Senate votes against allowing witnesses in Trump’s impeachment trial

Photo courtesy of Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images.

By Ruby Van Dyk || Assistant Managing Editor

Last Friday a coalition of Republican senators voted to block new evidence and testimony to enter the impeachment hearings. The move makes Mr. Trump’s acquittal all but assured. This will make him the first president in U.S history to face voters in an election after an impeachment trial. 

On December 18th, 2019 the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives voted to impeach the President on two articles: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Both of these charges were related to the accusations that President Trump withheld military aid from Ukraine in exchange for the investigation into his political opponents, including Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

After passing in the house, the vote moved on to the Republican-controlled Senate. For weeks, Democrats pleaded with Republicans to allow additional and new witnesses and testimony, which finally culminated in Friday’s unsuccessful vote. 

A vote to summon more witnesses would have prolonged the impeachment trial process, introducing more debate over the President’s innocence. One of the key pieces of testimony would have been from Mr. John Bolton, the previous National Security Advisor to President Trump. The leak of an unpublished manuscript from Bolton’s new book (titled The Room Where It Happened, a nod to the music Hamilton) has stirred up controversy. In it, according to the New York Times, Bolton claims that months before the now infamous Ukraine call, Trump directed Mr. Bolton to help him with his efforts to put pressure on Ukraine to give him damaging information about his Democratic opponents, including Joe Biden. This would have been extremely significant evidence as the President’s lawyers repeatedly argued that the aid and the investigations were not linked. 

Another aspect of Mr. Bolton’s testimony that would have been particularly unique was the fact that it would have been the only first-hand account of the phone call involved which may have raised questions about the President’s conduct. Mr Bolton’s testimony would have directly contradicted the argument made by the President and his lawyers of his innocence. That being said, Mr. Bolton’s testimony would have in no way automatically resulted in the Senate voting against the President. It simply would have been additional information for senators to factor into their decision.

The vote split nearly entirely across party lines with Republicans voting 49 to 51 in favor of entering more documents and testimony into the impeachment trial. The two Republicans who voted with the Democrats were Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, a former presidential candidate, and Senator Susan Collins of Maine, up for a challenging re-election vote in 2020. 

Some of the key Republican senators in the vote include Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. Both Alexander and Murkowski are considered to be moderate Republicans, and Democratic hopes of introducing more evidence hinged on their support. Instead, both Murkowski and Alexander voted not to allow new witnesses. In an interview with NPR, Alexander said he “[didn’t] need to hear any more evidence to decide that the president did what he’s charged with doing.” The truth of the accusations, however, did not make the offense impeachable in Alexander’s eyes–particularly during an election year. 

In the aftermath of the vote, several Republicans argued that the introduction of witnesses and testimony was the responsibility of the House of Representatives and the Senate’s only obligation is to make a judgment on the evidence collected by the House. Senator Lisa Murkowski argued in a statement that “The House chose to send articles of impeachment that are rushed and flawed.” Their controversial decision not to go to court for witnesses early in the process appears to have influenced some senator’s decision-making.

Democrats responded by arguing that nowhere in the Constitution is there anything that limits the Senate from using their resources and power to investigate impeachment further. They also cited that history indicates it is within the senate’s discretion to call witnesses as they have in every other impeachment trial in the past. 

As the votes rolled in, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader in the Senate, voiced the frustration of those in his party: “America will remember this day, unfortunately, where the Senate did not live up to its responsibilities, when the Senate turned away from truth and went along with a sham trial. 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.”

Although an acquitted is fully expected, the final and official verdict will arrive on Wednesday when senators vote at 4 pm EST. The vote will occur just twenty hours after President Trump delivers the State of the Union address, which could be his final one to the nation.

Junior Ruby Van Dyk is the assistant managing editor. Her email is rvandyk@fandm.edu.

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