This is the Impeachment Briefing, The Times’s newsletter about the impeachment investigation. Sign up here to get it in your inbox every weeknight.
What happened today
The fate of President Trump’s impeachment trial is likely sealed. Late Thursday, Senator Lamar Alexander, seen as the deciding vote on whether new witnesses would be heard in the trial, said he would vote against the measure. The announcement dealt what was widely seen as fatal blow to Democrats, who needed four Republicans to sign on to the idea.
“I worked with other senators to make sure that we have the right to ask for more documents and witnesses, but there is no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven and that does not meet the United States Constitution’s high bar for an impeachable offense,” Mr. Alexander said in a statement.
Senator Susan Collins, another key Republican vote, announced Thursday night that she would vote to support hearing from witnesses, joining Senator Mitt Romney. Even if Senator Lisa Murkowski, another moderate, were to form a trio with them, Democrats wouldn’t have the votes they need: A 50-50 tie in an impeachment trial means a motion fails. Chief Justice John Roberts could decide to break that tie — while impeachment rules are vague, there is some precedent — but it’s unlikely he would do it.
Democrats responded on Thursday with defiance and some limited resolve. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that if the Senate refused to call new witnesses, an acquittal would not be legitimate. Representative Adam Schiff, the lead House manager, tried to rebuff the idea that witnesses would substantially prolong the trial by suggesting limiting depositions to one week, the same length of time used during the Clinton impeachment trial.
The questions, continued
Mr. Alexander’s statement came just minutes after the conclusion of the second and final day of senators’ questions, which touched on whether it’s acceptable for a president to accept dirt from a foreign country and the nature of a “political crime,” among many other topics. There were even several bipartisan questions. Here’s a sampling of what the senators inquired about.
Ms. Collins asked if there was there a proper way to ask the Ukrainians to investigate the Bidens. Mr. Schiff said that under a mutual legal assistance treaty, the Justice Department can request Ukraine’s help with investigations.
In the first bipartisan question of the trial, four senators from both parties asked about whether Mr. Trump would pledge that private citizens not be directed to conduct foreign policy without being formally designated by the president and the State Department — an implicit condemnation of Rudy Giuliani. Patrick Philbin, a deputy counsel to Mr. Trump, denied anything like that had taken place.
“Does the fact that the chief justice is presiding over an impeachment trial in which Republican senators have thus far refused to allow witnesses or evidence contribute to the loss of legitimacy of the chief justice, the Supreme Court and the Constitution?” Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat, asked the House managers. Mr. Schiff said that Chief Justice Roberts had “presided admirably” over the proceedings.
Sherrod Brown and Ron Wyden, both Democrats, went after the Trump legal team’s assertion that it was acceptable for the president to seek derogatory information about Joe Biden from Ukraine. Mr. Philbin argued that what Mr. Trump sought from Ukraine did not come close to a campaign finance violation.
Given that the actions of any president are inherently political, Ms. Murkowski and Brian Schatz, a Democrat, asked, how should senators distinguish between permissible political actions and impeachable ones? Mr. Philbin said trying to discern a politician’s motive “is very dangerous.” Mr. Schiff countered that impeachment was the appropriate “political punishment for a political crime” involving corrupt activity.
Tomorrow will be a maze of activity. Here’s what to expect.
Friday’s session could be definitive, reaching an unofficial conclusion with the vote on whether to consider new witnesses and evidence. But the trial doesn’t end there, and after the vote things could get a little messy. My colleague Nick Fandos, who was on Capitol Hill today, walked me through what to expect tomorrow.
The trial will resume at 1 p.m., but with a new shape: There will be 4 hours of debate, split between the House managers and Mr. Trump’s lawyers, on the question of witnesses. We’ll most likely hear Mr. Schiff talking one more time about why they need to hear from Mr. Bolton and others. The president’s lawyers will say that if you go down that path, it will open up a Pandora’s box and keep the trial going for weeks more.
After the conclusion of that debate, something unusual could happen: Senators could move into a private deliberation, where they close the doors, kick reporters out of the Senate press gallery and turn off cameras. But that’s unlikely, mostly because we already know how Republicans will vote.
Then, in the late afternoon or early evening, the vote on whether to consider witnesses and documents will take place. Remember: It’s a vote about whether they even want to allow the Senate to consider calling witnesses, not a vote on the witnesses themselves. If the vote fails, the trial is, for all intents and purposes, heading toward a conclusion.
If the Senate does vote to consider witnesses — a big “if,” considering we pretty much know the votes — then we’ll be in an uncertain period where the two legal teams can offer motions on specific people and documents, and each one will get a vote. It would open up a free-for-all in which Democrats could keep demanding votes. The president’s lawyers could demand votes, too, on witnesses like Hunter Biden.
Regardless of how the vote turns out, Senate leaders will likely break to discuss what to do next.
The dinnertime hours could be when things get really messy. The next big step, assuming the witness motion fails, is a vote on each of the impeachment articles. But there are a lot of high jinks Senate Democrats could pull between the witness vote and the verdict, including forcing a bunch of procedural votes. But it’s hard to say exactly what they could do, because they’re still figuring that out. The session could go deep into the night.
If Republicans had their choice, they would vote to acquit Mr. Trump by the end of the night. But that’s going to be hard: Senators may want, as they did during the Clinton impeachment, to take some amount of time to deliberate about final votes, which are expected by Monday.
What else we’re reading
Anticipating the debate over witnesses that will occur in the trial tomorrow, my colleague Carl Hulse spelled out the various Republican rationales for why witnesses were unnecessary, and the counterarguments Democrats have for them.
There’s been plenty of attention on the few moderate Republicans who might break ranks by voting to hear from witnesses. But my colleague Sheryl Gay Stolberg points out that Democrats have their own list of possible defectors who could vote to acquit Mr. Trump.
In a political stunt during the question session today, Senator Rand Paul attempted to identify the whistle-blower whose complaint prompted the impeachment inquiry. Chief Justice Roberts rejected Mr. Paul’s question, which featured the name of the person widely believed to be the whistle-blower. Mr. Paul then rushed to a news studio in the Capitol, where he read the question in front of television cameras.
Mitt Romney is something of a man alone. As one of two Republican senators calling for witnesses in the impeachment trial, his colleagues are going after him, branding him “Jeff Flake on steroids.” His resistance to the pressures of his own party have made him an unlikely hero to Democrats like Senator Amy Klobuchar, who called this Mr. Romney’s “moment to shine.”
We mentioned in Wednesday’s briefing an astonishingly broad definition of executive power that one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers, Alan Dershowitz, argued for in the trial. His ideas prompted a backlash, and he said he was misinterpreted.
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