GOP Sen. Alexander comes out against witnesses, paving way for imminent Trump acquittal

Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander announced late Thursday night that he would not support additional witnesses in President Trump’s “shallow, hurried and wholly partisan” impeachment trial, seemingly ending Democrats’ hopes of hearing testimony from former National Security Advisor John Bolton and paving the way for the president’s imminent acquittal as soon as Friday night.

Republicans have a 53-47 majority in the chamber, and can afford up to three defections when the Senate considers whether to call additional witnesses on Friday. In the event of a 50-50 tie, by rule, the vote on witnesses would fail in the Senate. Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts is likely to abstain rather than assert his debatable power to cast a tie-breaking vote.

GOP Sen. Susan Collin has announced she wants to hear from a “limited” number of additional witnesses; Utah GOP Sen. Mitt Romney has strongly signaled he wants to hear from Bolton; and Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski told Fox News late Thursday she was still weighing the issue and would decide in the morning. (“I’m gonna go back to my office and put some eyedrops in so I can keep readig. That’s gonna be my job,” Murkowski told Fox News, adding that she anticipates a “long night.”)

Alexander, in his dramatic late-night statement that came at the close of the Senate’s session Thursday, flat-out dismissed Democrats’ “obstruction of Congress” article of impeachment as “frivolous” given the president’s long-established principle of executive privilege.

“Let the people decide.”

— Tennessee GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander

At the same time, he said Democrats had easily proven their case that “the president asked Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter” and that “the president withheld United States aid, at least in part, to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.”

However, Alexander, who is retiring, said Trump’s conduct did not justify the extraordinary remedy of his immediate removal by the Senate, especially in an election year.

“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,” Alexander said.

“There is no need for more evidence to prove that the president asked Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter; he said this on television on October 3, 2019, and during his July 25, 2019, telephone call with the president of Ukraine,” he continued. “There is no need for more evidence to conclude that the president withheld United States aid, at least in part, to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens; the House managers have proved this with what they call a ‘mountain of overwhelming evidence.’ There is no need to consider further the frivolous second article of impeachment that would remove the president for asserting his constitutional prerogative to protect confidential conversations with his close advisers.

“It was inappropriate for the president to ask a foreign leader to investigate his political opponent and to withhold United States aid to encourage that investigation,” he said. “When elected officials inappropriately interfere with such investigations, it undermines the principle of equal justice under the law. But the Constitution does not give the Senate the power to remove the president from office and ban him from this year’s ballot simply for actions that are inappropriate.”

Indeed, Alexander went on, “Our founding documents provide for duly elected presidents who serve with ‘the consent of the governed,’ not at the pleasure of the United States Congress. Let the people decide.”

“The question then is not whether the president did it, but whether the United States Senate or the American people should decide what to do about what he did,” Alexander said. “I believe that the Constitution provides that the people should make that decision in the presidential election that begins in Iowa on Monday. The Senate has spent nine long days considering this ‘mountain’ of evidence, the arguments of the 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.

“The framers believed that there should never, ever be a partisan impeachment,” he continued. “That is why the Constitution requires a 2/3 vote of the Senate for conviction. Yet not one House Republican voted for these articles. If this shallow, hurried and wholly partisan impeachment were to succeed, it would rip the country apart, pouring gasoline on the fire of cultural divisions that already exist. It would create the weapon of perpetual impeachment to be used against future presidents whenever the House of Representatives is of a different political party.”

The Senate impeachment trial question-and-answer phase wrapped up Thursday night after a total of 180 interrogatories, setting up a pivotal vote Friday on whether or not to subpoena additional witnesses and documents, or to hold a final vote on whether to impeach or acquit President Trump .

Murkowski seemingly tipped her hand during the question-and-answer session late Thursday, putting her name on an interrogatory that hinted at support for Democrats’ position.

“This dispute about material facts weighs in favor of calling additional witnesses with direct knowledge,” she asked. “Why should this body not call Ambassador John Bolton?”

However, later in the night, Murkowski and Alexander joined other GOP senators to ask Trump’s defense team whether, even if everything Democrats and Bolton said was true, then: “Isn’t it true that the allegations would still not rise to the level of an impeachable offense and would add nothing to this case?”

That signaled sympathy for the core of Trump’s defense team’s argument, which is that even if Trump did condition foreign aid on an investigation of a political opponent, such conduct would not justify the removal of a president by the Senate in an election year.

At 10:55 p.m. ET, Murkowski told Fox News, “I am going to go reflect on what I have heard, re-read my notes and decide whether I need to hear more.” She said she would issue a final decision in the morning.

Meanwhile, as expected, Collins, R-Maine, announced after the conclusion of questioning that she supports hearing from a “limited” number of additional witnesses.

“We have heard the cases argued and the questions answered.  In keeping with the model used for the impeachment trial of President Clinton, at this point, Senators are able to make an informed judgment about what is in dispute and what is important to the underlying issues,” Collins said.

She added: “I worked with colleagues to ensure the schedule for the trial included a guaranteed up-or-down vote on whether or not to call witnesses.  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. Therefore, I will vote in support of the motion to allow witnesses and documents to be subpoenaed. … If this motion passes, I believe that the most sensible way to proceed would be for the House Managers and the President’s attorneys to attempt to agree on a limited and equal number of witnesses for each side.  If they can’t agree, then the Senate could choose the number of witnesses.”

Separately, though, Collins has signaled reluctance about Democrats’ case: On Wednesday, she was seen shaking her head on Wednesday as Democrats attempted to explain why they felt non-criminal conduct like “abuse of power” should be impeachable.

Senator Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, announced she supported hearing from a limited number of addiitonal witnesses. She is a key moderate swing vote.

Republicans have suggested to Fox News that they would amend any witness resolution that subpoenas Bolton to also require the appearance of several additional witnesses favorable to the Trump administration — likely killing support in the Senate for the whole witness package altogether.

Trump defense counsel Patrick Philbin said late Thursday that if Democrats want to “go down the road” of adding more witnesses, they would push aggressively to learn more about the Ukraine whistleblower’s contact with Democrats in the House prior to filing his complaint.

Additionally, Trump’s defense team argued that Democrats contradicted themselves by saying their case was “overwhelming” and that Trump was guilty beyond “any doubt” — even as they insist that they need to call more witnesses and see more evidence.

Momentum has been shifting away from a vote in favor of witnesses, ever since Trump tweeted a link to an interview of Bolton in August 2019 where he discusses Ukraine policy. In the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty interview clip, Bolton made no mention of any illicit quid pro quo, and acknowledged, as Republicans have claimed, that combating “corruption” in Ukraine was a “high priority” for the Trump administration.

Trump captioned the video: “GAME OVER!”

Bolton also called Trump’s communications with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “warm and cordial,” without mentioning any misconduct. It seemingly contradicted reported assertions in Bolton’s forthcoming book alleging that Trump explicitly told him he wanted to tie military aid to Ukraine to an investigation into Joe and Hunter Biden. (Zelensky has said his communications with Trump involved no pressure for any investigation.)