GOP closes ranks, killing bid for new witnesses in Trump impeachment trial

WASHINGTON (CN) — In what Democrats denounced as an illegitimate end to President Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial, Republicans killed a motion Friday that would have allowed for new witnesses and evidence.

The 49-51 vote came after final debates over the witness issue, which was the last outstanding question in a trial whose final outcome is all but certain.

The Friday evening vote means Trump’s will be the first presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history that concludes without the Senate hearing from additional witnesses.

On the heels of a similar announcement Thursday evening from Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, however, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski revealed she would not support the call for new witnesses to cure what she described as defects in the articles against Trump.

With the announcements all but assuring the motion will fail, lawmakers nevertheless began what will be a four-hour debate on the issue of witnesses. A vote of acquittal is expected to follow, though exactly when remains unclear.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called the outcome a “perfidy” and a “grand tragedy.”

“If the president is acquitted with no witnesses, no documents, the acquittal will have no value because Americans will know that this trial was not a real trial,” Schumer said. “It had no witnesses, no documents.”

The Democratic leader declined to comment on next steps as Republicans gear up to acquit Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated following the vote that both sides will determine how to wrap up the historic proceedings “in the coming days.”

Lead House manager Adam Schiff began a seemingly futile debate this afternoon by referencing a New York Times report released earlier in the day about the unreleased memoir of former national security adviser John Bolton.

According to a copy of Bolton’s manuscript that the Times reviewed, Bolton says President Donald Trump tied investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, to a hold on $391 million in military assistance to Ukraine.

Trump also reportedly asked Bolton to help arrange a meeting between the new president of Ukraine and Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney.

Democrats spent their time before the Senate on Friday afternoon imploring lawmakers to heed their call for witnesses.

“So here you have the president saying, ‘John Bolton is not telling the truth,’” Schiff said. “Let’s find out. Let’s put John Bolton under oath. Let’s find out who’s telling the truth. A trial is supposed to be a quest for the truth. Let’s not fear what we will learn.”

Trying to assuage Republicans concerned about locking up the chamber in an interminable impeachment trial, House managers argued the Senate could break from trial for a week while deposing witnesses, during which time the chamber would be able to conduct its usual business.

Soon after succeeding in his efforts to keep new witnesses out of Trump’s trial, McConnell said the record in the House should be enough for senators to make the ultimate decisions.

“There is no need for the Senate to reopen 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 in a statement.

Ahead of Friday’s debate, as lawmakers clamored past waiting press to the Senate chamber, Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., could be observed rapidly talking on a cellphone. A Democrat in a state that overwhelmingly backed Trump in the 2016 election, Manchin is one of few Democrats who could cross party lines and vote to acquit Trump.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer could be seen passing a note to the swing Senator through a page — neither lawmaker reacted on the Senate floor.

The passing of notes was not party exclusive. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could be seen communicating with an aide seated beside him throughout presentations by Schiff. At one point, McConnell wrote a note, turned to his aide, gave a smile and a thumbs-up during Schiff’s presentation. McConnell and Senate Majority Whip John Thune also appeared to be communicating with one other on a white legal pad, passed back and forth through the same aide.

Though earlier last week he admitted feeling sick, Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was not one of the senators filing onto the floor early Friday morning. Graham has been absent in the Senate chamber at the start of most proceedings and could be seen Friday exiting the chamber the moment House managers took the podium to respond to White House counsel.

Continuing an apparent theme among House managers, Representative Val Demings also led her argument with the latest Bolton bombshell from the Times. Demings said between what the House gathered and the Times’ reporting, the evidence to convict Trump is overwhelming. Demings said Senate vindication will only embolden the president’s misconduct.

“It’s direct, it’s corroborated by multiple sources, and it proves that the president committed grave, impeachable offenses to cheat in the next election,” Demings said, sighing heavily. “The evidence confirms that if left in office, President Trump will continue to harm our, America’s, national security.”

As Demings orated from the Senate well, Senator Susan Collins — one of a few Republican senators who remained mum on how they would vote on witnesses until Thursday night — could be seen diligently writing notes and smiling at the House manager. As Demings repeated three times, “Is this a fair trial?” Collins stopped writing to listen.

Arguing against witness testimony, Trump’s defense team said senators should not take it as their duty to fill out the record with witnesses whose testimony the House did not hear. They faulted House Democrats for not going to court to vindicate their subpoenas before impeaching Trump.

“They got their wish of an impeachment by Christmas — that was the goal,” Trump attorney Jay Sekulow said. “But now they want you to do the work they failed to do.”

White House attorney Pat Philbin deflated the House managers’ offer of a week-long pause in the impeachment trial to accommodate witness depositions by saying that testimony would likely be locked up in the same court fights House Democrats sought to avoid during their inquiry.

That would stretch the impeachment trial for months, Philbin said, adding that this would upset what he saw as the proper roles of the House and Senate in impeachment proceedings.

In a rebuttal argument, Schiff said Philbin was ignoring a key ruling from a Washington federal judge in the fight over a House subpoena for testimony from former White House counsel Don McGahn.

In that case, U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson called the White House’s view of immunity for top administration officials a “fiction.” Schiff also noted the Trump administration has argued in court that judges should not weigh in on disputes between the executive and legislative branch over witness testimony.