Democrats calls for witnesses in the Trump impeachment trial to explore Ukraine corruption allegations, but are met with unmoving bipartisan resistance.
Republicans in the Senate appear unmoved by the Democratic push for witnesses in President Donald Trump's impeachment trial despite persistent appeals from Representative Adam Schiff and the other House prosecutors.
Over three days of arguments, Democrats warned that the senators will live to regret not delving deeper into Trump's dealings with Ukraine. One of the managers, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, even told them it was “treacherous” to vote against gathering more evidence.
Yet there's no indication the Democrats are moving closer to persuading four Republicans to break with their party in a critical vote expected next week — the minimum needed to reach a majority for subpoenas and extend a trial that seems on track for Trump's acquittal.
Democratic prosecutors sought to seal their case for President Donald Trump's conviction and removal on Friday, presenting evidence of his obstruction to the Senate trial.
House impeachment managers laid out the case that Trump's refusal to allow top officials to testify and to supply subpoenaed documents to the Ukraine investigation supported the second charge against him, obstruction of Congress.
Trump blocked the executive branch from responding to 71 specific requests for documents, including five subpoenas, related to his pressure on Kiev to help his 2020 reelection effort, the issue underlying the abuse of power charge, Democratic impeachment manager Val Deming told the Senate.
Trump also prevented 12 current and former administration officials, most of them subpoenaed, from testifying to the investigation, she said.
“As someone who has enjoyed really fairly strong working relationships with a lot of my colleagues, I’ve been struck by how little outreach and conversation there has been” about calling witnesses, said Delaware Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat who has often been at the centre of bipartisan negotiations.
“I understand that we are in a very partisan and divided environment, but I’m hoping that some conversations will begin. But so far there have been strikingly few.”
Most Republicans have solidified around the argument that the House should have sued for the witnesses who refused to testify in the House on Trump’s orders, rather than looked to the Senate to compel their testimony. Others have suggested that the case hasn’t been convincing enough.
The central witness that Democrats are seeking is former national security adviser John Bolton, who was present for many of the episodes examined in the House's impeachment inquiry. Bolton, who often clashed with Trump, refused to talk to House investigators but has said he would testify in a Senate trial.
Republicans have little interest in Democrats' appeals.
“We have heard plenty,” said Wyoming Senator John Barrasso, the Senate’s No. 3 Republican. “They shouldn't need any more information to make the final decision."
A GOP senator who is in a tough re-election this year, Colorado Senator Cory Gardner, also appeared to dismiss the idea Friday as he stood behind the closing doors of an elevator.
“We’ve heard from a lot of impeachment witnesses," Gardner said, referring to those who testified in the House.
Republicans say privately that beyond the potential for damaging information to come out about Trump, they don’t believe it would benefit themselves politically to hear witnesses. One top GOP aide said there’s no political gain in working with Democrats — and no reward inside the Senate for tackling the idea.
A senior Senate Republican said that the virtual certainty of a Trump acquittal, and that witnesses are unlikely to move public opinion, cements their views. Democrats only need a simple majority of the Senate to call witnesses, but two-thirds of the chamber must vote to convict. Both Republicans requested anonymity to discuss internal party deliberations.
Those dynamics could certainly change in a fast-moving trial where evidence has continued to come out. Democrats are hoping for a dramatic moment similar to when the late Senator John McCain unexpectedly voted in 2017 against legislation that would have led to repeal of President Barack Obama’s health care law, killing the bill.
And Schiff and the impeachment managers are working to convince Republicans, one by one.
Battle for witnesses
“This is not a trial over a speeding ticket or shoplifting,” Schiff told senators during arguments Friday. “This is an impeachment trial involving the president of the United States. These witnesses have important first-hand testimony to offer. The House wishes to call them in the name of the American people, and the American people overwhelmingly want to hear what they have to say.”
According to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, about 7 in 10 respondents — including majorities of Republicans and Democrats — said Trump should allow top aides to appear as witnesses. The poll showed the public slightly more likely to say the Senate should convict and remove Trump from office than to say it should not, 45% to 40%. But a sizable percentage, 14%, said they didn’t know enough to have an opinion.
The battle for witnesses has been largely focused on four Republicans: Maine Senator Susan Collins, a moderate up for re-election who has said she is “likely” to want to hear from them; Utah Senator Mitt Romney, who has said he wants to hear from Bolton; Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, who worked with Collins to ensure there would be a vote on witnesses; and Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander, who has so far remained quiet on how he will vote.
As Democrats see it, they are only one or two votes away from a trial that could bring heaps of new evidence against Trump. There are 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats in the Senate, and a tie vote would mean the failure of a motion to call witnesses.
The Republican resistance to hearing more evidence has been infuriating to Democrats who say the GOP is trying to cover up Trump’s wrongdoing. The two articles of impeachment charge him with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress after he pushed Ukraine to announce investigations of Democrats. At the time, Trump was withholding military aid to the country.
Trump accused of Ukraine 'cover-up'
Trump was the ringleader of an effort to coerce Ukraine to dig up dirt on a domestic political rival, "worked hard" to cover it up and has shown no remorse, Democratic lawmakers said on Friday in his impeachment trial.
In the final day of opening arguments, Democrats tried to cement their case that Republican Trump abused his power by pressuring Kiev to investigate Joe Biden, a former US vice president and a 2020 Democratic presidential contender, and then obstructed Congress' inquiry into the matter by barring witnesses and withholding documents.
Representative Hakeem Jeffries, one of the lawmakers prosecuting the case, said Trump was "calling the shots" in soliciting Ukraine's interference in the 2020 US election and others in the White House assisted him in trying to hide evidence of the misconduct when it was exposed.
"President Trump tried to cheat, he got caught and then he worked hard to cover it up," said Jeffries, who added there was a "toxic mess" in the White House that needed to be cleaned up on behalf of the American people.
Trump denies any wrongdoing and describes the impeachment as a hoax.
Democrats have accused Trump of pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a July 25 phone call to investigate Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma.
They say Trump temporarily withheld $391 million in US military aid to Ukraine as leverage for his demands.
Democrats also said Trump's refusal to comply with congressional subpoenas for documents and testimony in the impeachment inquiry was a textbook case of obstruction. They showed video clips of Trump's attacks on several witnesses in the inquiry and said it amounted to "witness intimidation."
"He does not have to respect the Congress. He does not have to respect the representatives of the people. Only his will goes. He is a dictator," Democratic Representative Jerrold Nadler said.
Trump's allies have argued his conduct does not rise to the level of an impeachable offence. The US Constitution sets out the impeachment process for removing a president who commits "high crimes and misdemeanours."