After a ten-day trial packed with appeals from Democrats, counter-arguments from the White House and a few fresh revelations about President Trump’s conduct, the Senate voted against considering any new evidence in the impeachment trial, clearing the only real obstacle to a speedy acquittal of the president.
On Friday, 49 senators—all 47 Democrats and two Republicans—voted in favor of a motion that would have allowed the chamber to subpoena additional documents and witnesses pertaining to Trump’s effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rivals. Fifty-one Republicans voted against it.
The Democrats prosecuting the case against Trump had argued that the most important vote for senators would not be the one to acquit or convict the president but the one to allow additional discovery. Airing new testimony was unlikely to ever change the odds of a vote to convict Trump in the GOP-held Senate, but it would have filled out the missing pieces of what transpired in the president’s attempt to get Ukrainian officials to launch investigations into his political rivals. It also would have maximized political pain on GOP senators’ votes to acquit Trump and possibly boosted Democrats’ plans to retake the Senate majority.
The Senate Democratic leader, Sen. Chuck Schumer (NY), said in a Friday morning press conference that “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.”
With the central drama of the trial already resolved, the only real question remaining is if any senators will cross party lines in the final votes on articles of impeachment. Some Republicans had hoped that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) would move immediately to that vote. Instead, however, the Senate will likely take a few more days to hear closing arguments and allow senators to explain their votes in floor speeches, setting up an end to the trial early next week.
A string of recent stories in The New York Times reporting that ex-National Security Adviser John Bolton had written in his forthcoming book confirmations of Trump seeking a quid-pro-quo arrangement with Ukraine rocked the Senate trial. And, for a moment, it seemed to disrupt the carefully plotted course that McConnell had in mind. A third story, coming just hours before the witness vote, reported that Bolton had written that Trump directed him to help with his Ukraine pressure campaign, and that top White House officials had witnessed the ask.
That reporting was addressed repeatedly by House impeachment managers in their closing argument for witnesses on Friday. But Republicans remained unmoved, including those who had been considered possible votes to hear more evidence. One of them, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), pointed to the likelihood of acquittal as a major reason to not prolong the trial any further.
“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.”