New York, Feb 1 (IANS) In a setback to the Democrats’ impeachment strategy, the Republican-controlled Senate has voted against calling new witnesses to its trial of President Donald Trump by a razor-thin majority ending days of suspense.
The votes on Friday on the motion to call witnesses was 51 against and 49, with two Republicans joining the Democrats.
The outcome was a nail-biter with the last of four wavering Republicans, Lisa Murkowski, announcing her decision to oppose the call for witnesses only minutes before the trial resumed earlier in the day.
The Democrats wanted to call John Bolton, a former National Security Adviser who was dismissed by Trump, to testify about the military aid to Ukraine that he froze.
The decision against witnesses opened the way for the Senate to vote its verdict on the charges against Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, which is scheduled for February 5.
It will bring to an end to four months of impeachment process that included secret hearings by a House of Representatives committee in an underground chamber, open testimony by 17 witnesses and arguments.
The House voted last December to impeach Trump and Speaker Nancy Pelosi held on to the impeachment documents in an unsuccessful attempt to force Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to accept conditions for holding the trial.
Although it is a certainty that Trump will be acquitted because there won’t be the two-thirds majority in the Senate to convict him, the Democrats went ahead with the impeachment as a campaign tool for the November 3 election to discredit Trump among his supporters and the undecided voters.
Calling more witnesses would have prolonged the trial drama.
McConnell like Trump wanted a quick end to the trial in time for the President’s State of the Union Address on February 4.
But he conceded to requests by members of his own party who wanted to speak about their stand on the impeachment and said that after the Senate meets on Monday for final arguments by the prosecutors and Trump’s lawyers, senators can air their views till the verdict vote.
Democratic leader in the Senate Chuck Schumer, who called the vote against witnesses as “a tragedy on a grand scale” and a “perfidy”, would not give up easily.
He brought three amendments to the resolution setting the framework for winding up the trial with a verdict.
They were for summoning Bolton and others to testify.
Another Democrat moved an amendment to empower Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to rule on witnesses.
All three failed.
If Murkowski had not voted with her party, the resolution demanding witnesses would have ended in a tie, and although Roberts could have cast the tie-breaker, he had said that he would not as he was not an elected member of the Senate.
Trump’s Legislative Director Eric Ueland said that they were pleased with the outcome of the vote against summoning witnesses.
The charges of abuse of power arise from Trump asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the dealing of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, in that country.
The Democrats say that this was inviting a foreign country to intervene in US elections and was compounded by freezing military aid to Ukraine.
The Senate had voted down Democrat demands for calling witnesses at the start of the trial last week, but it received renewed momentum from disclosures that Bolton had written in a manuscript for a yet to be published book that Trump had linked the aid freeze to the probe of Bidens.
The news about the book was broken by The New York Times on Sunday in the middle of the trial.
Trump has denied that he had linked aid to the probe and Bolton was saying that sell his book.
Trump’s lawyers said that the aid was withheld only to ensure that the new president was committed to fighting corruption and getting other European countries to pitch in.
Adam Schiff, the leading prosecutor from the House of Representatives that impeached Trump, said that without witnesses the trial would be unfair.
Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow said that calling witnesses would cause a long delay in the trial.
He said that Trump’s lawyers had been shut out of the impeachment investigation and hearings in the House and the Republicans were barred by the Democrats from calling their own witnesses.
If new witnesses were called, he said Trump’s defence team could call the witnesses from the House hearings and cross examine them in the Senate.
Trump is only the third president to be impeached in the nation’s 243-year history and the other two – Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 – were acquitted by the Senate.
Democrats, who were stung by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s defeat by Trump in 2016, accused him of collaborating with the Russians in the elections.
But Robert Mueller, the special counsel who inquired into the allegations, cleared the Trump campaign of collusion with Russia, which he said had interfered in the US elections.
For the Democrats disappointed by Mueller’s findings, the impeachment came handy as the last attempt to get back at Trump before the elections.
A Central Intelligence Agency officer who was posted to the National Security Council reported that he had heard from someone that Trump had made the Bidens probe request to Zelensky during the July phone call.
The whistleblower, whose identity is being kept secret, complained about it to intelligence officials.
When word of it got out, the Democrats pounced on it and started the impeachment procedure to rush it through before election process got underway.
Murkowski described the political environment succinctly.
She said: “The House chose to send articles of impeachment that are rushed and flawed.”
Murkowski said she did not believe there was a fair trial because of the extreme partisan nature of the impeachment and continuing it by calling witnesses will change anything.
“It is sad for me to admit that, as an institution, the Congress has failed,” she added.
(Arul Louis can be contacted at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @arulouis)