Murkowski Dooms Push for Witnesses in Trump Impeachment

WASHINGTON (CN) — President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial appears heading for a swift resolution barring a surprise defection, after Senator Lisa Murkowski announced Friday that she will not vote to call additional witnesses in the Senate proceeding.

The Alaska Republican faulted the House for delivering “rushed and flawed” articles of impeachment and said she had reached the conclusion there is no need to extend the trial with additional witnesses.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, speaks with reporters Wednesday during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

“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,” Murkowski said in a statement. “I don’t believe the continuation of this process will change anything. It is sad for me to admit that, as an institution, the Congress has failed.”

Murkowski was among a handful of Republicans seen as swing votes on whether the Senate would call new witnesses as part of the trial. With the result of the final vote on whether to remove Trump from office all but assured, the witnesses issue was one of the last outstanding questions of the trial.

Democrats have insisted on the Senate hearing from former national security adviser John Bolton, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and other high-ranking Trump administration officials who ignored requests to testify in the House proceedings.

Mulvaney had been subpoenaed outright but demurred as part of the White House’s blanket direction that administration officials not comply with the House impeachment inquiry.

House Democrats dropped attempts to subpoena Bolton after he threatened to go to court. More recently Bolton had agreed to testify before the Senate if subpoenaed, but Murkowski’s vote effectively ends this tension.

The crux of the House’s case is that Trump held up military aid and a coveted White House meeting for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in exchange for Ukraine announcing investigations into the Bidens and a discredited theory about the 2016 presidential election.

Republican leadership and the White House keen on a quick trial for Trump have been adamant that the Senate not hear from witnesses who were not in the House record.

Two other undecided Republicans — Senators Susan Collins and Lamar Alexander — broke their silence late Thursday night. Collins announced she would support calling additional witnesses in the trial, while Alexander said he had heard enough and did not think new testimony was necessary.

Reports indicate Utah Senator Mitt Romney will support calling new witnesses.

With a 53-47 split in favor of Republicans in the Senate, Democrats had to persuade four GOP senators to back their call for additional witnesses. With Murkowski and Alexander now falling in line with Republican leadership, an expected vote on whether to call more witnesses is unlikely to succeed without an unforeseen development.

Murkowski was still unsure of her vote late Thursday night, when senators closed their second day of questions — spanning 16 hours and posing about 180 questions. Murkowski told reporters then she needed to “reflect on what I have heard, reread my notes and decide whether I need to hear more.”

A few of Murkowski’s questions directed to both House managers and Trump’s defense attorneys centered around calling additional witnesses. At one point Thursday, Murkowski asked the Trump defense team, “Why should this body not call Ambassador Bolton?” after referencing the defense’s example of Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the EU, denying a quid pro quo with Ukraine.

Stripping away what doubt was left about the outcome of the vote to call witnesses, Ohio Senator Rob Portman announced he will not support new witness testimony either. He said while Trump’s actions “were wrong and inappropriate,” they are not serious enough to warrant removing a president from office in an election year.

He faulted the House for not taking on court fights over witnesses who promised to fight subpoenas in the impeachment inquiry and said the 2020 election will leave the decision of whether Trump remains in office with the voters.

“The House did not even bother to subpoena and resolve privilege claims of key witnesses they now want the Senate to subpoena for them,” Portman said in a statement Friday. “I believe it sets a dangerous precedent — all but guaranteeing a proliferation of highly partisan, poorly investigated impeachments in the future — if we allow the House of Representatives to force the Senate to compel witness testimony that they never secured for themselves.”

Portman was a long shot to defect on the witness vote, but his efforts to convince Trump to release the hold on Ukraine aid put him in the spotlight on the issue.

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