Just as lawyers for former President Donald Trump were moving to rest their case, the Senate on Saturday voted to allow calling witnesses, a move that could have delayed the proceeding for days, even weeks.
While House Democrats acting as impeachment managers of the case sought to call a single witness to testify — Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) — their move would have opened the floodgates, allowing Trump’s lawyers to call witnesses, too.
UPDATED: Impeachment managers and Trump‘s legal team, along with top senators, later struck a deal to let the Senate bypass calling additional witnesses. Instead, the Senate entered a statement Herrera Beutler released on Friday night into the trial record. The trial then moved to closing arguments.
Beutler, one of 10 Republicans who voted last month to impeach Trump, claims she was briefed about a phone call between Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). “When McCarthy finally reached the president on January 6 and asked him to publicly and forcefully call off the riot, the president initially repeated the falsehood that it was antifa that had breached the Capitol,” Beutler said in a statement.
“McCarthy refuted that and told the president that these were Trump supporters. That’s when, according to McCarthy, the president said: ‘Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are,'” the statement added.
The lead House manager, Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, said, “Needless to say, this is an additional critical piece of evidence.”
Raskin said a deposition over Zoom could be conducted in an hour, but one of Trump’s defense lawyers, Michael van der Veen, said if managers call witnesses, he will seek to call numerous witnesses with in-person depositions.
“I’m gonna’ slap subpoenas on a good number of people,” van der Veen said. Before the vote, van der Veen said if Democrats were going to ask for witnesses, “I’m gonna’ need at least over 100 depositions, not just one.”
“If you vote for witnesses, do not handcuff me by limiting the number of witnesses I can have,” van der Veen said, later adding, “We should close this case out today.”
Raskin responded: “There’s only one person the president’s counsel needs to interview and that’s their own client. Bring him forward.”
On Saturday morning, the Senate voted 55-45 to begin the process of calling witnesses. Initially, four Republicans joined all Democrats: Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Ben Sasse of Nebraska. Before the vote was finalized, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina changed his vote to yes. “If you want a delay, it will be a long one with many, many witnesses,” he tweeted Saturday.
“It is my firm belief that the House Managers are trying to investigate the case AFTER it was brought to the Senate. It is better for the country to go to a final vote,” Graham wrote in another post on Twitter.
“What the House Impeachment Managers have done to this unconstitutional show trial is despicable,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) wrote on Twitter. “If you want to call witnesses, we have a list. If you want to have a trial for two years, it would derail the whole Biden agenda.”
If you want to call witnesses, we have a list. If you want to have a trial for two years, it would derail the whole Biden agenda.
— Sen. Marsha Blackburn (@MarshaBlackburn) February 13, 2021