Former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial looked on track to last longer than expected after the Senate voted on Saturday morning in favor of calling witnesses.
Witnesses hadn’t been expected in the proceedings, but the lead House manager, Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, said on Saturday morning that his team wanted to call Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington state after she released a statement late Friday that said Trump on Jan. 6 resisted telling his supporters to stop storming the Capitol as he spoke on the phone with GOP Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California.
“This is an additional critical piece of corroborating evidence,” Raskin said on the Senate floor. “We would like the opportunity to subpoena Congresswoman Herrera regarding her communications with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and to subpoena her contemporaneous notes that she made regarding what President Trump told Kevin McCarthy in the middle of the insurrection.”
But with the trial moving into a new phase, rather than ending on Saturday afternoon as had been anticipated, there is some potential for delays in the Senate’s work on COVID relief.
The Senate on Saturday voted 55 to 45 in favor of calling witnesses in the trial, as five Republicans joined with the chamber’s 50 Democrats and independents.
Those five GOP senators included four known for criticizing Trump — Maine’s Susan Collins, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, Utah’s Mitt Romney and Nebraska’s Ben Sasse. South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, also voted for calling witnesses, after tweeting on Saturday morning that, “If you want a delay, it will be a long one with many, many witnesses.”
One of Trump’s defense attorneys, Michael van der Veen, made similar comments as those from Graham as he addressed the Senate Saturday.
“If you vote for witnesses, do not handcuff me by limiting the number of witnesses that I can have. I need to do a thorough investigation that they did not do,” the lawyer said.
The Senate appears set to hold more votes on the next phase of the trial, according to guidance for the proceedings that was issued last week by the office of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat. The guidance said if the chamber backed calling witnesses, “then motions to subpoena witnesses or documents will be in order, and the Senate will vote on any such motions.”
“If witnesses or documents are subpoenaed, both parties will be allowed to depose witnesses and conduct appropriate discovery,” the guidance also said. “In that event, specific provisions for the conduct of depositions, and of witness testimony in the Senate, if ordered by the Senate, would be included in a subsequent Senate resolution to be agreed to later in the trial.”
“House Managers changed their mind this morning,” said Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a Trump ally, in a tweet. “Schumer blindsided. Pandemonium. They’re negotiating now to figure out next steps.”
Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii tweeted that it’s “time to subpoena and depose Trump,” as his lawyers “threaten to subpoena 100 witnesses” but not the former president.
Trump faces a charge of inciting an insurrection in the wake of the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol by his supporters. He has become the first president to get impeached twice, and it’s also a first that the trial has taken place after he has left the White House.
A conviction in the trial would be a major surprise, as support from two-thirds of the Senate is required, meaning from 17 of the Senate’s 50 Republicans and all of the chamber’s 50 Democrats and independents. Just six Republican senators voted Tuesday in favor of allowing the trial to proceed, underscoring the long odds faced by House managers, who are serving as prosecutors.
Trump’s first impeachment trial ended a year ago with the Senate voting to acquit him on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The vote was 52 to 48 on the abuse charge and 53 to 47 on obstruction, with Romney breaking with his party and joining with Democrats to vote “guilty” on the first charge.