Trump trial (briefly) thrown for loop after GOP actions force House managers to request a witness

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.

Saturday, Feb 13, 2021 · 5:14:19 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

McCaskill seems to indicate there may be a deal to not call witnesses which sounds like a big win for gop.

— Jed (@TheJedReport) February 13, 2021

Saturday, Feb 13, 2021 · 5:30:11 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

One and done may actually be none and done.

BRAUN says Rs are prepared to allow a news article about the McCarthy/Trump call based on JHB account, into the record in exchange for Dems dropping request to depose JHB. Trial would proceed to closing arguments and final vote today. Per pool

— Scott Wong (@scottwongDC) February 13, 2021

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.

Everyone would prefer no witnesses at Trump’s second impeachment, but Trump is making it hard

Republicans are desperate to have no witness testimony at Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial. They’d much rather run on the pretense that the whole thing is unconstitutional for mumble mumble reasons, and power through the whole of the presentation from the House impeachment managers with hands clamped tightly over their ears. After all, as long as they can pretend to be voting on a technical issue about impeachment, it’s less obvious that they’re actually signing on as full participants in sedition.

On the other hand, Democrats in both the House and Senate seem content to also run the impeachment trial without witnesses. Part of that comes from a concern that if there is a trial stretching out for weeks, Republicans will be on television every day pounding the “the Senate is getting nothing done because of this trial” drum—and ignoring the fact that “getting nothing done” was the definition of almost every day that Mitch McConnell controlled the Senate. Democrats also feel like they already have a solid case against Trump without needing testimony. After all … what he’s accused of is an event that everyone in the nation saw unfold. Every member of the House and Senate was a witness.

But the one person who seems determined to force the House impeachment managers to call witnesses against Trump is … Trump. That’s because the direction he’s taking his legal defense practically screams with the need to bring in people who can explain the truth.

Over the last week, Trump’s legal team and the House impeachment managers have filed a series of letters and replies. In the latest of these, the House team walked through the response that Trump’s attorneys made to the original statement from the impeachment managers. 

The first three-fourths of that response lean heavily on the idea that trying Trump after his term in office has expired is not constitutional. It’s an argument that is based largely on quotes taken from work by Michigan State University Professor Brian Kalt, only every single instance has been taken out of context, or misquoted, to completely reverse the intention of Kalt’s readings. That alone may be enough to nudge House managers into calling a witness, because having Kalt appear to take apart the statements by Trump’s legal team has to be tempting—especially since this house of straw is the shelter where every Republican in the Senate is hiding from the big bad wolf of facts.

But there are actually two other parts of Trump’s defense that are even more tempting, both when it comes to calling witnesses and focusing the the case by the House.

First, Trump’s team has inserted into the response the claim that Trump felt “horrible” about the events on Jan. 6, and “immediately” took action to secure the Capitol. That’s pretty amazing, because the most “immediate” response that Trump seems to have taken was to focus the attack on Mike Pence. Ten minutes after the first insurgents smashed their way into the Capitol building, Trump tweeted this:

"Mike Pence didn't have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!"

It was an hour and a half later that the announcement was made that National Guard forces were on their way to the Capitol. And that announcement cited approval by Pence. There was no mention of Trump. There were multiple phone calls and communications that afternoon between the Pentagon, local officials, police leadership, and Pence. Not one of these calls seems to have involved Trump.

As The Washington Post has reported, “Trump was initially pleased” by the assault on the Capitol and the resulting halt in the counting of electoral votes. According to Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, Trump was “walking around the White House confused about why other people on his team weren’t as excited as he was as you had rioters pushing against Capitol Police trying to get into the building.” Witnesses said that Trump “belatedly and reluctantly” called for peace only after ignoring people both inside and outside the White House trying to get him to stop his supporters. Then, when Trump finally appeared before the public—following a demand that he do so by Joe Biden—Trump told the people smearing feces along the halls of Congress, “We love you, you’re very special.” 

The claims that Trump was immediately horrified and that he acted quickly to restore order are both clearly contradicted by events and statements on that day. In making these claims, Trump’s legal team makes it more likely that witnesses will be summoned to directly counter these false statements and show that Trump is still lying to the American people.

But there’s one last thing about Trump’s final response that may make it even more necessary to call witnesses, no matter what kind of strange threat Lindsey Graham makes. That’s because Trump has apparently made it clear to his attorneys that at no point can they admit he lost the election. Instead, as The Daily Beast reports, every mention of President Biden is only as “former Vice President Joe Biden” and at no time can the attorneys admit that Trump’s lies about voting machines, dead people voting, truckloads of ballots, sharpies affecting outcomes, or any of the other conspiracy theories raised over the course of months … are lies.

Trump is insisting on running a defense that doesn’t just make false claims about his actions on Jan. 6, but one that extends his incitement to violence right into the impeachment trial itself. And that needs to be made clear enough that no flimsy shelter of “we’re only here to talk about technical issues” can protect Republicans when they give the last scrap of their party to Trump.

What Senate’s rejection of witnesses means for Trump impeachment trial

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Spoiler alert: Senate Republicans are screwed no matter what they do

Senate Republicans seem to have finally gamed out the witness situation in the impeachment trial of Donald Trump at least a couple months past the actual vote—and they are in deep doo doo, to use a technical turn of phrase. Whether or not former national security adviser John Bolton appears as a witness in the Senate trial, his account is going to come out in book form mere months from now. As my colleague Mark Sumner writes, that's exactly why Senate Republicans are newly trying to sell the fantastical reasoning that Bolton's account doesn't matter one way or other, no matter what he ultimately says. That way, whether Americans get Bolton's account through testimony now or through his prose months from now, Senate Republicans can dismiss it as irrelevant to the matter of Trump’s removal from office. Again, this is an otherworldly take in which Trump is king and above the law, and Republicans completely shred the Constitution and everything it stands for in support of the most incompetent and corrupt president America has ever seen.

Now, as a practical matter, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell doesn't currently have the votes to quash Bolton’s testimony, as he has said. But why end the bluff now? First, so that the White House and other Trump cultists can apply maximal pressure to the Republicans who are potentially poised to make the rest of the GOP caucus look horrible by voting in favor of the only intellectually honest thing to do—hear from witnesses. McConnell's other concern is that he's up for reelection back home, where he's deeply unpopular, and he doesn't want to be caught solely holding the bag for losing this critical vote.

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All that said, anything can happen over the next couple of days of questioning in the Senate trial, which, it's worth remembering, will be curated by McConnell and will not be an organic process by any means. Nonetheless, perhaps more information à la another Bolton excerpt or a Lev Parnas interview will drop, completely roiling the GOP caucus. Or not. Although Utah Sen. Mitt Romney continues to say he wants to hear from witnesses, perhaps Trump's maximal pressure campaign will squelch the Romney faction, leaving only Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski (for process reasons) and Maine Sen. Susan Collins (for electoral reasons) to vote with Romney. That would leave the witness faction one vote shy of the four Republican votes necessary.

Whatever happens, my personal belief is that Senate Republicans will either fall short of what's needed to call witnesses or end up with more than four votes. No one wants to be tagged as being the "fourth vote," but if it starts to become clear in hushed conversations that the votes are there, then the witness faction will likely pick up several more votes rather than just one. People such as Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman are potential additions, more for legacy reasons than anything else. And perhaps a vulnerable Republican such as North Carolina's Thom Tillis will join Collins in determining that a no vote on witnesses would be nearly impossible to defend. But again, outside of Collins, most vulnerable Republican Senators (e.g., Tillis, McSally, Gardner) appear to have determined that hugging Trump is the only way to win reelection (or perhaps lose but still have a future in GOP circles). In any case, my guess would be that the witness vote either falls short or draws four-plus support, depending on what happens between now and Friday.

Now for a couple of side notes: Don't fall for any of this ridiculous "witness trade" talk. Not only would it be stupid for Democrats to welcome a materially irrelevant witness like Hunter Biden in order to hear from Bolton, but the whole concept of a trade is a red herring. If Republicans have the votes to call Hunter Biden or Adam Schiff, they could and can do it. They have enough people in their caucus to authorize those witnesses without getting Democrats to sign off on it. So just let them stew in their juices over that. Democrats should remain focused on Bolton. And, as Schiff pointed out Tuesday, if they want a 1-for-1 trade, let them call someone relevant, such as acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who has contradicted Bolton's account.

Finally, let's remember where this entire inquiry started—it was deemed a plank walk for Democrats at the outset when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi first announced it last fall. But she has played it masterfully, threading the needles of duty, oath of office, and public opinion all the way through. House Democrats managed to execute an inquiry that was seen as fair and has convinced a majority of the public that Trump should be removed from office, according to a preponderance of polling over the last month. Senate Republicans, at the moment, are now on the wrong side of the polling no matter what they do—whether they vote for witnesses and then acquit or forgo witnesses altogether and then acquit. Frankly, forgoing witnesses is their worst option, as a national consensus has emerged that witness testimony must be heard. If Senate Republicans choose to ignore some 70% of the population, they will pay the price at the ballot box in November. However, if they vote for witnesses, it opens a Pandora's box and McConnell loses control of the process. Win-win for Democrats. 

Ultimately, regardless of what Senate Republicans do, House Democrats still have the final play. If they aren't satisfied with the process the GOP-led Senate has undertaken, Pelosi and Schiff now have more reason than ever to subpoena Bolton's testimony. No one can be 100% sure of what Bolton would say under oath, but House Democrats still have the opportunity to have the final say on what the public hears when Senate Republicans conclude their sham trial. That's pretty damn close to a checkmate in terms of congressional chess-playing. 

If Dems Get Witnesses, Trump’s Team Should Be Able To Call Their’s Too

According to the Wall Street Journal, Sen. Mitch McConnell has told his constituents that he doesn’t have the votes to block witnesses during President Trump’s Senate impeachment trial.

He informed them after Trump’s legal team finished with the countermeasures that they want to show the American people how the Democrat-led House pushed the Articles of Impeachment through the system to hurt Trump’s 2020 chances.

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The Democrats will not lose in the respect that they have put out a warning to future presidential candidates and judicial nominees that they will ruin their lives and their families lives for going against them. There is no one but Trump that could have stood up to this kind of punishment and there never will be another.

On the third and final day of presentations by the Trump legal team, lawyers tried to cast doubts on the importance and credibility of allegations by former national security adviser John Bolton about the president’s motives for freezing aid to Ukraine.

But at a meeting of all Republican senators late Tuesday, GOP leaders told their conference that they don’t currently have the votes to prevent witnesses from being called, people familiar with the matter said. Republicans had hoped to wrap up the trial with an acquittal of the president by this week, but Democrats have said he should appear under oath to offer a firsthand account of the president’s motivations for freezing aid to Ukraine—a matter at the heart of the impeachment case.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said the vote total wasn’t where it needed to be on blocking witnesses or documents, these people said. He had a card with “yes,” “no,” and “maybes” marked on it, apparently a whip count, but he didn’t show it to senators.

Using less than half of the 24 hours they were allotted, the president’s lawyers on Tuesday argued that House managers hadn’t established their case that Mr. Trump abused power and obstructed Congress and said the accusations fell short of the threshold needed to remove a president from office, particularly in an election year. [Wall Street Journal]

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The Republican Senators who are stupid enough to vote for witnesses need to lose their seats for their bad decisions. They are merely liberals disguising themselves as Republicans. Time for pressure on them.

Whatever Trump told Bolton in a conversation should not matter one bit, it is a private conversation, and it is nobody’s business. What matters is that aid was released and that Ukraine’s president said he never was pressured to announce anything. The issue is those weak Republican Senators, just man up or woman up and support the President. All witnesses should have been called in the House, we have seen enough of those idiots Schiff and Nadler, enough already.

IF there were no impeachment hearings, what would the Senate be doing right now? Looking into Biden’s corruption in Burisma? Who are the loudest voices for impeachment? The same people that are caught up in these corrupt foreign deals that begin with Burisma.

The impeachment exists to distract and prevent the prosecution of corrupt politicians like Pelosi, Romney, Schiff, etc. They can’t let the distraction end or it’s the beginning of the end for them. Those that think they have something to fear don’t want the impeachment hearings to end.

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You know, when they conduct these polls and tell you that the American people overwhelmingly want witnesses because they want to see a fair trial, what they don’t tell you is the makeup of the people who answered that poll. I bet if they told you the questions (and responses) behind the poll, you would see a lot of Republicans who want witnesses—-witnesses that they believe will fully exonerate Trump.

That’s why I don’t really care if they call witnesses, as long as Trump gets to call all his witnesses and it isn’t all one-sided in favor of the Dems. Of course, if it does turn out to be one-sided, some Republicans are going to have a LOT to answer for…but the bright side is that this will NOT go down as the “fair trial” that the American people wanted.

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