WASHINGTON — Texas' two senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, joined with nearly all of the Senate GOP members to support a move Friday to block witnesses from testifying at President Donald Trump's impeachment trial.
Whether or not to feature witnesses was one of the most hotly contested procedural debates of the Senate trial. The decision on witnesses comes after two weeks of arguments inside the Senate chamber from Democratic impeachment managers and the president's defense team. The trial is expected to wrap up next week. Trump is expected to easily muster the votes to stay in office.
Over the last two weeks, groups of formal and informal litigators debated on the Senate floor whether the president ought to be removed from office for pressuring Ukraine to investigate the family of a political rival ahead of the 2020 elections. The Democratic group, known as House managers, have viscerally argued that the American public understands trials to include witnesses. At the forefront of this argument is U.S. Rep. Sylvia R. Garcia, an impeachment manager and Houston Democrat.
But Republicans counter that the U.S. House investigation that led to the impeachment should have included all witnesses necessary to litigate the matter. Democrats argue that Trump blocked close aides from testifying. Waiting for the courts to weigh in on House subpoenas would have delayed impeachment for months, creating an opportunity for more alleged elections malfeasance in the meantime, Democrats said.
At the center of this witness debate is former National Security Adviser John Bolton. A favorite among conservatives who back a hardline foreign policy, Bolton departed that post under contentious circumstances in September. In the lead-up to impeachment, Bolton said he would testify if the Senate issued a subpoena. In recent days, the New York Times reported on portions of Bolton's forthcoming book, which according to the latest report, stated Trump ordered Bolton to pressure Ukrainian officials to "extract damaging information on Democrats."
Despite the Bolton revelations, the handful of senators needed to allow Bolton or other witnesses to testify did not materialize.
The Texas senators' positions on the issue were never in doubt.
Cornyn, a close ally of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, was combative on the matter in television appearances and on Twitter.
On Jan. 20, Cornyn dismissed the dispute as a "manufactured kerfuffle." Cruz repeatedly threatened that if witnesses were called, he would push to depose Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden. The younger Biden's work for a Ukrainian natural gas company was at the center of the controversy. Trump allegedly demanded Ukrainian officials investigate Hunter Biden as his father launched his presidential campaign last year.
Democrats argue in return that every other impeachment Senate trial featured witnesses. Politifact verified that claim, but clarified that President Bill Clinton's late 1990s impeachment featured video depositions.
"All of the sworn testimony from House impeachment inquiry from 17 witnesses, as well as the documents received, was available and used in the #ImpeachmentTrial by both the House and POTUS," Cornyn tweeted on Friday morning. "It is simply false to claim that there were no witnesses."
Early Friday, senators anticipated an early Saturday morning vote on whether to remove the president from office. But according to various reports, Trump's defense team asked for a delay. Given the coming Iowa caucus vote on Monday and the State of the Union address on Tuesday, Senate insiders anticipate a Wednesday vote.