Democrats signal defeat on witness call as Trump impeachment trial nears end


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats sounded resigned to defeat in their bid to call witnesses at U.S. President Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial, predicting his fellow Republicans would move swiftly to acquit him as early as Friday evening.

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

A second Republican senator – Mitt Romney – declared support on Friday for calling such witnesses as John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser. But Democrats were still short of gaining the four Republican votes needed to prolong the trial with testimony that Trump’s allies have fought to prevent.

Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee and sometime critic of Trump, joined fellow moderate Susan Collins as the only ones among the 53 Republican senators in the 100-seat chamber to support voting for witnesses.

Barring an unforeseen change of heart by other Republican senators before a final vote on the articles, Trump’s allies seemed assured of defeating the request for testimony, acquitting the president and keeping him in office.

GRAPHIC: Impeachment of U.S. President Donald Trump – here

That final vote on whether to convict the Republican president could take place late on Friday or on Saturday, congressional sources said.

“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.

The Senate was due to resume the proceedings at 1 p.m. (1800 GMT), with further arguments from Trump’s legal team and the House of Representatives Democrats serving as prosecutors.

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.”

Alexander said it was “inappropriate for the president to ask a foreign leader to investigate his political opponent and to withhold United States aid to encourage that investigation.”

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 candidate Joe Biden. It also charged him with obstruction of Congress for blocking current and former officials from providing testimony or documents to the House.

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 is only the third president in U.S. history to be impeached.

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

Senate Democrats have been arguing throughout the two weeks of proceedings that lawmakers need to hear from witnesses in order for it to be a fair trial. This would be the first Senate impeachment trial in U.S. history with no witnesses, including trials of two prior presidents and a number of other federal officials.

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


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. Biden is a leading contender to face Trump in the November election.

The president held a rally in Des Moines, Iowa, on Thursday night and denounced the impeachment trial, again calling it an effort by Democrats to overturn his 2016 election victory.

On Friday, the Democrats prosecuting Trump and the president’s lawyers are expected to present closing arguments before the Senate votes on whether to call witnesses.

Contradicting Trump’s version of events, Bolton wrote in an unpublished book manuscript 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, the New York Times reported.

Bolton’s allegations go to the heart of impeachment charges against Trump. Democrats have said Trump abused his power by using the security aid – passed by Congress to help Ukraine battle Russia-backed separatists – as leverage to get a foreign power to smear a political rival.

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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the highest-ranking U.S. official to travel to Ukraine since the impeachment began, emphasized American support for Ukraine.

“Today I’m here with a clear message: the United States sees that the Ukrainian struggle for freedom, democracy and prosperity is a valiant one. Our commitment to support it will not waver,” Pompeo said in Kiev.

Ukraine counts on the United States for diplomatic support, sanctions on Moscow and military aid to buy Javelin anti-tank missiles and other hardware as it battles Russian-backed separatists in a war that has killed more than 13,000 people.

Reporting by Richard Cowan, David Morgan, Susan Hea vey, Susan Cornwell, Patrician Zengerle, Lisa Lambert and Mohammad Zargham in Washington and Jeff Mason in Des Moines, Iowa; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Dan Grebler and Howard Goller

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