in the Senate all reached a deal to not call witnesses.
The agreement to eschew the consideration of witnesses came after Senate Democrats were caught off-guard by the call for witnesses from the impeachment managers. It seems the managers didn’t actually make the final determination to call for the vote until minutes before the session started Saturday morning. Lead impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Democrat from Maryland, said he wanted to subpoena GOP Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, who shook up Washington Friday night with a statement that said that mid-riot Trump had expressed sympathy for the rioters who stormed the Capitol Jan. 6 during an expletive-laden phone call with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who was asking for him to call them off. In the end, rather than call Herrera Beutler as a witness, senators decided to enter her statement into the trial record.
Democrats in the Senate said that it shouldn’t be seen as abnormal that they didn’t know there was going to be a push for witnesses. “We don’t coordinate with the managers,” Sen. Ben Cardin said. “So we did not know that they were going to request witnesses or not. And that’s how it should have been.” But it seems Democratic leaders were not too fond of the idea that Trump’s second impeachment trial could go on for days or weeks longer. Now both sides give their closing arguments Saturday and there will be a vote on Trump’s guilt.
Earlier, Raskin had said senators needed to hear from witnesses in order to determine whether Trump is responsible for inciting the deadly riot in the Capitol that ended up killing five people. In the end, 55 senators agreed to debate the call for more witnesses and evidence. That meant five Republicans—Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah and Ben Sasse of Nebraska—joined all Democrats in the vote. Graham, who had had previously warned Democrats that calling witnesses would open a “Pandora’s box,” ended up switching his vote from no to yes. Ultimately, though, it came to naught.
The chaos over the witness vote came as it seemed pretty clear the Senate was getting ready to vote to acquit Trump in his second impeachment trial on the basis of Republican votes. Earlier, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had signaled to colleagues that he would be voting to acquit Trump. He had previously signaled he could consider voting to convict Trump and his vote was seen as likely to influence others in his party. “Given that Senator McConnell made clear in public statements in part blaming President Trump for the violent riot here in the Capitol, it was assumed he was at least open to conviction, so that’s a significant development,” Sen. Christopher Coons, Democrat from Delaware, told reporters before proceedings started Saturday. The Senate is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans. A two-thirds majority is required to convict.
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