WASHINGTON (AP) – The US Senate on Friday rejected Democratic calls for new witnesses at Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, paving the way for the president to be acquitted next week of the charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Following the 51-49 vote, Republican senators said a vote for acquittal is expected at 4.00 pm (2100 GMT) on Wednesday.
That would mean the trial will not have concluded before Trump is scheduled to give his nationally televised annual “State of the Union” speech on Tuesday to a joint session of Congress.
Trump is all-but-assured of being acquitted by the Senate, where Republicans hold 53 seats to 47 for the Democrats and a two-thirds majority — or 67 senators — is needed to remove the president.
Two Republican senators — Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine — joined 47 Democrats in voting to introduce further witnesses and documents into the historic trial of the 45th US president.
Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer denounced the refusal to introduce new witnesses into just the third impeachment trial of a president in US history, calling it a “grand tragedy.”
“If the president is acquitted with no witnesses or no documents the acquittal will have no value,” Schumer said.
– ‘Sham trial’ –
“America will remember this day, unfortunately, where the Senate did not live up to its responsibilities, where the Senate turned away from truth and went along with a sham trial,” he said.
Democrats had been eager to hear from John Bolton following reports that the former national security advisor claims in an upcoming book to have been personally told by Trump that military aid to Ukraine was tied to Kiev investigating his Joe Biden, his potential Democratic rival in November’s presidential election.
The charge is at the heart of the December 18 impeachment of Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress by the Democratic-majority House of Representatives.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said House prosecutors had already presented enough evidence to make their case and there was no need for further witnesses.
“A majority of the US Senate has determined that the numerous witnesses and 28,000-plus pages of documents already in evidence are sufficient to judge the House Managers’ accusations and end this impeachment trial,” he said.
“There is no need for the Senate to re-open the investigation,” he said. “Never in Senate history has this body paused an impeachment trial to pursue additional witnesses.”
McConnell said he would consult with fellow senators, White House lawyers and Democratic House prosecutors “to determine next steps as we prepare to conclude the trial in the coming days.”
– ‘Partisan nature’ –
Democrats had been hoping to sway enough Republicans to support the call for further witnesses but efforts collapsed when Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski said she would vote “no” to new testimony.
“Given the partisan nature of this impeachment from the very beginning and throughout, I have come to the conclusion that there will be no fair trial in the Senate,” said Murkowski, one of four Republicans whose votes were seen as decisive on the witness issue.
“I don’t think the continuation of this process will change anything,” she added.
Minutes before Friday’s Senate session, a bombshell news story injected fresh controversy into the trial.
In the latest of a series of reports on Bolton’s yet-to-be-published book, The New York Times said the White House aide claims that Trump directed him in May to help pressure Ukraine for damaging information on Biden, the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Also taking part in that conversation, the book reportedly claims, were Trump chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, whom Democrats also sought to subpoena; Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani; and Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel leading Trump’s impeachment defense.
In a White House statement Trump denied one specific aspect of the Bolton story, that he ordered Bolton to set up a meeting between Giuliani and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Giuliani told the Times there was never any conversation between the five on Ukraine. “It is absolutely, categorically untrue,” he said, according to the newspaper.
Adam Schiff, the leader of the House impeachment prosecutors, opened Democrats’ last-ditch arguments on Friday by saying the Bolton news underscored the need for witnesses.
“This trial is supposed to be a quest for the truth,” Schiff said. “Let’s not fear what we will learn.”