Murkowski Says She’ll Vote No on Witnesses

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

John F. Kelly, President Trump’s former chief of staff and secretary of homeland security, said on Friday that the Senate would be known forever as a body that “shirks its responsibilities” if it wraps up the trial of his former boss without hearing witnesses.

Mr. Kelly, breaking even further with the president, said the impeachment proceedings would be only “half a trial” if the senators did not hear testimony from the likes of John R. Bolton, the president’s former national security adviser, who wrote in an unpublished book that Mr. Trump directly conditioned American security aid to politically beneficial investigations.

“In my view, they kind of leave themselves open to a lot of criticism,” Mr. Kelly told NJ Advance Media in an interview tied to an upcoming speech at Drew University. “It seems it was half a trial.”

Mr. Kelly, who already said this week that he believed Mr. Bolton’s account, which the president has denied, pointed to polls showing overwhelming public support for witnesses.

“If I was advising the United States Senate, I would say, ‘If you don’t respond to 75 percent of the American voters and have witnesses, it’s a job only half done,’” he said. “You open yourself up forever as a Senate that shirks its responsibilities.”

Credit…Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times

As Republican senators announced they would vote to acquit President Trump, they cited a reason divorced from the merits of the president’s conduct, arguing that removing Mr. Trump months away from the presidential election would serve only to deepen the nation’s bitter divisions.

Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, announced on Friday that he would vote to block hearing from additional witnesses and acquit Mr. Trump, though he reiterated that he found some of the president’s actions “wrong and inappropriate.”

“Our country is already too deeply divided and we should be working to heal wounds, not create new ones,” Mr. Portman said in a statement. “It is better to let the people decide.”

Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, in announcing his vote in a lengthy statement on Friday, used similar language, but avoided making a determination as to whether Mr. Trump’s conduct was appropriate.

“Can anyone doubt that at least half of the country would view his removal as illegitimate — as nothing short of a coup d’état?” Mr. Rubio wrote. “It is difficult to conceive of any scheme Putin could undertake that would undermine confidence in our democracy more than removal would.”

Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the lead Democratic House manager, opened by referring to The New York Times’s revelation on Friday that President Trump’s role in the Ukraine pressure campaign began earlier than previously known. Mr. Schiff emphasized that Pat A. Cipollone, the White House counsel, was present when the president delivered that instruction.

“He said all the facts should come out,” Mr. Schiff said of Mr. Cipollone. “Well, here’s a new fact, which indicates that Mr. Cipollone was among those who were in the loop.”

Mr. Schiff called the Times article, which cited an unpublished manuscript by John R. Bolton, the former national security adviser, as “yet another reason why we want to hear from witnesses.” Reports about Mr. Bolton’s unpublished book, Mr. Schiff added, was evidence of the need to call the former aide as a witness.

“Mr. Bolton’s manuscript portrays the most senior White House advisers as early witnesses in the effort that they have sought to distance the president from, including the White House counsel,” he said.

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

If the Senate acquits President Trump in the next 24 hours, it will be a political gift for him that couldn’t come at a better time.

On Sunday, the president is scheduled to be interviewed by Sean Hannity of Fox News during the half time of the Super Bowl, one of the biggest platforms in all of television. He would no doubt seize the opportunity to declare vindication in an impeachment inquiry that he has repeatedly called a “hoax” and a “sham.”

A day later, Mr. Trump will cruise to victory — unopposed — in the Iowa Republican caucuses, officially kicking off his re-election bid. While Democrats will describe him as a permanently impeached president, Mr. Trump is likely to use a verdict of not guilty to declare himself cleared of all charges.

On Tuesday evening, Mr. Trump will arrive at the Capitol to deliver his annual State of the Union address. Armed with an acquittal, he will be able to face his Democratic accusers in their own chamber, denouncing their attempts to force him from office in front of millions of viewers.

And six days after that, the president will hold a rally in New Hampshire, offering a preview of the message he will use in his campaign: that the Democrats failed in their attempt to thwart the will of the people with a bogus and unfair investigation and a trial that found he did nothing wrong.

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, has said little during the impeachment trial. And he told reporters briefly on Friday that he would remain silent. But he did offer one comment about Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, who said late Thursday that President Trump’s actions were not impeachable.

“Lamar speaks for lots and lots of us,” Mr. Sasse said. He did not elaborate.

Credit…Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times

Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, said Friday she would vote against including new witnesses and documents in President Trump’s impeachment trial, likely dealing a fatal blow to Democrats’ attempts to compel new evidence as she lamented that “Congress has failed.”

In a statement released just as the House managers began pleading their case for witnesses, Ms. Murkowski called their impeachment articles too “rushed and flawed” to warrant prolonging the trial. But she also said she had become convinced that the Senate would be unable to deliver a fair trial, echoing a point made repeatedly by Democrats though with different reasoning.

“I carefully considered the need for additional witnesses and documents, to cure the shortcomings of its process, but ultimately decided that I will vote against considering motions to subpoena,” she said.

Ms. Murkowski’s decision is all but certain to clear the way for Republicans, who have been working feverishly to block witnesses from testifying, to bring Mr. Trump’s trial to a swift acquittal, possibly as early as Friday night. She announced it before a four-hour debate and a vote on whether to allow new evidence, scheduled for later Friday.

Ms. Murkowski did not indicate how she would vote on the final articles of impeachment. But she offered an unusually sharp rebuke of the institution in which she serves, appearing to cast blame on both parties and both chambers of Congress for letting excessive partisanship overtake a solemn responsibility, even as she sided with her own party.

“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,” she said. “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,” she added.

Democrats would need four Republicans to join them in the call for additional testimony and documents, which would prolong the trial and inject an element of unpredictability into the proceeding. They suffered a blow on Thursday night when Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee and a critical swing vote, announced that he would stick with his party and vote no.

Mr. Alexander said there was already plenty of evidence proving that the president had withheld military aid from Ukraine to pressure the country for political favors, calling the actions “inappropriate” but not impeachable.

His Republican colleagues, Senators Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine, have said that they will vote in favor of seeking testimony from additional witnesses, extending the trial.

Ms. Murkowski also appeared to refer to the possibility the witness vote could have ended in a tie if she had voted yes. In that case, Democrats had been urging Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. to step in to break the tie. Ms. Murkowski said that would have been unacceptable.

“I will not stand for nor support that effort,” she said. “We have already degraded this institution for partisan political benefit, and I will not enable those who wish to pull down another.”

“We are sadly at a low point of division in this country,” she added.

With Ms. Murkowski’s decision, the Senate may be able to proceed to a final vote on each article of impeachment as soon as late Friday. The final votes could also slip into Saturday or next week if senators demand a deliberation period, akin to what they did before rendering a verdict in the 1999 impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton.

Either way, Mr. Trump is headed to an all but certain acquittal in a trial where it would take a two-thirds majority — 67 senators — to convict. The only real question remains if any senators of either party will break ranks, handing him a bipartisan verdict.

Credit…T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York and one of the seven House impeachment managers, said he would miss the proceedings on Friday to be home with his wife, who has pancreatic cancer.

“I need to be home with my wife at this time,” Mr. Nadler said on Twitter. “We have many decisions to make as a family. I have every faith in my colleagues and hope the Senate will do what is right.”

The Senate’s impeachment trial of President Trump could continue into next week under a plan being discussed on Friday by Republican officials.

Though it has not been completed and may merely be an effort to nudge weary senators toward a speedier conclusion, the plan would have the Senate leave town Friday night after a vote on whether to consider additional witnesses and evidence.

The trial would then reconvene on Monday for closing arguments by the House managers and the president’s defense team and possible senatorial deliberations, according to the officials, who were not authorized to speak publicly. With the potential parliamentary protests by Democrats in the offing, as well, that would set up a final vote on each article of impeachment by late Monday, Tuesday or even Wednesday.

Republicans had previously homed in on concluding the trial on Saturday. That would allow Mr. Trump to play up his acquittal before the Super Bowl on Sunday, the Iowa caucus on Monday and at his State of the Union Address on Tuesday.

It is unclear if the White House would be willing to sign on to the plan, or if it would have a say. Some Democrats have their own reason to push for a speedier conclusion: four of them are competing in Monday’s Iowa caucuses.

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, who announced Thursday he would not support new witnesses in the impeachment trial of President Trump, said on Friday that he did not think the American public would accept Mr. Trump’s ouster if the Senate removed him.

With the presidential primary process beginning on Monday with the Iowa caucuses, Mr. Alexander — whose position makes it likely that Senate Republicans be able to bring the trial to a close quickly with no additional evidence — said he feared that convicting Mr. Trump and barring him from future office would inflame the country.

“The Senate reflects the country, and the country is as divided as it has been for a long time,” said Mr. Alexander during an interview in his Capitol office. “For the Senate to tear up the ballots in this election and say President Trump couldn’t be on it, the country probably wouldn’t accept that. It would just pour gasoline on cultural fires that are burning out there.”

Mr. Alexander said that he determined during the trial that Mr. Trump had acted inappropriately in pushing the president of Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., but that it did not merit throwing the president out of office.

“If you are persuaded that he did it, why do you need more witnesses?” he asked. “If you’ve got nine witnesses who say he left the scene of a crime or he left the scene of an accident, you don’t need a 10th. I don’t need more evidence to decide if he did it.”

The start of the primary races next week seemed to figure prominently into Mr. Alexander’s thinking.

“The country is not going to accept being told that they can’t elect the president they want to elect in the week the election starts by a majority for a merely inappropriate telephone call or action,” he said. “They are not going to buy it and they shouldn’t.”

“I’m saying that you don’t apply capital punishment for every offense, and removing him from office the same week the election starts would be applying capital offense to something that is simply inappropriate,” he said.

Mr. Alexander said he expected that voters would weigh Mr. Trump’s conduct regarding Ukraine along with other elements of his record.

“Whatever you think of his behavior, with the terrific economy, with conservative judges, with fewer regulations, you add in there an inappropriate call with the president of Ukraine and you decide if your prefer him or Elizabeth Warren,” he said, referring to the Massachusetts senator who is a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

The newest revelations from the book by President Trump’s former national security adviser, John R. Bolton, put top aides in the room when Mr. Trump asked Mr. Bolton to help with his pressure campaign on Ukraine.

Mr. Trump gave the instruction, Mr. Bolton wrote, in the Oval Office in early May and in front of the acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, the president’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani and the White House counsel, Pat A. Cipollone, who is now leading the president’s impeachment defense.

The account supports testimony from witnesses who testified in the House impeachment inquiry, including Gordon D. Sondland, who said that “everyone was in the loop.”

Mr. Giuliani called Mr. Bolton’s account “categorically untrue.” Neither Mr. Bolton nor a representative for Mr. Mulvaney responded to requests for comment. A White House spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.

Credit…Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times

Senate Democrats said on Friday that they would push for open deliberations in President Trump’s impeachment trial, although Senate precedent dictates that debate is conducted in private.

“The American people should hear what every senator thinks and why they are voting the way they are voting, and we will do what we can to make sure that happens,” Senator Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, told reporters Friday morning.

Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, said he was introducing a motion to require open debate. But Democrats would need a majority of the Senate to adopt such a motion, and it is unclear whether Republicans would agree.

Mr. Schumer said he would meet with his caucus to discuss how to proceed after Friday’s vote on whether to hear witnesses. Democrats have all but conceded that Republicans have the 51 votes they need to block witnesses at the trial.

Mr. Schumer singled out the pivotal Republican — Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who announced Thursday night that he would vote no on witnesses.

While Mr. Alexander reached “the wrong conclusion,” Mr. Schumer said, he “said out loud what I think most Republicans believe in private”: that Mr. Trump “did what he was accused of” and sought the “corruption of a national election.”

Every day outside the Capitol, there have been a handful of protesters, including a group of five or six that stood in 30-degree weather one evening as midnight neared to yell pleas for witnesses and documents at departing cars.

But on Friday, after Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, announced that he would not support new evidence, the largest group yet — of about 10 — stood outside with a variety of posters, including ones that read, “GOP Put Country Before Party” and “GOP: Serve Truth. Not Your Own Interests.”

Senators’ offices — particularly Republicans — have been inundated with phone calls urging for votes: either on acquittal or removal, to defend the president and deliver him a swift end to the trial or to call for more witnesses and subpoenas.

Asked about call volume, the office of Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine and a closely watched swing vote, said that about one in every 25 calls was targeted, profane or threatening.

“If you don’t have the guts and the integrity, I sure hope you didn’t breed,” one person said in a voice mail message provided by the office. “I sure hope you don’t have children.”

Ms. Collins said late Thursday said she would support subpoenaing witnesses and documents.

Credit…Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times

Nearly all Republican senators are expected to oppose hearing from new witnesses like John R. Bolton, the president’s former national security adviser. And they see plenty of reasons to do so.

A vote to summon witnesses for the Senate trial could prolong the proceeding and inject an element of uncertainty, while the defeat of the effort would pave the way for the quick acquittal eagerly awaited by Mr. Trump and his allies in Congress.

Among the arguments the Republicans are using to justify their stance are that hearing from witnesses was the House’s job; that the House did not try hard enough to secure testimony; that House managers already say they have proved their case; and there would be no new information.

President Trump on Friday suggested there was discord among two House impeachment managers, based on the end of the Senate trial’s question and answer session Thursday night when two of the managers appeared to want to answer the same question.

“They are fighting big time!” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter.

The last question of the night came from Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, who asked that the House impeachment managers respond to a recent answer from Mr. Trump’s defense team.

Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York quickly stood and approached the lectern to deliver a response. Representative Adam B. Schiff, the lead House manager, tried to prevent Mr. Nadler from answering the question, standing up and quietly saying, “Jerry. Jerry. Jerry.”

Unfazed, Mr. Nadler, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, started speaking.

The dynamics between Mr. Nadler and Mr. Schiff have been tense at times during the Senate trial.

At one point last week, Mr. Schiff stepped in to respond to a reporter’s question at a news conference, cutting Mr. Nadler off.

Credit…Pool photo by Kevin Lamarque

KYIV, Ukraine — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday that the Trump administration was committed to supporting Ukraine in its defense against aggression by Russia, though he did not offer President Volodymyr Zelensky the one thing he has sought since last May: an invitation to meet President Trump at the White House.

Mr. Pompeo’s visit was aimed at calming unease among Ukrainian officials about the relationship between Washington and Kyiv, which has been thrust into the spotlight because of the impeachment of Mr. Trump.

An invitation to meet Mr. Trump at the White House would be an important signal to Russia of American support for Ukraine. Mr. Pompeo’s message that Mr. Trump had no immediate plans to receive Mr. Zelensky at the White House was a blow to the Ukrainian president’s national security efforts.

Ukrainian officials are angry that the Americans have granted Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, two visits with Mr. Trump in the White House, most recently in December.

In renewing his request for a meeting Friday, Mr. Zelensky said, “If there is anything we can negotiate and discuss, and if I can bring something back home, I am ready to go straight away.”

Friday’s session could be definitive, likely capped by a vote on whether to consider new witnesses and evidence. But after that vote, which Republicans are confident will be rejected, things in President Trump’s impeachment trial could become a little messy. Nicholas Fandos, a congressional correspondent for The New York Times, walked me through what to expect.

The trial will resume at 1 p.m., but with a new shape: There will be four hours of debate, split between the House managers and Mr. Trump’s lawyers, on the question of witnesses. We’ll most likely hear Adam Schiff talking one more time about why they need to hear from John R. Bolton, the former national security adviser, and others. The president’s lawyers will say that if you go down that path, it will open up a Pandora’s box and keep the trial going for weeks more.

After the conclusion of that debate, something unusual could happen: Senators could move into a private deliberation, where they close the doors, kick reporters out of the Senate press gallery and turn off cameras. But that’s unlikely, mostly because we already know how Republicans will vote.

Then, in the late afternoon or early evening, the vote on whether to consider witnesses and documents will take place. Remember: It’s a vote about whether they even want to allow the Senate to consider calling witnesses, not a vote on the witnesses themselves. If the vote fails, the trial is, for all intents and purposes, heading toward a conclusion.

If the Senate does vote to consider witnesses — a big “if,” considering we pretty much know the votes — then we’ll be in an uncertain period where the two legal teams can offer motions on specific people and documents, and each one will get a vote. It would open up a free-for-all in which Democrats could keep demanding votes. The president’s lawyers could demand votes, too, on witnesses like Hunter Biden.

Regardless of how the vote turns out, Senate leaders will likely break to discuss what to do next.

The dinnertime hours could be when things get really messy. The next big step, assuming the witness motion fails, is a vote on each of the impeachment articles. But there are a lot of high jinks Senate Democrats could pull between the witness vote and the verdict, including forcing a bunch of procedural votes. But it’s hard to say exactly what they could do, because they’re still figuring that out. The session could go deep into the night.

If Republicans had their choice, they would vote to acquit Mr. Trump by the end of the night. But that may be difficult. Some senators may want, as they did during the Clinton impeachment, to deliberate a while about final votes, which are expected as early as Saturday.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, is the rare Senate Republican — actually the lone Senate Republican until late Thursday — vocally pushing for witnesses to be called in President Trump’s impeachment trial. He is also the only Senate Republican who is seen as a possible vote to convict the president, an added distinction since Mr. Trump got every House Republican to fall in line.

All of which places upon Mr. Romney a level of curiosity that goes beyond the quasi-celebrity treatment he already receives as the last pre-Trump standard-bearer of a Republican Party that feels about 80 years removed from the party that nominated him eight years ago.

At least among Democrats lately, Mr. Romney has also become a magnet for nostalgia. “He is a decent, honorable man,” former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said in a recent interview. Mr. Biden conceded that it was unlikely that he would be running for president right now if it were Mr. Romney seeking re-election, not Mr. Trump.

“I think this is Senator Romney’s moment to shine,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar, another Democratic presidential candidate who was in Washington for the impeachment trial. She was referring specifically to Mr. Romney’s support for calling witnesses.

“Hopefully he can bring some people with him,” Ms. Klobuchar said. She meant Republicans, a prospect that was looking more and more unlikely. By most indications, Mr. Romney’s ability to recruit Republican colleagues to his position has been minimal at best. After the Senate adjourned Thursday night, Senator Susan Collins of Maine said she would vote in favor of considering additional witnesses and documents. But Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee announced he would vote no.

The president has not been shy about heaping scorn upon Mr. Romney. It has created a situation in which some of Mr. Romney’s colleagues have taken their own shots at him, no doubt as a way to prove allegiance to their audience of one in the White House.

Before leaving the sanctuary of his hideaway and heading back to the trial, Mr. Romney grew solemn. “I think of this as an inflection point, politically in our country,” he said. “It’s a constitutional issue. I feel a sense of deep responsibility to abide by the Constitution, to determine — absent the pulls from the right and the pulls from the left — what is the right thing to do?”

On their last day of questioning in the impeachment trial of President Trump, senators put Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. in the middle of the fray.
Credit…Image by Doug Mills/The New York Times

Credit…T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

The impeachment trial was upended this week by revelations from John R. Bolton, the president’s former national security adviser, that contradict much of President Trump’s defense about freezing aid to Ukraine. The new information, laid out in a manuscript of Mr. Bolton’s coming book, left Republican senators scrambling to assess what else Mr. Bolton might disclose.

For a time, it looked as if the trajectory of the trial could shift. By midweek, Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, privately acknowledged that he was uncertain whether he had enough votes to block Democrats from calling witnesses like Mr. Bolton to testify.

But by Thursday, Senate Republicans once again seemed confident that they could prevail in voting down a motion to introduce new witnesses, and potentially fast-track a vote on whether to remove Mr. Trump from office. That seemed even more certain after Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican whose vote is critical for Democrats, said he would vote against calling witnesses.

Representative Adam B. Schiff, the lead House manager, on Thursday worked to sell Republicans on a compromise in which new witnesses could be deposed but their collective testimony would be limited to one week. At the same time, Senator Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, suggested that he was examining ways to stall a final vote to acquit the president, most likely by resorting to procedural tactics.

The vote over witnesses on Friday is likely to determine the remainder of the trial. After a tense week in which it seemed as if lawmakers could be swayed to compel witnesses, each senator will have to make a final decision after debate.

What we’re expecting to see:
The Senate will convene for a highly anticipated debate over whether to subpoena new witnesses and seek additional documents from the Trump administration that could shed more light on the central questions in the impeachment inquiry.

When we’re likely to see it:
The trial will reconvene at 1 p.m. Eastern. Senate rules dictate that there will first be a four-hour debate over new witnesses and documents, followed by a vote. Each side will have two hours.

How to follow it:
The New York Times’s congressional and White House teams will be following all of the developments in Washington and will be streaming the trial live on this page. Stay with us.

Source link