On Saturday morning, lead House impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin stepped forward to surprise the Senate with a request for a deposition. The possibility of calling witnesses was always theoretically part of the process, and this was always the point where it was supposed to happen. But until this morning, there had been an assumption that witnesses would be skipped in favor of a “get past this” strategy that would see closing arguments this morning, and a final vote on Donald Trump’s conviction by this afternoon.
However, at least three things happened in the last 24 hours to change those assumptions. First, Trump’s legal team put on a show that was loaded with lies, aspersions, and irrelevant statements that had nothing to do with the case. Second, late Friday, even more information appeared on a phone call between Trump and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, which underscored Trump’s depraved indifference to the events in the Capitol. Finally, a letter from Mitch McConnell was leaked, showing that he was still determined to hide behind the faux constitutionality defense, and would not be voting for Trump’s conviction or encouraging others to do so.
All of that made it almost inevitable that the House managers would ask for at least one witness on Saturday morning. But it still seems to have caught everyone off guard.
One and done may actually be none and done.
As soon as Rep. Raskin asked to be allowed to depose a witness, Trump’s legal team went ballistic in shock. Attorney Michael van der Veen stepped up and spiraled into a rant so ridiculous that it ended with senators laughing at him and Sen. Pat Leahy having to call for order—and tweak van der Veen for his uncivil language.
Once the realization set in that the House managers were doing the unexpected, a vote was held on whether to debate calling witnesses. That vote passed 55-45 with Republican Sens. Collins, Murkowski, Romney, and Sasse joining all Democrats. At the last minute, Sen. Lindsey Graham changed his vote to “aye,” but this was clearly done as a rat-f***ing move, so that the defense can call nonsense witnesses and Graham can claim to have been in favor of witnesses all along.
It’s clear that the House managers want to hear from Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, who recounted McCarthy’s statements about his phone call with Trump, and Friday night confirmed those statements. Trump’s legal team has countered with a threat to call hundreds of witnesses, including Nancy Pelosi and Kamala Harris. Van der Veen went on to insist that they would all have to show up for in-person depositions in his office in “Phillydelphia” … which led to much of the chamber chuckles.
Following the vote, the chamber broke down into a series of small groups as senators tried to work out rules for what comes next. The Senate could move forward, voting on each witness in turn. It could agree to give each side a fixed number of witnesses. It might even set up a committee to collect depositions, while the rest of the Senate returns to normal business—though that last option is unlikely because it would not allow Republicans to claim that the impeachment trial was slowing the regular work of the Senate. Republicans seem suddenly anxious to pass COVID-19 relief.
After a series of time-killing maneuvers, the Senate finally took an official break. Action will resume at 12:30 ET, though there is not guarantee that anything will have been worked out by that point.