Both Sides Optimistic on Witness Vote in Impeachment Trial

WASHINGTON (CN) — The verdict is in for Senators Susan Collins, who announced late Thursday she will vote to call additional witnesses in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

There is a possibility that the Senate could split 50-50 on Friday when a vote for new testimony and additional documents comes to a head, but Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had laser focus during a press conference Thursday morning as he weighed the stakes.

This artist sketch depicts the Republican side of the Senate during defense arguments Tuesday in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. (Dana Verkouteren via AP)

Only four Republican senators are needed to break the majority stranglehold and move Trump’s trial from its near certain fate of acquittal into more unpredictable territory as soon as this Friday.

The four possible swing votes in play are wielded by Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

Whether the lawmakers will be able to untether themselves from the White House’s expectation of lockstep loyalty is a defining moment, Schumer argued.

“The fate of much of the future of how this republic conducts itself is on the shoulders of four Republicans,” Schumer said.

Though cautious about predicting how the decisive vote on witnesses will play out, Republicans suggested ahead of Thursday’s proceedings that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had corralled his caucus on the witness vote.

McConnell met with Murkowski on Wednesday, and GOP leadership has regularly been seen in conversation with Murkowski and Collins on the Senate floor before proceedings.

On Thursday, Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he couldn’t be sure, but that he has “never been more optimistic” that Republicans will have the votes to keep new witnesses out of the trial.

“I can only speak for myself, but I’m in the room, and I’m getting more optimistic,” Graham said. “But we’ll probably know tonight or tomorrow.”

Responding to a question about reports that McConnell is privately confident in his caucus falling in line, Graham said he trusts the majority leader.

“Well, I think he’s pretty good at what he does,” Graham said.

Senator Roy Blunt, a member of GOP leadership, said it appears likely the trial will wrap up “this week some time.” He said it is unclear if that will be Friday or Saturday.

“I think we’re getting to where we need to be on the witness vote, and I’ve counted votes long enough to be fully confident when it’s over,” Blunt told reporters.

Senator John Cornyn, the former Republican whip, attributed some of the shift in the discussion over witnesses to the amount of time it could take for the Senate to hear witnesses.

“I think it’s still up in the air, but I think people just now beginning to understand what the ramifications of that might be,” Cornyn said. “That it’s not just one witness, and it could entail months of delay while privilege claims are being litigated in federal courts and during which time the Senate won’t be able to do anything else.”

But Wednesday’s question-and-answer session in the Senate left the New York Democrat cautiously optimistic about the prospect of witnesses being called or new records being admitted.

Questions from Murkowski and Collins, including one requesting White House counsel produce an example of Trump expressing concern about Joe Biden as his likely opponent in 2020 before Biden ever announced his candidacy, suggested doubt was creeping into proceedings.

Then came Senator Romney’s question: On what date did Trump order the hold on military assistance to Ukraine, and did he explain his reasoning at the time?

“These are crucial points that get right at the question of corrupt motives,” Schumer said. “The simple, actual questions, and the president’s counsel unable to answer them? Wow. You know who could help them answer those questions? Mick Mulvaney, John Bolton and our other two witnesses. So would the documents we’ve asked to subpoena.”

The other two witnesses referenced are Robert Blair, assistant to President Trump, and Michael Duffey, a senior official at the Office of Management and Budget.

Beyond the four Republican senators Democrats consider vulnerable, Schumer expressed some doubt that the plurality of lawmakers could actually accept the argument posited by Trump attorney Alan Dershowitz that a president — any president — is permitted to manipulate foreign policy for pure political gain if he believes it’s in the public interest.

“Is this really where we want to go as a nation?” Schumer said of the GOP’s seeming blockade on witness. “Honestly if people are going to believe this is a true republic or democracy, they have to understand that leaders in this country are subject to accountability and rule of law.”

While four senators are possibly on the fence, Democrats hope there will be more.

Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono offered little patience for those lawmakers who hedge on witnesses.

“We are witnessing the coronation of Trump with Mitch McConnell holding the crown and Republicans holding his train,” Hirono said.

Late Wednesday night, Senator Chris Coons, D-Del., told Courthouse News enthusiasm for Thursday’s round of questions is steady — but there is a caveat.

“There are still a number of folks troubled by the answers to the questions that have been asked today to which there were no clear answers,” Coons said. “There’s some enthusiasm … but that enthusiasm wanes in direct proportion to the stalling and stonewalling of the president’s counsel.”

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