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Senate 180 whipsaw: Votes for then against new witnesses, months long Trump trial extension; McConnell announces his vote

February 13, 2021

UPDATE: 4:30 pm EST: Former President Trump has been acquitted – you can read about it here. After reversing the call for witnesses, the Senate proceeded to closing arguments and then took a final vote, which fell short of the 67 required to convict an official on an impeachment charge.

UPDATE: 1:15 pm EST: After a dramatic vote to call witnesses, which likely would have extended former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial by months, and the national media reporting such; the Senate then whipsawed 180 degrees and voted a second time, to not call witnesses and instead proceed to closing arguments.

On Saturday, the Senate voted 55-45 to call witnesses in the impeachment case, which could prolong the trial by weeks or even months. Also on Saturday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced he will vote to acquit former President Donald Trump on the impeachment charge of inciting the storming of the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. on Jan. 6.

Both Democrats and Trump’s defense team have lashed out with calls for witnesses. Democrats initiated the request for witnesses and House impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) called for testimony and documents from Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA). Trump defense attorney Michael van der Veen then threatened to slap subpoenas for other witnesses.

On Friday night, as both sides concluded their arguments in the impeachment hearing, Beutler issued a statement saying she witnessed a call between Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), in which McCarthy called for help to stop the storming at the Capitol.

“When McCarthy finally reached the president on January 6 and asked him to publicly and forcefully call off the riot, the president initially repeated the falsehood that it was antifa that had breached the Capitol,” Beutler wrote. “McCarthy refuted that and told the president that these were Trump supporters. That’s when, according to McCarthy, the president said ‘Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.’”

Raskin called Beutler’s testimony “an additional critical piece of evidence.”

After initial plans to call Beutler as a witness, the Senate took a second vote to instead read her comments into the trial record and proceed to closing arguments.

In response to call for witnesses, Van der Veen said he would call for his own witnesses.

“I’m gonna slap subpoenas on a good number of people,” van der Veen said.

Five Republicans voted with Democrats on the vote for witnesses, including Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

The vote for more witnesses comes shortly after McConnell announced his impeachment stance in a letter to fellow Republicans. In a screenshot of McConnell’s email, he said, “While a close call, I am persuaded that impeachments are a tool primarily of removal and we therefore lack jurisdiction. The Constitution makes it perfectly clear that Presidential criminal misconduct while in office can be prosecuted after the President has left office, which in my view alleviates the otherwise troubling ‘January exception’ argument raised by the House.”

McConnell’s announcement comes after he voted, along with 43 other Republicans this week, that the Senate lacked the constitutional jurisdiction to impeach a president after they have left office. Ultimately the Senate voted 56-44 that impeachment of a former president is constitutional.

Collins, Murkowski, Romney, Sasse voted with the Democrats on the vote, alongside Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced a similar vote on the constitutionality of impeachment two weeks before the Senate trial began. Senators voted 55-45 in favor of its constitutionality.

McConnell’s letter comes after House impeachment managers spent two days arguing for Trump’s impeachment, while Trump’s legal defense spent several hours on Friday defending Trump. Raskin has argued there is no “January exception” that allows presidents to carry out corrupt acts in the final days of their term but avoid impeachment. He maintained that impeaching Trump now is a matter of accountability.

Trump’s defense team argued that Trump’s speech did not meet the legal standard for incitement and that impeachment for someone who has already left office lacks precedent.

Following arguments from both sides, Senators were allowed to ask questions of both the impeachment managers and Trump’s defense team.