The long day of impeachment trial coverage ended with a brief moment of suspense — just how will Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) vote on whether to call witnesses and extend the proceedings. At just after 11 p.m. ET, he answered: No.
That raises the likelihood that Democrats will come up short in their efforts to convince enough Republicans to compel witnesses in a vote on Friday, and that the trial will come to a close with a final decision on President Donald Trump’s acquittal or removal later in the day.
On cable news channels, commentators treated Alexander’s announcement as the beginning of the end of proceedings.
“It’s a cover up,” reporter Carl Bernstein said on CNN. “That is what the Senate has now done. They have covered up what the President of the United States has done in his grievous actions when they had the ability to find out more.”
Interviewed on MSNBC, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) talked as if the trial was over.
Alexander’s announcement came after a repetitive day in the Senate, as the trial featured another eight hours of questions and answers posed to the House impeachment managers and President Donald Trump’s legal team. Lawmakers tried to listen to the proceedings yet were more anxious than recent days, shifting in their seats, getting up to go to the cloakroom and passing notes and whispering among themselves.
Much of the media focus was on whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had the 51 votes to block the calling of witnesses. From their seats above the Senate rostrum, reporters watched lawmakers’ body language, particularly a moment when Alexander passed a note to McConnell. He read it, but gave no expression.
In his statement, Alexander said, “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. The question 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.”
He said that 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 that the House managers, led by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), had proven their case “with what they call a ‘mountain of overwhelming evidence.'”
Reporters trailed Alexander as he left the Capitol late on Thursday, trying to get him to reveal how he had decided. But he said that a statement would be forthcoming, choosing to release it via press release and tweet. He did confirm what he was reading on the floor of the Senate: Impeachment: An American History, a history of the process that was published last year and authored by Peter Baker, Jeffrey Engel, Jon Meacham and Tim Naftali.
Democrats had hoped that the bombshell New York Times report on Sunday that John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, wrote in a manuscript of an upcoming book that the president told him that he was withholding aid to Ukraine until they announced investigations into the Bidens. Schiff and other impeachment managers tried to convince senators that the news made it imperative that at least Bolton be called.
While Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said that she would vote for witnesses, and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) indicated that he would too, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said that she had yet to decide. During one break in the proceedings, McConnell took a seat next to her on the Senate floor and they engaged in an intense conversation, as he showed her a paper and moved his hands to emphasize a point. But even if all three voted in favor of witnesses with all of the Democratic caucus, meaning a 50-50 tie, it would be unclear if it would be up to Chief Justice John Roberts to decide how to break the tie.
If the Senate rejects calling witnesses, the trial would move on to the next phase. The Senate would engaged in final deliberations on the Articles of Impeachment, and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) told reporters that part of the proceedings would take place behind closed doors. Then, the Senate would return to public proceedings for a final vote. Trump’s acquittal is all but assured, as it would take 2/3 of the Senate to remove him from office.
UPDATED, 10:17 AM PT: Chief Justice John Roberts refused the read a question from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) that allegedly identified the name of the whistleblower.
“The presiding officer declines to read the question as submitted,” Roberts said.
Paul tweeted soon after. “My question today is about whether or not individuals who were holdovers from the Obama National Security Council and Democrat partisans conspired with [Rep. Adam] Schiff staffers to plot impeaching the President before there were formal House impeachment proceedings.”
Shortly after Roberts rejected the question, Paul went to the TV studio on the third floor of the Capitol and, speaking to reporters, he said that his question “made no reference to any whistleblower.” He then read the question, which did not explicitly talk about the whistleblower, but named the figure who has been identified by conservative media outlets as that person.
Many major media outlets have declined to name that person, but C-SPAN posted unedited video of Paul reading his question to reporters.
John Tye, the CEO of Whistleblower Aid, said in a statement, “Attaching any name to the identity the whistleblower, whether accurate or not, puts the named individual at tremendous personal risk.
“The contents of the whistleblower complaint have been fully verified, including by President Trump. Any talk of the whistleblower at this point is a distraction, and any effort to name the whistleblower is retaliation for lawfully reporting misconduct.”
PREVIOUSLY: Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) wants Chief Justice John Roberts to read his question at the impeachment trial that includes the name of the alleged whistleblower.
Roberts reportedly has declined to do so.
Earlier on Thursday, Paul’s aide wrote on Twitter, “Senator Paul will insist on his question being asked during today’s trial. Uncertain of what will occur on the Senate floor, but American people deserve to know how this all came about.”
Paul has been a champion of revealing the name of the whistleblower, as some conservative media outlets have done. But most news organizations have refused to name the figure who first complained about President Donald Trump’s July 25 phone call with the president of Ukraine.
The Senate is starting its second day of Q&As, and it is expected to wrap up this evening. That sets Friday for an expected vote on whether to call witnesses in the impeachment trial. If a motion to call witnesses is voted down, a prospect that seems to be increasingly likely, there is a possibility that a vote on Trump’s guilt or acquittal could take place Friday night.
Much of the coverage on Thursday morning focused on Alan Dershowitz’s argument that Trump could not be impeached for a “quid pro quo” with Ukraine if he thought that his reelection was in the public interest. Dershowitz, who is a member of Trump’s legal team, tried to clarify his remarks in a long series of tweets.
“Let me be clear once again (as I was in the senate): a president seeking re-election cannot do anything he wants. He is not above the law. He cannot commit crimes. He cannot commit impeachable conduct. (MTCO). But a lawful act— holding up funds, sending troops to vote, braking a promise about Syria—does not become unlawful or impeachable if done with a mixed motive of both promoting the public interest and helping his RE-election. Please respond to my argument , not a distortion of it.”