Senate skips witnesses in Trump trial, moves toward vote

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, pauses to answer questions from reporters after the Senate voted to consider hearing from witnesses in the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, at the Capitol in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, pauses to answer questions from reporters after the Senate voted to consider hearing from witnesses in the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, at the Capitol in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

House Democrats began wrapping up their impeachment case against Donald Trump on Saturday after a tumultuous morning in which they gave up a last-minute plan for witness testimony that could have significantly prolonged the trial and delayed a vote on whether the former president incited the deadly Capitol insurrection.

An unexpected morning vote in favor of hearing witnesses threw the trial into confusion just as it was on the verge of concluding. But both sides ultimately reached a deal to instead enter into the record a statement from a Republican House lawmaker about a heated phone call on the day of the riot between Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy that Democrats say established Trump’s indifference to the violence.

Republicans are anxious to get the trial over with and discussion of Trump and the Capitol invasion behind them. Democrats, too, have a motive to move on since the Senate cannot move ahead on new President Joe Biden’s agenda including COVID-19 relief while the impeachment trail is in session.

While most Democrats were expected to vote to convict the former president, acquittal appeared likely with a two-thirds majority required for conviction and the chamber split 50-50 between the parties. Republican leader Mitch McConnell said he would vote to acquit Trump, according to a person familiar with his thinking. Closely watched, the GOP leader’s view could influence others in his party.

At issue at first on Saturday was whether to subpoena Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington state, one of 10 Republicans to vote for Trump’s impeachment in the House. She said in a statement late Friday that Trump rebuffed a plea from McCarthy to call off the rioters. Democrats consider it key corroborating evidence that confirms the president’s “willful dereliction of duty and desertion of duty as commander in chief.”

The situation was resolved when Herrera Beutler’s statement on the call was read aloud into the record for senators to consider as evidence. As part of the deal, Democrats dropped their planned deposition and Republicans abandoned their threat to call their own witnesses. The case then proceeded to closing arguments, where Democrats again alleged that Trump was responsible for the deadly Jan 6. siege on the day the Senate was certifying the election results.

“He abused his office by siding with the insurrectionists at almost every point, rather than with the Congress of the United States, rather than with the Constitution,” said lead House impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland.

Raskin earlier said witnesses were necessary to determine Trump’s role in inciting the riot. Fifty-five senators voted for his motion to consider witnesses, including Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Mitt Romney of Utah. Once they did, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina changed his vote to join them on the 55-45 vote.