Senate and John Roberts face possibility of epic tie on witnesses

Ahead of a tight vote on whether to hear new witnesses in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, the Senate is preparing for the possibility that this crucial roll call has an asterisk in the history books: it ends in a tie.

And it's a scenario that would suddenly put a spotlight on Chief Justice John Roberts.

For weeks, Republicans and Democrats alike have been confident that Roberts would not break a tied-vote during Trump’s impeachment trial, citing past precedent, the Constitution and their own gut feelings about how it would play in a polarized nation.

But ahead of Friday's widely anticipated showdown over whether to call new witnesses and with GOP leaders moving to lock down on-the-fence Republicans, the Senate is newly abuzz over the uncertainty of what happens if the chamber deadlocks and what Roberts might do in the event of a stalemate.

“That is a great unknown. There’s no way to know procedurally what he would do. Or if he’ll do” anything, said Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.).

Some Democrats are beginning to opine that Roberts could save the Senate from itself and force consideration of witnesses if there's a tie. As Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) put it: “If he wants a fair, impartial trial and get the evidence out, I think there’s a fair shot he would vote for witnesses.”

It's a hypothetical that Democratic leaders have privately considered for months, as soon as it became clear that the House was going to send over impeachment articles over to the Senate, according to Democratic aides. They have sought guidance from the Senate parliamentarian's office over the issue, although so far, that hasn't been forthcoming as the issue hasn't formally arisen during the Trump trial.

Yet the smart money is still on Roberts staying out of it, or GOP leaders muscling through a 51-49 vote that avoids placing responsibility for the course of the trial on Roberts. Because if the vote is tied, no matter what the chief justice does or doesn’t do, it will be hotly debated for years to come.

“It would go down as a historical anomaly and ultimately he would be remembered as declining to break a tie. It’s the safer course in the short-term to avoid intervening,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) predicted. Breaking a tie “would be a pretty daring and brave thing to do. And I think history would judge him well. But in the short-term there would be a lot of blowback.”

“It's a very fraught topic,” said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who clerked for Roberts. “If I had to guess, I would guess that he probably would not break a tie.”

A tied vote is not impossible to imagine. Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine are the firmest Republicans in favor of voting for witnesses. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has expressed some interest in hearing from former national security adviser John Bolton but has been less committal. If those three joined all 47 Democrats, the vote would be tied, and would fail under the rules, unless Roberts weighs in.

“I said I’m not going to comment on the witnesses right now,” Murkowski said after a private meeting with McConnell on Wednesday morning.

McConnell has become increasingly engaged in winning the vote as he and other GOP leaders press the issue.

After Republican leaders spent days making arguments that it would tie up the Senate for weeks, turn the chamber into a circus and lead to endless litigation, McConnell began whipping his caucus in earnest on Tuesday afternoon at a private party meeting.

The Kentucky Republican warned the GOP conference that he did not currently have the votes to defeat the witness motion, according to people briefed on the meeting. Republicans then conducted a series of presentations on why the Senate should shut the trial down on Friday. If a vote on witnesses fails, the Senate could move to acquit the president later that evening.

Two GOP senators essentially came out against new witnesses on Wednesday, with Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) saying he does “not believe we need to hear from an 18th witness” and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) saying it’s “extremely unlikely that any witness is going to shed any light that’s going to change my mind about a final verdict.”

Those two statements shrank the pool of undecided Republicans down to Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and a couple others. Alexander is the only other senator that fought to have a vote on whether to consider more witnesses and the next most likely senator after Murkowski to join Romney and Collins.

If Alexander votes against witnesses, but Murkowski joins Romney and Collins, a tie vote becomes a real possibility — something Republicans surely want to avoid, even as they say the chief justice is unlikely to wade in on such an explosive issue.

Chief Justice John Roberts swears in for Trump impeachment trial

“I can’t imagine [Roberts] would vote,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), chairman of the Rules Committee and a member of GOP leadership. “If there is an actual tie, a 50-50 tie, the motion doesn’t carry.”

The question of Roberts’s role was nearly broached during Wednesday’s question-and-answer period, when Roberts was asked by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) if the chief justice “has the authority to resolve any claims of privilege or other witness issues without delay.” Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) replied: “The answer is yes.” Other than asking Carper’s question, Roberts did not have anything to add. He's been mostly quiet during the trial, save for once admonishing the impeachment managers and Trump defense team after a heated debate last week.

History also gives a muddled guide to the road ahead. During President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial, Chief Justice William Rehnquist largely left matters to the Senate and did not break any ties. But during the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson, Chief Justice Salmon Chase did break ties, to great controversy.

Republicans and Democrats alike seem to think the Johnson precedent is telling. Chase voted twice during the Johnson impeachment trial when the Senate deadlocked on the issue of whether to retire to debate questions that had arisen during the proceedings. When Sens. Charles Sumner (R-Mass.) and Charles Drake (R-Mo.) raised objections to Chase’s actions, the Senate sustained the chief justice's ability to vote. Chase declined to break a third tie.

Democrats could seek another ruling by the full Senate on the matter, but they’re unlikely to defeat McConnell on such a procedural vote.

And there’s some bipartisan support for Roberts staying out of it.

“I don’t want Roberts voting. That to me is pretty clear that the Constitution specifically gives the power to the vice president to break ties, it’s silent on that matter in an impeachment trial. Which leads me to the opinion that he’s not supposed to vote,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).

“I’m not sure that we’re trending towards a tie vote,” added Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). “But I think Justice Roberts is respecting the fact that this is a matter that needs to be decided by the Senate.”

Marianne LeVine and Kyle Cheney contributed to this report.

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Mitt makes his move

After staying relatively quiet throughout the House’s impeachment inquiry, Mitt Romney now finds himself in the middle of an increasingly bitter debate in his own party.

The Utah Republican has long been open to hearing from former national security adviser John Bolton and other witnesses in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, a position shared by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). The trio has searched for a fourth crucial vote to win a majority, but up until Sunday, those appeals seemed to be going nowhere.

Yet following a New York Times report that Trump told Bolton that frozen Ukrainian aid would only be restored if officials there announced an investigation into the Bidens, Romney’s push for witnesses has some life — and some Republicans are displeased.

Romney “made a strong pitch” for witnesses during a closed-door lunch of Senate Republicans on Monday, according to Republicans familiar with the meeting. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) urged his colleagues to wait until after Trump’s defense team finishes its presentation and senators go through a lengthy question-and-answer session to make a decision on what’s become the biggest issue of the trial.

But Romney is already making his move. And though he serves on the Republican whip team, Romney is now effectively working against party leaders and arguing to colleagues that the proper way to test each side’s contention is to hear from people directly involved in the Ukraine saga.

“It has been pointed out so far by both the House managers as well the defense that there has not been evidence of a direct nature of what the president may have said or what his motives were or what he did,” Romney said on Monday evening. “The article in the New York Times I think made it pretty clear that [Bolton] has some information that may be relevant. And I’d like to hear relevant information before I made a final decision.”

Romney’s push for Bolton to testify is drawing blowback from some of his colleagues, with recently appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) asserting he wants to “appease the left.” Loeffler and her husband, New York Stock Exchange Chairman Jeffrey Sprecher, donated more than $1.5 million to a super PAC that backed Romney’s 2012 White House run. But now Loeffler is expected to face a challenge for her seat from GOP Rep. Doug Collins, and she’s eager to demonstrate her loyalty to Trump by taking on an occasional Trump critic.

Still, Romney isn’t going full Trump resistance: He knows his group can’t bring in Bolton alone without enraging some of his colleagues. So any successful effort to hear new testimony would also likely have to include witnesses that Trump wants to subpoena too.

“My expectation is that were there to be that testimony from Mr. Bolton, that there would be testimony from someone on the defense side as well in order to get some 50-plus people to agree,” Romney said. “I’m not going to be counting noses as to who would support or not support that at this stage, but I may down the road.”

A 72-year old former governor of Massachusetts, 2012 presidential nominee and wealthy businessman, Romney makes an unlikely freshman senator. But he’s mostly fit in with his colleagues — even hosting the party’s informal dinner on Monday with helpings of Chick-Fil-A.

Yet Romney does get a rise out of Republicans when he challenges the president. Romney's GOP colleagues remember his harsh rhetoric against Trump during the 2016 campaign, though tensions have ebbed and flowed in the last four years.

“I’d rather he not” push for witnesses, said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.). “He isn’t all that close to the administration … I don’t agree with him.”

Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) has compared Romney to “Jeff Flake on steroids,” and Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) asserted last fall that Romney “thinks the worst of the president.” Trump himself called Romney a “pompous ass” when he expressed concerns about asking other countries to investigate Joe Biden.

A senior administration official acknowledged Bolton’s book could hurt the GOP’s efforts to block witness testimony but said it wasn’t because of anything Romney is doing.

“He’s doing what he’s already doing. It’s personal" between him and Trump, the official said.

Romney on Bolton testimony: 'It's relevant and therefore I'd like to hear it'

Romney, though, rarely engages on any insults or digs at him. Asked about Loeffler’s Monday diss, Romney praised the brand-new senator and said he was glad she’s serving.

"He's a leader,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) of Romney. “I have respect for his views, not that I agree with him all the time."

Romney’s proposal to include the president’s witnesses along with any Democratic-preferred witnesses like Bolton has been frequently discussed among Republicans, most recently on Monday. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) was among the Republicans broaching the idea, though it didn’t seem to be catching fire in the broader Senate GOP.

“I don’t think that’s going to go anywhere. I really don’t think so,” said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.). “I think it will get to the point of where you have a few considering it.”

Most Republicans are eager to dispense with the Trump trial and have argued that bringing in witnesses could drag it on for weeks if issues of executive privilege are raised in the courts.

Senate GOP leaders acknowledge that Romney is pushing his position, but so far, they publicly argue the dynamic inside the Republican conference has not changed despite the Bolton revelations.

“It’s not a new position for [Romney]. He’s been on that position for quite a while,” said Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), the number three Senate Republican. “He didn’t say anything new at lunch that he hasn’t said before.”

If the effort to subpoena Bolton moves forward, Republican leaders will respond with their own explosive push to call Hunter Biden or another witness favored by the White House. Other Trump allies are also echoing this line, declaring that if Bolton is called, then “the floodgates are opened.”

“I don’t see the need to have more witnesses unless we have a lot more witnesses,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.). “I don’t know what the country would gain from that.”

Romney sent shockwaves through the Capitol when he said on Monday morning that it’s “increasingly likely” that more Republicans would embrace his call for witnesses.

Among the senators most likely to join Romney, Collins and Murkowski are senators like Toomey, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) or Bill Cassidy (R-La.), according to GOP sources. But none have taken the public plunge.

Barrasso said that the witness vote — set for Friday — "is still going to be close. They need four. And I haven't seen anybody shift."

Romney said later Monday evening that he didn’t base his earlier statement on any inside intel. He just thinks that if Bolton is willing to talk, logically, Republicans should be willing to listen.

“My sense was that based upon the fact that there was apparently relevant information, material information that others would say: ‘Yeah, OK, that’d be interesting to hear if we could,’” Romney said.

Heather Caygle and Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

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Senate Republicans eye quick Trump acquittal after witness vote

Senate GOP leaders are strongly considering a move to quickly end President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial next week if a motion to call additional witnesses is defeated, according to three top Republican senators.

The Republican strategy — which is still fluid — could mean senators have limited time between key procedural votes and the final vote on whether to convict the president of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. And with the odds growing against additional witnesses being called, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will face critical decisions on how fast he can bring the proceedings to an end.

“The question is going to come to ‘Have you heard enough to make a decision or do you want witnesses?’ If people say, ‘We’re ready to vote,’ we’re going to vote right then,” said Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), the number three Senate Republican.

Barrasso suggested that an acquittal vote could take place as soon as Friday — if senators don’t agree to subpoena additional witnesses or documentary evidence. Under the organizing resolution that controls the proceedings, Democrats could offer additional motions if the Senate votes down deposing additional witnesses — including former national security adviser John Bolton — but Republicans could then move to shut down debate and call for an up-or-down vote on acquittal.

“We would,” said Sen. Joni Ernst (Iowa) of the quick acquittal vote. “If it fails, no more witnesses, no more documents. Then we would, I would think … I would imagine that then we would roll into that.”

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who also serves in leadership, confirmed this option is under consideration as well. “That’s the safe speculation,” Blunt said.

McConnell’s office declined to comment.

For their part, Senate Democrats are already trying to figure out how to combat McConnell if the GOP pursues this strategy.

“So the rules would have the vote on the articles come up immediately after a failed vote on witnesses. I think we are exploring what our options would be if we lost that witness vote,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). “McConnell I would imagine would go straight [to the acquittal vote]. The rules don’t provide for anything.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) didn’t want to discuss what Democrats would do to counter McConnell if Republicans move for a quick acquittal vote.

“You’ll hear from us. I’m not going to talk about that right now,” Schumer said Saturday afternoon after Trump’s defense team had made its opening remarks.

After the White House team concludes its presentation on Monday or Tuesday, the trial will move to its next phase: a 16-hour round of questions from senators to the House managers and the president's lawyers. If the procedure is modeled after the process used during former President Bill Clinton's 1999 impeachment trial, senators will submit written questions that will be read aloud by Chief Justice John Roberts. Each side will alternate questions.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the lead House manager, said Saturday that he expects each side's questions will be vetted by their respective leaders. Senators in both parties expect they will use up the entire 16-hour time period, though Murphy said he feared McConnell would try to squeeze it into one marathon overnight session. Senators didn’t conclude a vote on the trial rules last week until almost 2 a.m. Wednesday morning.

In the 1999 Clinton trial, following the question-and-answer round, senators then heard arguments on a motion to dismiss the case, as well as a motion to seek witness testimony and admit new evidence.

In the Clinton trial, the motion to dismiss was defeated, while the motion for witnesses and evidence was adopted. The Senate debated each motion in closed session, beating back an effort by Senate Democrats to keep the proceedings public.

There were then three days of closed-door deliberations by the Senate on the Clinton impeachment articles. Clinton was acquitted on both counts.

However, there is no requirement that the Senate engage in such closed-door deliberations, either in the organizing resolution for the Trump trial or Senate rules. As long as McConnell can muster 51 votes, the majority leader can direct the proceedings in any way he chooses.

But McConnell will have to avoid alienating centrist Republicans during the endgame if the Trump proceedings end quickly. Already Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) have pushed back against McConnell’s attempts to speed up the trial and deviate from the Clinton precedent.

Some senators may object to a final vote on Trump’s guilt or innocence without a chance to make a statement to their colleague behind closed doors. McConnell could then agree to a shorter period than used in the Clinton trial, although Schumer will likely try to drag it out.

And there are other motions that Schumer could offer following the question-and-answer period, although McConnell could counter that these motions are a stalling tactic and just designed to needlessly extend the trial. Regardless of hypotheticals, senators are preparing for the possibility that the whole thing could be over shortly after the key procedural vote next week as long as McConnell has 51 votes to do it.

“My understanding of the rules is that he left that door open, should he choose, to do exactly that,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.).

Kyle Cheney contributed to this report.

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Trump’s trial may hinge on Lamar Alexander

If you want to know how President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial could play out, keep your eye on Lamar Alexander.

On the most important question of the trial — whether or not to subpoena witnesses — the 79-year-old Tennessee Republican is a wild-card. Privately, senior Senate Republicans expect the vote to seek witness testimony to fail, but they are watching Alexander and several other Republicans closely. And wherever Alexander comes down is almost sure to be the majority position in the Senate.

Three GOP senators have expressed some level of support for calling witnesses, and if they joined all Democrats, it would result in a 50-50 tie and likely be defeated. Unless Chief Justice John Roberts shocked Washington by wading in with a tie-break, Democrats need one more Republican to break ranks and upend GOP plans for a swift Trump acquittal.

That’s got both parties eagerly eyeing Alexander. He's a retiring defender of the Senate as an institution who's occasionally bucked his party, but he also counts Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as a longtime ally. He's more hesitant to criticize Trump than some other Republicans, but has also said it was "inappropriate" for Trump to ask foreign governments to investigate his political opponents.

A former presidential candidate, governor, Education secretary and current three-term senator and committee chairman, Alexander was a key advocate of McConnell’s proposal to wait to hold a vote on new evidence until the initial stages of the trial are done. But unlike Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who are open to hearing from witnesses, Alexander has expressed no indication of how he will actually vote next week on the most critical roll call vote yet.

“He is very well respected by the entire conference. And is close to Mitch McConnell. I’ve found Lamar to be one of the most effective members of the entire Senate,” Collins said of Alexander. “I don’t know what his position will be. I suspect that he’s waiting until he’s heard the case presented, and the questions answered for the senators. And that’s a very logical position to take.”

Democrats, meanwhile, are holding out hope that Alexander will be their hero in the mold of the late Sen. John McCain, whose extraordinary vote derailed the GOP’s repeal of Obamacare. Though Alexander would never blindside McConnell like McCain, he is widely believed to be a Republican who could be receptive to Democrats’ message that the Senate needs to hear more evidence.

“There is an opportunity here for Sen. Alexander, who has long been a leader in crafting bipartisan resolutions to impasses, to play a significant, even a historic role,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who has spoken with Alexander about witness testimony. “He is so well respected in his caucus that there are a number of other senators that are also looking to him.”

Alexander is unlikely to be the 51st vote for witnesses and throw momentary control of the Senate to the Democrats. More likely, if he’s feeling the need to hear new evidence in the trial, other Republicans would join him and scramble plans on how to handle witnesses and documents.

Yet at the moment, GOP leaders are not worried about Alexander, according to a Republican senator and aides privy to party strategy. They believe Alexander is likely to side with McConnell and help wrap up the trial.

But publicly, Republicans are giving him plenty of leeway and refusing to predict where he will end up. And if he is signaling how he will vote, it’s likely directly to McConnell and to no one else.

“All senators make their own decisions on how to vote,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the No. 3 Senate Republican.

Moreover, Republicans believe that Democrats’ string of late-night votes ahead of the trial’s opening arguments — which Republicans had already said they would not support — alienated Alexander and other on-the-fence GOP senators.

“I thought [Tuesday] night as the night went on, it became easier and easier for him to be one of us. They were making it so easy to vote against their amendments,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), a Trump ally. “After [that], he might not be as committed to it.”

Alexander declined to comment for this story. He’s been coy in recent interviews and said “maybe” he will vote for witnesses or “maybe not.” He’s also been quiet in party strategy meetings, according to attendees, and has said publicly he will make his decision after senators’ 16-hour question-and-answer period that will start next early next week.

Each Republican has a different set of factors influencing them on witnesses, and most see no reason to anger Trump or McConnell and open up a chaotic new stretch of the impeachment trial.

For Collins, Murkowski and Romney, seeking witnesses could help burnish their independent bona fides.

Alexander’s calculus might be most interesting. He’s retiring at the end of the year and so is somewhat immune to political retribution. But he’s also close friends with McConnell and is eager to pass a bill lowering health care costs before he leaves office, which Trump would need to sign into law. Any move Alexander makes will likely be negotiated directly with McConnell, for whom he has often served as a back-channel to Democrats, including Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Schumer: Same Republicans saying they heard nothing new just voted 'to hear nothing new'

Alexander also once worked for former Sen. Howard Baker (R-Tenn.), who played a crucial role in challenging President Richard Nixon during Watergate.

“I would hope he has Howard Baker in his mind,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), “who stepped up and showed his courage time and again when it came to excessive partisanship.”

Alexander has sided with Democrats occasionally, most notably on immigration reform in 2013, but also against Trump’s national emergency declaration. He keeps his cards close: even when it was clear Alexander would oppose the president’s move to unilaterally seize funds for a border wall, he refused to divulge how he would vote until it was in front of him.

In the interim, Republicans are making clear that bucking Trump and McConnell will freeze up the Senate for weeks and crater other priorities.

Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey gave a presentation to Senate Republicans on Wednesday about how cumbersome it would be to subpoena someone like former national security adviser John Bolton. Mukasey told the senators that it could take weeks or months to work out how to question Bolton and overcome the barriers of executive privilege, according to an attendee.

That made GOP leaders feel even better about defeating the witness vote next week. And Democrats are feeling worse.

“I was much more optimistic last week than I am this week about winning the vote on witnesses. Because I think that pressure [from McConnell] is happening,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). “I thought by this week there would be a critical mass of Republicans.”

Still, many senators are wondering what exactly is on Alexander’s mind.

“I know Lamar fairly well,” said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.). “I don’t know where he’ll be.”

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Republicans rebuff Trump’s advice on impeachment trial

Just five hours after Senate Republicans carefully assembled and passed an impeachment trial framework that could clear Donald Trump by next week, the president himself delivered an unwanted surprise to the GOP: The prospect of a longer trial with lots of witnesses.

Senate Republicans have been publicly and privately maneuvering to give Trump as quick of an acquittal as possible while still keeping 51 GOP senators on board. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has largely thrown cold water on hearing from new witnesses and many of his members are eager to end the trial, not extend it.

In interviews on Wednesday morning ahead of House managers’ opening arguments, Republicans empathized with the president’s call for new testimony. But they also said that they will tune out any outside noise if they can — including the running commentary from a president who demands party loyalty — and potentially wrap up the trial far more quickly than Trump desires.

“Certainly, the president has those in the Senate who are very interested in his views,” said Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), but added, “Those are decisions to more likely be made by senators themselves, and individually and collectively, than outside influences.”

“There’s obviously a frustration on [Trump’s] part that makes him just want to get everything out in the open,” said Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.). “But we have an obligation to conduct the trial in the way that in our judgment is most appropriate. And that’s reflected in the organizing resolution.”

As a president who both wants to fight the charges against him while simultaneously arguing the “country has to get back to business,” Trump is sending his party mixed messages ahead of a critical point next week on whether to call witnesses. And that’s because the president himself is conflicted about how to handle the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history, allies say.

Trump’s comments also showed the challenges of working with an outspoken and erratic president right in the middle of an effort to oust him from office — all in an election year to boot.

After Trump’s legal team emphatically supported McConnell’s organizing resolution setting up a potentially speedy trial, the president mused in Davos on Wednesday morning about going the “long way” on his trial, with testimony from a “a lot of people,” including former national security adviser John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

And though Trump left the question ultimately to the Senate on how to handle the trial, he made clear how he feels about whether to wind down the trial as quickly as possible: “Personally, I would rather go the long route.”

However, in an interview with Fox News later in the day, Trump then asserted "it would be very bad for the Republican Party if we lost that great unity that we have right now" by voting with Democrats for witnesses.

“He has been internally conflicted from the beginning. Because there’s value in getting it over with quickly and getting on with the business of governing,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.). “And for him personally there’s some value in a process that not only acquits him but exonerates him. That’s a legitimate internal conflict.”

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) acknowledged that the president’s remarks go against the Senate GOP strategy: “I understand the president’s desire to get all this information out in the public, but at the same time we have to look at what’s best for the country.”

Senate Democrats, however, have seen Trump’s vacillating before. From the president’s optimistic talk on everything from enhanced background checks on gun sales to a big bipartisan infrastructure deal, they are used to being left with false hope from Trump.

So when they hear the president talk about encouraging Pompeo and Perry to testify, Democrats “don’t believe a word of it,” said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

“He waits and sees if there’s a negative public reaction to his position, he announces he’s going to go the other way. And never does,” Durbin said.

Moreover, Trump's legal team fought every Democratic motion on Tuesday to call witnesses like Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. Deputy counsel Mike Purpura argued it's not the Senate's role "to do the House's job for it."

Trump has offered various positions on the impeachment proceedings. At the president's direction, White House officials refused to cooperate at all with the House impeachment inquiry. But back in November, when Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) suggested that Trump should testify in the House probe, the president suggested he might do it, because he liked the idea and "did nothing wrong." He revived that idea again on Wednesday.

And last year, Trump said on Twitter that he'd love to have Pompeo, Perry, Mulvaney and many others testify about the "phony Impeachment Hoax," but worried that it might compromise future presidents. In the lead-up to the Senate trial, GOP aides said White House officials pressed to have the quickest possible proceedings in the Senate, including asking for a vote to immediately dismiss the impeachment articles. But McConnell said there was "little or no sentiment" in the GOP conference for doing so.

In a typical Trump flourish, the president did add plenty of wiggle room on Wednesday to his hopes for a lengthy trial. He said there’s a “national security problem” with letting Bolton testify, in a sign the president would seek to block Bolton’s testimony.

With that level of equivocation, GOP senators say Trump isn’t forcing their hand in his impeachment trial yet. But there's more than a week to go, and there's no question that the president is a hands-on participant in his own impeachment trial.

“I don’t evaluate the president’s daily comments. No president’s ever been accessible to the media than he is. And he usually manages that discussion in the direction he wants to manage it,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). “I assume there is some method to his [remarks].”

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