Closed Trump impeachment: Final vote on charges to come on Wednesday

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A live blog from FT.com


Democrats in last-ditch effort to hear witnesses

Donald Trump’s impeachment trial is heading towards its final stages on Friday with four hours of debate on witnesses.

Senators will begin debating whether to hear witnesses at 1pm eastern time, though the chances are low that a majority of the Senate will vote in favour of further evidence.

Democratic hopes that the trial could be extended with testimony from the likes of John Bolton, the former national security advisor, were dealt a blow on Thursday night when a crucial Republican senator said he would not cross the aisle.

Lamar Alexander announced that he would acquit Mr Trump and said he did not need to hear more evidence. Democrats had proven the president abused his power, he said, but the conduct was only “inappropriate” not impeachable, said Mr Alexander.

Republicans have a 53-47 majority in the Senate, meaning Democrats need four Republican votes in order to win a motion for witness testimony and documents. Mr Alexander was one of four key senators that Democratic House managers were hoping to flip.


On Friday morning, Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Senate minority leader, continued to push Republicans to hear more evidence.

If my Republican colleagues refuse to consider witnesses and documents in this trial, the president’s acquittal will be meaningless,” he said at a press conference.

“There will be a permanent asterisk next to the acquittal of President Trump.”


Bolton revelations loom over final proceedings

As senators prepare to vote on whether to call witnesses like John Bolton, the New York Times has more details of the former national security advisor’s forthcoming book:

More than two months before he asked Ukraine’s president to investigate his political opponents, President Trump directed John R. Bolton, then his national security adviser, to help with his pressure campaign to extract damaging information on Democrats from Ukrainian officials, according to an unpublished manuscript by Mr. Bolton.

The fresh revelations highlight a central argument Democrats have deployed against Republicans as they head towards dismissing the case without hearing testimony from Mr Bolton: that damaging details of Mr Trump’s conduct will continue to emerge, even after they acquit.

Mr Bolton has so far not spoken publicly about what he knows. He refused to testify in the House impeachment investigation but said he would be willing to appear before the Senate if subpoenaed.

His book is due to be published in March, but is currently going through pre-publication review by the White House. This week, the National Security Council warned him not to publish the book until the review was complete as it contained classified information.


Top Republican says vote could slide into next week

James Politi and Kadhim Shubber in Washington report:

A senior Republican senator raised the possibility that a final verdict in Donald Trump’s impeachment trial could slide into next week, even if lawmakers vote on Friday against hearing testimony from witnesses in the case to remove the president from office.


John Cornyn (above), the second-highest ranking Republican in the Senate, said it was “probably a good idea to bring this thing to a close in the near future”. However, he added: “My guess is it probably is going to carry us over to the first part of next week, but obviously we have the Iowa caucuses on February the 3rd, and we have the State of the Union the next day”.

Mr Cornyn’s comments suggest that Mr Trump’s likely acquittal in the impeachment trial, which was expected late on Friday or early Saturday, might be delayed for a few more days, though Republican aides stressed that no final decision had been reached.

Later on Friday, the upper chamber is expected to debate and vote on a proposal to allow witness testimony from figures such as John Bolton, Mr Trump’s former national security adviser, who had direct knowledge of his Ukraine policy, which lies at the heart of the case against him.


Rubio opposes impeachment, but rejects Trump defence arguments

Marco Rubio, the Republican senator from Florida, has issued a statement explaining why he will vote to acquit the president without calling new witnesses. In the lengthy statement, he also distanced himself from the controversial positions staked out by Mr Trump’s defense lawyers.

“On the first Article of Impeachment, I reject the argument that ‘Abuse of Power’ can never constitute grounds for removal unless a crime or a crime-like action is alleged,” he said.

Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard emeritus professor, and Patrick Philbin, the White House deputy counsel, drew fire for the expansive view of executive authority they articulated in arguments this week.


Murkowski is a ‘no’ on witnesses

The Senate debate on whether to call witnesses has just kicked off, but Lisa Murkowski, the Republican senator from Alaska seen as one of four key swing votes, has all but ensured Democrats will fail to win a majority for their motion.

Ms Murkowski said in a statement:

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.

Lamar Alexander, another of the four Republican votes Democrats targeted, said last night he would also vote against calling witnesses, indicating that Republicans have at least 51 votes to move to acquit without further evidence.


Republican senator defends chief justice

Lisa Murkowski’s full statement on voting against witnesses includes a defence of John Roberts, the Supreme Court chief justice who has been presiding over Donald Trump’s impeachment trial:

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.

Chief Justice John Roberts has been a largely passive player in the impeachment proceedings. For much of the trial, his most active role has been leading the Senate in reciting the pledge of allegiance at the beginning of each session.

But this week he became a kind of ventriloquist’s dummy as all the questions senators asked each side were routed through the chief justice to be read aloud. In two cases, the questions caused controversy.

Mr Roberts declined to read a question submitted by Rand Paul, the Republican senator from Kentucky, because it included the name of the person reported to be the whistleblower whose complaint first alerted Congress to Mr Trump’s alleged efforts to pressure Ukraine.

And Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic senator who is running for president, drew criticism for asking a question that pointedly suggested Mr Roberts was eroding his credibility by presiding over a trial with no witnesses.

Mr Roberts read the question aloud in full:

At a time when large majorities of Americans have lost faith in government, does the fact that the chief justice is presiding over an impeachment trial in which Republican senators have thus far refused to allow witnesses or evidence contribute to the loss of legitimacy of the chief justice, the Supreme Court, and the Constitution?

Democrats have further suggested that Mr Roberts should cast a tie-breaking vote in support of witnesses if the Senate split 50-50 on the proposal.

“If it’s a tie, it’ll be up to the chief justice,” said Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, on Friday morning. “The chief justice knows that every trial has witnesses and documents.”

The Congressional Research Service has said the chief justice “would not be expected to vote” even in the event of a tie.

In any case, Ms Murkowski’s decision to vote against witnesses suggests Republicans have at least 51 votes to resist such a motion.


Former Trump chief of staff backs vote for witnesses

John Kelly, the former White House chief of staff, has said that if Senate Republicans block a motion for witnesses the impeachment proceedings would be “half a trial”.

Mr Kelly told NJ Advance Media that if the Senate did not seek witnesses it would not be living up to its responsibilities.

“In my view, they kind of leave themselves open to a lot of criticism,” the publication reported him saying. “It seems it was half a trial.”

He referenced polling that suggests a large majority of Americans support a call for witnesses, adding:

If I was advising the United States Senate, I would say, ‘If you don’t respond to 75 per cent of the American voters and have witnesses, it’s a job only half done … You open yourself up forever as a Senate that shirks its responsibilities.


Democrats make final pleas on witnesses

The Democratic House impeachment managers are about half way through their arguments on why the Senate should call witnesses such as John Bolton, the former national security advisor, and Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff.

At this stage, the presentations are directed more towards the watching public than the sitting senators. Public comments by Republican senators suggest there are at least 51 votes against having witness testimony.

Adam Schiff (above), the House intelligence committee chairman who has led the impeachment effort, said trials were meant to be “a quest for the truth”, adding: “Let’s not fear what we will learn.”

Val Demings (above), the Democratic representative from Florida, re-iterated that no Senate impeachment trial, until now, has ever ended without hearing from witnesses.

And Jason Crow (above), the Democrat from Colorado, told the Senate: “The truth will come out, and it’s continuing to. The question here, before this body, is what do you want your place in history to be?”


Schiff warns of ‘arbitrary’ government

The Democrats have completed their arguments in favour of calling witnesses with Adam Schiff, the House intelligence committee chairman, warning Republicans of the precedent they would set if Donald Trump’s impeachment trial ended without hearing from witnesses or reviewing documents.

He said a failure to call witnesses “effectively nullifies the impeachment power”, as any future president would simply argue for similar treatment by pointing to Mr Trump’s example.

“By allowing a categorical obstruction, it turns the impeachment power against itself,” he said. “The president effectively, for all intents and purposes, becomes above the law.”

“Rob this country of a fair trial and there can be no representation that the verdict has any meaning,” he said, arguing that an impeachment trial set an example for all trials in US.

“If it doesn’t happen here, the government becomes arbitrary,” he said.


Impeachment trial to spill into next week

Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, has indicated that the impeachment trial will continue into next week and possibly past Donald Trump’s scheduled State of the Union address on Tuesday.

Mr Schumer told reporters during a break in proceedings on Friday that he did not want a vote on whether to convict or acquit Mr Trump to be “rushed through” or taken “in the dark of night”.

“Members have an obligation to tell the American people and to the tell the people of their State why they are voting,” he said.

Floor statements from the 100 senators in the Senate, as well as any closing arguments, could stretch over days.


Trump defence team begins arguments on witnesses

The Senate has returned to hear Donald Trump’s legal team respond to the Democrats’ push for witnesses and testimony. Already, comments from Republican senators suggest they have enough votes to defeat the motion for further evidence.

Patrick Philbin, (above) the White House deputy counsel, began his remarks by arguing that the House impeachment managers were themselves setting a harmful precedent.

“What the Senate accepts as an impeachment coming from the House determines not just precedent for the Senate, but really precedent for the House in the future as well,” he said.

“If the Senate says yes, we’ll start calling new witnesses because you didn’t get the job done … then that becomes the new normal,” he added.

Mr Philbin rejected the argument that it was irregular for the Senate to dismiss the impeachment without hearing from witnesses.

“In the regular courts, the way things work is you’ve got to do a lot of work preparing the trial,” he said.

“You can’t show up the day of trial and say, ‘oh, your Honour, actually we’re not ready, we didn’t subpoena John Bolton, and now we want to subpoena that witness’,” he argued.


Bolton ‘saved it for the book’, Schiff says

Returning to the Senate podium, Adam Schiff, the House intelligence committee chairman leading the case against Mr Trump, has made a direct appeal to John Bolton, the former national security adviser whose forthcoming book has caused a stir in Washington.

Mr Bolton, who left the administration last year (Mr Trump said he fired Mr Bolton; Mr Bolton says he quit), will in his book reportedly link Mr Trump directly to the alleged pressure campaign on Ukraine to announce investigations into Joe Biden and his son, according to the New York Times. This morning, another leak from the book published in the New York Times said that the alleged pressure campaign started months before previously known. 

The revelations added new momentum to Democrats’ calls to hear from new witnesses in the Senate impeachment trial — Mr Bolton was asked to testify in the House proceedings but did not. Mr Bolton has said he would testify if subpoenaed. 

“If this trial goes forward and he keeps this to himself, it will be very difficult to explain to the country why he saved it for the book,” Mr Schiff said on Friday. 

Directing his next comment at Republicans who have decided not to vote in favour of allowing new witnesses and documents, he added: ”It will be equally difficult for you to explain.” 


Trump departs Washington for the weekend

As the Senate paused ahead of a much-anticipated vote on whether they will call witnesses before the impeachment trial, Donald Trump departed the White House for a weekend at his South Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago.

According to the White House pool report, the president took no questions as he walked to his helicopter, Marine One, with wife Melania. Earlier in the day, the Florida Highway Patrol detained two suspects after a black SUV breached two security checkpoints at Mar-a-Lago. Law enforcement were due to brief the press on the incident later today.


Emoticon Senate votes on witness subpoenas

Senate Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, has called the vote on witness subpoenas, which is expected to fail. Mr McConnell said that after the vote, he would call a recess, meaning that a final vote on convicting Donald Trump may not happen tonight.


Emoticon Senate rejects effort to subpoena witnesses by 51-49 vote

Democrats have failed in their effort to issue subpoenas to John Bolton, Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, and other witnesses, all but ensuring the president will be quickly acquitted and remain in office.

The measure to call witnesses was voted down 51-49, with only two Republicans backing the motion.

Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, called the vote a “grand tragedy”, arguing that a Senate acquittal with no witnesses or subpoenaed documents “will have no value”.

“Americans will remember this day, unfortunately,” Mr Schumer told reporters moments after the vote was recorded. “The Senate did not live up to its responsibilities.”


McConnell says Senate trial to conclude ‘in the coming days’

Mitch McConnell has given the clearest sign yet that there will be no vote on Donald Trump’s impeachment charges tonight, issuing a statement that the Senate trial will conclude “in the coming days”.

Mr McConnell said there was “no need” to “re-open the investigation” since Democrats had already described their case as “overwhelming” and “beyond any doubt”.

“Senators will now confer among ourselves, with the House managers, and with the president’s counsel to determine next steps,” Mr McConnell added.


Trump chides Democrats on witnesses after Senate vote

Donald Trump has taken to Twitter to chide Democrats, arguing that they were able to call 17 witnesses during the House’s impeachment investigation while Republicans were not able to call any.

The witnesses that Senate Democrats wanted to subpoena, including former national security adviser John Bolton, were blocked from testifying in the House proceedings by the White House.


Emoticon Final vote on Trump impeachment charges to come on Wednesday

Senate Republican leaders have reached a deal with their Democratic counterparts to hold a final vote on the two impeachment charges against Donald Trump on Wednesday.

According to Senators breaking from a party caucus, there will be four or five votes tonight on Democratic amendments, but no weekend sessions. Instead, closing arguments will come on Monday, which will be followed by a two-day Senate floor debate on the charges.

It will be a busy political week, with the Iowa caucuses on Monday and Mr Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday.


Ex-ambassador pushed out by White House retires from State Department

Marie Yovanovitch, the former US ambassador to Ukraine who was forced from her post by the White House and became a key witness in the House’s impeachment investigation, has retired from the foreign service, NPR reported.

Ms Yovanovich became a target of Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, after she resisted his scheme to pressure Kyiv into investigating the president’s political rivals. She was abruptly removed from her post in May.