Democratic witness bid seems doomed in Trump trial as Murkowski says no


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Another key Republican announced opposition to calling witnesses in U.S. President Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial, appearing to doom a bid by Democrats to have testimony in the trial and paving the way for Trump’s expected acquittal.

Senator Lisa Murkowski said on Friday she carefully considered the need for witnesses and documents to be used in the trial that will determine whether Trump is removed from office, but ultimately decided against it.

Murkowski said in a statement that the charges brought against Trump by the House were rushed and flawed and that “some of my colleagues” intended to further politicize the process.

“Given the partisan nature of this impeachment from the very beginning and throughout, I have come to the conclusion that there will be no fair trial in the Senate. I don’t believe the continuation of this process will change anything. It is sad for me to admit that, as an institution, the Congress has failed.”

Democrats, who earlier in the day sounded resigned to defeat in their bid to call witnesses, would need four Republicans to join them to win a vote to allow testimony and new evidence.

“Tonight, all signs point to a rushed acquittal of an impeached president,” Patty Murray, a member of the Senate Democratic leadership, told reporters.

The Senate resumed the proceedings with the House of Representatives Democrats serving as prosecutors making a final pitch for witnesses such as John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser. The Senate was due later on Friday to vote on the witness issue.

Adam Schiff, who leads the Democratic prosecution team, noted that the Senate will be voting just hours after the New York Times reported new details from Bolton’s unpublished book manuscript in which the former aide said Trump directed him in May to help out in a pressure campaign aimed at getting Ukraine to pursue investigations that would help Trump politically.

Schiff noted that Trump denied Bolton’s account.

“So here you have the president saying John Bolton is not telling the truth. Let’s find out,” Schiff told the Senate. “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.”

The timing of a final vote on whether to convict or acquit Trump was unclear. Republican senators had said it could take place late on Friday or on Saturday. But some senators said the final vote may be put off until next week, perhaps until Wednesday.

Earlier on Friday, Mitt Romney became the second Republican senator to declare support for calling witnesses. Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee and sometime critic of Trump, and fellow moderate Susan Collins are the only ones among the 53 Republican senators in the 100-seat chamber to support such a call.

Barring an unforeseen change of heart by other Republican senators, Trump’s allies seemed assured of defeating the request for testimony.

“If my Republican colleagues refuse to even consider witnesses and documents in this trial, this country is headed towards the greatest cover-up since Watergate,” Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, told reporters, referring to the corruption scandal that prompted Richard Nixon in 1974 to become the only U.S. president to resign.

Acquittal in a “sham trial” would prompt Trump to conclude he “can try to cheat in his election again, something that eats at the roots of our democracy,” Schumer said.

Trump is seeking re-election in a Nov. 3 vote.

Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, who had been undecided, said late on Thursday that Democrats had proven the case against Trump but that the president’s actions did “not meet the United States Constitution’s high bar for an impeachable offense.”

The Democratic-led House voted to impeach Trump on Dec. 18. It charged him with abuse of power for asking Ukraine to investigate a political rival, Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden. It also charged him with obstruction of Congress for blocking current and former officials from providing testimony or documents to the House.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) addresses a news conference with Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) prior to the resumption of the Senate impeachment trial of U.S. President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 30, 2020. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Trump, who is only the third president in U.S. history to be impeached, denies any wrongdoing.

A two-thirds majority in the Senate is required to remove Trump from office. No Republicans have yet indicated they will vote to convict.

Trump’s Republican allies have sought to keep the trial on a fast track and minimize any damage to the president.

NEW BOLTON ACCUSATIONS

The New York Times, which previously reported on allegations made in Bolton’s manuscript that go to the heart of impeachment charges, on Friday reported on additional material in the book.

The Times previously reported that Bolton – contradicting Trump’s version of events – wrote that the president told him he wanted to freeze $391 million in security aid to Ukraine until Kiev pursued investigations of Democrats, including Biden and the former vice president’s son, Hunter Biden.

On Friday, the Times reported that Bolton also wrote that Trump directed him in May to assist in a pressure campaign to get damaging information on Democrats from Ukrainian officials.

Bolton wrote that Trump issued the order in a White House conversation that also included acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, who is part of the president’s impeachment defense team, the Times reported.

Bolton wrote that Trump told him to call Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to ensure Zelenskiy would meet with Giuliani, a key player in the campaign, the Times reported.

The White House has objected to the publication of the book, saying it contains classified information that could harm national security if disclosed.

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Democrats have said Trump abused his power by using the security aid – passed by Congress to help Ukraine battle Russia-backed separatists – and a coveted White House invitation to Zelenskiy as leverage to get a foreign power to smear a political rival.

Trump’s acquittal would allow him to claim vindication just as Democrats hold the first of the state-by-state nominating contests on Monday in Iowa to choose the party’s nominee to challenge Trump in the election.

Reporting by Richard Cowan, David Morgan, Susan Heavey, Susan Cornwell, Patricia Zengerle, Lisa Lambert and Mohammad Zargham in Washington and Jeff Mason in Des Moines, Iowa; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Dan Grebler, Howard Goller and Sonya Hepinstall



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