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Senate nixes witnesses; Trump’s acquittal now likely Wednesday

  • Video by C-SPAN

    The Senate impeachment trial of President Trump continues.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walked to the Senate chamber today prior to the start of the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump at the Capitol in Washington.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walked to the Senate chamber today prior to the start of the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump at the Capitol in Washington.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., joined by Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., right, spoke to reporters today to criticize the process in the Republican-controlled Senate as the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congres resumed in Washington,.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., joined by Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., right, spoke to reporters today to criticize the process in the Republican-controlled Senate as the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congres resumed in Washington,.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee talked to reporters today as he arrived at the Capitol in Washington for the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee talked to reporters today as he arrived at the Capitol in Washington for the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

UPDATE: 4:15 p.m.

The Senate narrowly rejected Democratic demands to summon witnesses for President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial late today, all but ensuring Trump’s acquittal in just the third trial to threaten a president’s removal in U.S. history. But senators pushed off final voting on his fate to next Wednesday.

The delay in timing showed the weight of a historic vote bearing down on senators, despite prodding by the president eager to have it all behind him in an election year and ahead of his State of the Union speech Tuesday night.

Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke by phone to lock in the schedule during a tense night at the Capitol as rushed negotiations proceeded on and off the Senate floor. The trial came to a standstill for about an hour. A person unauthorized to discuss the call was granted anonymity to describe it.

The president wanted to arrive for his speech at the Capitol with acquittal secured, but that will not happen. Instead, the trial will resume Monday for final arguments, with time Monday and Tuesday for senators to speak. The final voting is planned for 4 p.m. Wednesday, the day after Trump’s speech.

Trump’s acquittal is all but certain in the Senate, where his GOP allies hold the majority and there’s nowhere near the two-thirds needed for conviction and removal.

Nor will he face potentially damaging, open-Senate testimony from witnesses.

Despite the Democrats’ singular focus on hearing new testimony, the Republican majority brushed past those demands and will make this the first impeachment trial without witnesses. Even new revelations today from former national security adviser John Bolton did not sway GOP senators, who said they’d heard enough.

That means the eventual outcome for Trump will be an acquittal “in name only,” said Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., a House prosecutor, during final debate.

Updated 12:43 p.m.

The Senate voted against seeking new evidence in Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, sending the process into the final stages that’s all but certain to end with acquittal of the president.

The 51-49 vote, one of the most consequential of the trial, fell mostly along party lines. Two Republicans — Maine Senator Susan Collins and Utah Senator Mitt Romney— joined all 47 Senate Democrats and independents in voting for additional testimony and documents. Two Republicans who had considered voting for witnesses — Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski — voted against the motion.

Even with that crucial vote over, and the Senate in recess, the timing of the trial’s conclusion is still in question. The White House, Senate Republicans and Democratic lawmakers said it might continue for several more days before a verdict is rendered. That would mean the proceedings would still be lingering when Trump delivers his State of the Union address on Tuesday from the House chamber where Democrats adopted the articles of impeachment six weeks ago.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer are trying to negotiate a deal on a resolution spelling out how to end the trial. If that’s unsuccessful, McConnell would need just 51 Republican votes to close down the trial on his own terms.

Democrats want to ensure that all senators get the chance to publicly declare on the Senate floor the rationale for their votes before the final tally on Trump’s guilt or innocence. With 67 votes needed to convict Trump in the GOP-led chamber, the president is expect to be easily acquitted.

“We feel strongly that this needs to be a fair trial and that each member gets an opportunity to say how they feel and say how they came to their decision,” Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, a member of Democratic leadership, said.

That would add to an already complicated schedule for next week. On Monday, Iowa holds its caucuses, where four Senate Democrats are seeking the party’s presidential nomination. The next day, Trump is scheduled to deliver his annual address to a joint session of Congress.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE

WASHINGTON >> The Senate is considering pushing off final acquittal in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial until next week under a proposal being negotiated today by party leaders.

The situation remained fluid, but senators have indicated they want more time to publicly debate the charges and air their positions on the coming vote, according to a Republican familiar with the proposal but unauthorized to discuss it. The person was granted anonymity.

The shift in timing ahead of Trump’s all but certain acquittal shows the significance of the moment bearing down on senators in voting that would bring to a close the third presidential impeachment trial in American history.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made the offer to Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, the person said. Senators were debating it while the proceedings were underway on the Senate floor. Schumer had not yet agreed to it.

Trump still appeared headed for acquittal as senators prepared today to reject efforts to call more witnesses and moved to start bringing the trial to a close.

Under the proposal, the vote on witnesses would still occur later today. But the Senate would resume Monday for final arguments, with time Monday and Tuesday for senators to speak. The final voting would be Wednesday.

The impeachment of the president is playing out in an election year before a divided nation. Caucus voting begins Monday in Iowa, and Trump gives his State of the Union address the next night.

The eventual acquittal was increasingly clear after key Republicans said Thursday night they had heard enough.

Eager for a conclusion, the president and his allies in the Republican majority are brushing past new revelations from John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, as well as historic norms that could make this the first Senate impeachment trial without witnesses.

In an unpublished manuscript, Bolton writes that the president asked him during an Oval Office meeting in early May to bolster his effort to get Ukraine to investigate Democrats, according to a person who read the passage and told The Associated Press. The person, who was not authorized to disclose contents of the book, spoke only on condition of anonymity.

In the meeting, Bolton said the president asked him to call new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and persuade him to meet with Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who was planning to go to Ukraine to coax the Ukrainians to investigate the president’s political rivals. Bolton writes that he never made the call to Zelenskiy after the meeting, which included acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone. The revelation adds more detail to allegations of when and how Trump first sought to influence Ukraine to aid investigations of his rivals.

The story was first reported today by The New York Times.

In a statement today, Trump denied the account in Bolton’s manuscript.

“I never instructed John Bolton to set up a meeting for Rudy Giuliani, one of the greatest corruption fighters in America and by far the greatest mayor in the history of NYC, to meet with President Zelenskiy,” Trump said. “That meeting never happened.”

Meanwhile, v oting on the witness question was expected late today after hours of debate, with other Senate votes stretching well into the evening.

Democrats contended the outcome won’t mean a true acquittal for Trump but a cover-up.

“They’re about to dismiss this with a shrug and a ‘Who cares?’” said the Senate’s third-ranking Democrat, Patty Murray of Washington. “The full truth will come out.”

On the eve of voting, GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, said the Democrats had proved their case, that Trump abused power and obstructed Congress, but he did not think Trump’s actions rose to the impeachable level.

Another Republican senator, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, announced today that she, too, would oppose more testimony, wary of creating a tie vote that would drag Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the rare trial, into the fray.

“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.”

Protesters stood outside the Capitol as senators arrived today, but few visitors have been watching from the Senate galleries.

Despite the Democrats’ singular, sometimes-passionate focus on calling witnesses, the numbers are now falling short. It would take four Republicans to break with the 53-seat majority and join with all Democrats to demand more testimony.

Chief Justice John Roberts, in the rare role presiding over the impeachment trial, could break a tie, but that seems unlikely.

Alexander said in a statement late Thursday there was “no need for more evidence,” giving the Trump team the likelihood of a Senate vote in its direction. Not that he accepted Trump’s repeated claim of “perfect” dealings with Ukraine.

Alexander told reporters at the Capitol that after “nine long days and hearing 200 video clips of witnesses … I didn’t need any more evidence because I thought it was proved that the president did what he was charged with doing.”

Said Alexander: “But that didn’t rise to the level of an impeachable offense, so I didn’t I didn’t need any more evidence to make my decision.”

Asked whether Trump deserved reelection in the wake of such wrongdoing, Alexander said, “Everyone will have to make that decision for themselves.”

Trump was impeached by the House last month on two charges, first that he abused his power like no other president, jeopardizing Ukraine and U.S.-Ukraine relations. Democrats say Trump asked the vulnerable ally to investigate Joe Biden and debunked theories of 2016 election interference, withholding American security aid to the country as it battled Russia at its border. The second article of impeachment says Trump then obstructed the House probe in a way that threatened the nation’s three-branch system of checks and balances.

Before Alexander’s statement, Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said late Thursday she would vote to allow witnesses in the impeachment trial, briefly raising Democrats’ hopes for a breakthrough.

But Alexander weighed in minutes later.

Bolton’s forthcoming book contends he personally heard Trump say he wanted military aid withheld from Ukraine until it agreed to investigate the Bidens. Trump denies saying such a thing.

Thursday’s testimony included soaring pleas to the senators-as-jurors who will decide Trump’s fate, to either stop a president who Democrats say has tried to cheat in the upcoming election and will again, or to shut down impeachment proceedings that Republicans insist were never more than a partisan attack.

“Let’s give the country a trial they can be proud of,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, the lead prosecutor for House Democrats. He offered to take just one week for depositions of new witnesses, sparking new discussions.

Trump attorney Eric Herschmann declared the Democrats are only prosecuting the president because they can’t beat him in 2020.

“We trust the American people to decide who should be our president,” Herschmann said. “Enough is enough. Stop all of this.”

Senators dispatched more than 100 queries over two days. The questions came from the parties’ leaders, the senators running for the Democratic nomination against Trump and even temporary coalitions from both sides of the aisle.

Trump’s lawyers focused some of their time Thursday refloating allegations against Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who served on the board of a gas company in Ukraine while his father was vice president. Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., one of the managers, said the Bidens have little to tell the Senate about Trump’s efforts to “shake down” Ukraine for his campaign.

The White House has blocked its officials from testifying in the proceedings and objected that there are “significant amounts of classified information” in Bolton’s manuscript. Bolton resigned last September — Trump says he was fired — and he and his attorney have insisted the book does not contain any classified information

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