impeachment trial

Democrats Walk Back Witness Demand, Senate Moves Toward Conclusion of Trump Trial

Chuck Schumer’s having a tough Saturday morning. Photo: Brandon Bell/The New York Times/Bloomberg via Getty Images

After a morning of chaos in which House impeachment managers unexpectedly signaled they wanted to call Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler as a witness, Democrats walked back this sudden change of course and resumed the Trump trial’s steady progress toward a final verdict on February 13. After multiple Republicans protested this move and threatened to drag out the trial for days by demanding depositions and trying to call their own witnesses, the two sides reached an agreement whereby Herrera Beutler’s earlier public statement on her understanding of Trump’s comments to Kevin McCarthy was read into the record in lieu of personal testimony. The trial proceeded quickly to closing arguments and a verdict later in the day.

Here’s the statement that both sides accepted as an alternative to fresh testimony:

It’s unclear at this point whether Senate Democrats decided the value of live testimony from Herrera Beutler did not outweigh the possible extension of the trial for days, or if they were influenced by the threats of Senate Republicans to retaliate with their own witness demands. Democrats certainly had the votes to prevent the calling of non-germane witnesses like Kamala Harris (whom Lindsey Graham threatened to call to talk about her alleged support of bail for racial justice protesters arrested over the summer), but perhaps didn’t want to deal with Republican protests and dilatory floor tactics. Their decision was another indication that the last-minute decision of House impeachment managers to pursue testimony from Herrera Beutler wasn’t cleared with Democratic senators in advance, though the Democrats did dutifully vote to allow witnesses before an extended break in the trial to work out next steps.

So after a three-hour delay, the trial is now proceeding with up to two hours from each side of closing arguments (with the House managers offered the opportunity to both open and close the argument), which will quickly conclude with a final vote by way of a trial verdict. There is no debate unless the Senate chooses to go into a closed session for deliberation, which won’t happen here. The Senate’s standing rules describe the unadorned nature of the verdict:

The Presiding Officer shall first state the question; thereafter each Senator, as his name is called, shall rise in his place and answer: guilty or not guilty.

A two-thirds “guilty” vote is required for conviction, and while somewhere between one and five Republicans could vote with Democrats in the final vote, there’s no doubt the trial will end with Trump acquitted as a matter of law if not of fact or of popular opinion.

Democrats Walk Back Witness Demand As Trump Trial Nears End