McConnell: We Don't Yet Have the Votes to Block Witnesses

Trump team wraps up its impeachment arguments
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 28, 2020 12:12 PM CST
Updated Jan 28, 2020 5:41 PM CST
Impeachment Day 7: Trump's Closing Arguments
White House counsel Pat Cipollone speaks during the impeachment trial on Monday.   (Senate Television via AP)

The arguments in President Trump's impeachment trial are over, even as the debate on whether John Bolton should be called as a witness rages on. Trump's defense team wrapped up its three days of arguments Tuesday; next up, senators will be allowed to ask the House managers and Trump's legal team questions for a total of 16 hours. That will take place during two sessions Wednesday and Thursday during which "the questions alternate between the majority and minority sides for up to eight hours," Mitch McConnell announced before adjourning the trial until 1pm Wednesday. Questions must be submitted in writing in advance to Chief Justice John Roberts, who will ask them; five minutes will be allowed per answer. Tuesday's big developments, including an update on page 2 regarding the vote on whether witnesses will be allowed, below.

  • Bad precedent? This is "the trial of the leader of the free world and the duly elected president of the United States," said Trump attorney Jay Sekulow, per the Washington Post. "It is not a game of leaks and unsourced manuscripts. ... To lower the bar of impeachment based on these articles of impeachment would impact the functioning of our constitutional republic and the framework of that Constitution for generations."
  • Defend the Constitution: White House Counsel Pat Cipollone wrapped up the defense team's arguments with a call to senators: "What they are asking you to do is to throw out a successful president on the eve of an election with no basis and in violation of the Constitution. It would dangerously change our country and ... weaken forever all of our democratic institutions. You all know that's not in the interests of the American people. Why not trust the American people with this decision. Why tear up their ballots, why tear up every ballot across this country. You can't do that. You know you can't do that. So I ask you to defend our Constitution, to defend fundamental fairness, to defend basic due process rights, but most importantly—most importantly, to respect and defend the sacred right of every American to vote and to choose their president."

  • Bolton book: Sekulow downplayed the significance of the Bolton book, referring to "an unpublished manuscript that maybe some reporters have an idea of maybe what it says." The resulting evidence, "if you want to call that evidence," is "inadmissible," he added.
  • Bolton testimony: There is no resolution yet on whether Trump's former national security adviser will be called to testify about Trump's Ukraine dealings. On Tuesday, Trump ally Lindsey Graham backed the idea of senators reading Bolton's manuscript in a classified setting, reports Mediaite. Democrats want Bolton to testify publicly instead.
  • Hypocritical? Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said the GOP idea to read Bolton's manuscript privately is a "laugh out loud" one: "They spent days criticizing us going into a secret bunker, and now they want to take a public document and put it in a secret bunker? Whiff of desperation is what I'll call it." Adam Schiff echoed that: "After all the complaints they made about the depositions, it's very ironic that they're making such a strong case" for a closed-door deposition with Bolton, he said.
  • The decision: When the senators' 16-hour question period ends, the chamber will have up to four hours of debate on whether to call witnesses, reports NBC News. Senate Republicans met after Tuesday's session adjourned to discuss the issue internally. Just four Republicans could give Democrats the votes they need for witnesses to be called.
  • Speaking of those votes: Late Tuesday afternoon, news broke that during that closed-door meeting, McConnell told GOP senators they do not yet have the votes to block witnesses. That doesn't mean they won't have them by the time the vote takes place, as several senators are still undecided.
  • A slight shift: CNN notes that since Bolton's upcoming book started making headlines (it reportedly reveals that Trump told Bolton he was indeed withholding military aid from Ukraine until the country announced an investigation of the Bidens), Republicans are increasingly acknowledging the president may indeed have leveraged the aid—but that doing so is not impeachable, and that the Bolton revelation does not require witness testimony since it simply confirms what has already been established. It also doesn't change the fact that Democrats don't have the votes to remove the president from office.
  • A challenge: On Tuesday morning, Trump tweeted a criticism of Fox News for giving air time to Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen. The Maryland senator responded via Twitter himself: "Glad you tuned in, Mr. President," he wrote. "Now that I have your attention, how about coming down to the Senate to share your side of the story under penalty of perjury?"
(Read more Trump impeachment stories.)

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