Shaky Support for Witnesses Could Bring an End to Impeachment Trial

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., arrives Thursday on Capitol Hill in Washington for the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/ Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON (CN) — The verdict is in for Senator Susan Collins, who announced late Thursday she will vote to call additional witnesses in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, while another swing vote on the issue, Tennessee Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, announced he would not support calling more witnesses, which could mean the end of the two-week trial.

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski remains a question mark on the witness issue and Utah Senator Mitt Romney had not announced his intentions by late Thursday night, though widespread reports suggest he is willing to hear from witnesses.

Collins said she believes House managers and Trump’s defense team should try to work out a limited number of witnesses each side can call.

“I believe hearing from certain witnesses would give each side the opportunity to more fully and fairly make their case, resolve any ambiguities, and provide additional clarity,” Collins said in a statement Thursday night. “Therefore, I will vote in support of the motion to allow witnesses and documents to be subpoenaed.”

Alexander said he believes the House did not meet its burden of proof, and that the second article of impeachment against Trump was “frivolous.”

“The Senate has spent nine long days considering this ‘mountain’ of evidence, the arguments of House managers and the president’s lawyers, their answers to senators’ questions and the House record. Even if the House charges were true, they do not meet the Constitution’s ‘treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors’ standard for an impeachable offense,” Alexander said in a statement. “Let the people decide.”

While he deemed it inappropriate for Trump to ask a foreign leader to investigate his political opponent and withhold U.S. aid, he argued that, in the end, the Constitution did not give the Senate power to remove Trump from office and bar him from the 2020 ballot because his actions were seen as “inappropriate.”

The announcements from Collins and Alexander leave the result of a vote expected Friday on whether the Senate should call additional witnesses uncertain.

With a 53-47 split in favor of Republicans in the Senate, Democrats still need at least three Republicans in order to succeed in their efforts to subpoena witnesses like former national security adviser John Bolton and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.

As of late Thursday night, the other possible swing vote from Murkowski was still undecided with the lawmaker telling reporters she needed the night to think over her decision.

Republican leadership has expressed cautious confidence the vote will come down in their favor.

House Democrats sought testimony from Bolton during their impeachment inquiry but never subpoenaed him after he threatened a lawsuit — a key point of contention between Republican and Democratic senators.

House Democrats subpoenaed Bolton’s top deputy Charles Kupperman last year, but withdrew that subpoena, expressing concern about keeping the impeachment push out of a lengthy court battle.

Kupperman fought to keep the case alive, arguing that, even though the House withdrew that subpoena and issued articles of impeachment, there was no guarantee he wouldn’t be called to testify.

A federal judge ruled in December the case was moot.

The White House and Senate Republican leadership have throughout the trial insisted the Senate should not hear from witnesses who did not testify in the House.

Courting the second article of impeachment against Trump — obstruction of Congress — the White House issued a sweeping directive that administration officials not comply with subpoenas from the investigative committees.

The president has asserted “blanket immunity” to defy subpoenas.

Democrats have defended their decision not to go to court to enforce their subpoenas by arguing it would tie the House efforts to impeach Trump up in what would likely be a lengthy court fight.

Alexander has a long and storied history in Washington: He began his political career in earnest as a legislative assistant for Howard Baker, the former Tennessee senator and onetime Senate Majority Leader who famously remarked during the impeachment of President Richard Nixon: “What did the president know and when did he know?”

In an ironic twist of fate, Alexander has reportedly identified Baker as one of his chief influences in life.

But under the Trump administration, Alexander has remained a staunch supporter of the 45th president, almost always voting in line with GOP-championed legislation. When the House wrapped its inquiry in December, Alexander previewed the trial in the Senate with a cheeky tweet.

“Just because the U.S. House was a circus doesn’t mean the Senate needs to be,” Alexander wrote.

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