Will Senate call witnesses in Trump trial, or go right to the verdict?

Chief Justice of the United States Roberts departs the Trump impeachment trial in Washington
Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts departs the Trump impeachment trial in Washington, U.S., January 29, 2020. (REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)


The U.S. Senate is expected to wrap up the initial phase of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial before turning on Friday to the explosive question of whether to call witnesses such as former national security adviser John Bolton.

Republicans, who control the Senate, said there was a chance the trial could end on Friday with Trump’s acquittal on the abuse of power and obstruction of Congress charges approved by the Democratic-led House of Representatives in December.

An acquittal would leave the Republican president in office and allow him to claim vindication, putting the threat to his presidency behind him just as Americans begin focusing on the Democrats’ race to choose his challenger in the Nov. 3 election.

Iowa holds the first nominating contest of the year on Monday. Trump, who is accused by House Democrats of pressuring Ukraine’s government to probe former Vice President Joe Biden will be there on Thursday night for a Republican rally.

Lawyers for Trump and the House Democrats who are managing the impeachment prosecution will spend a second day on Thursday answering questions about the case written down by lawmakers and read aloud by black-robed U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts.

Then, probably on Friday, each side will present what amount to closing arguments, before the senators move to the central question of whether to call witnesses.

Democrats are demanding witnesses in order to shed more light on Trump’s attempt to persuade Ukraine President Volodmyr Zelenskiy to investigate Biden, a leading contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

To force the issue, they need to persuade at least four Republican senators to vote with them to assure a majority vote in the 100-seat chamber, an effort the top Democrat in the Senate has called an uphill fight.

Even if witnesses are called, Democrats hold out scant hope of ultimately mustering the two-thirds majority needed to remove Trump from office.

Bolton this week emerged as a potential witness after a report – which he has not denied – that he planned to say in an upcoming book that Trump told him he wanted to freeze $391 million in U.S. military aid for Ukraine until it investigated Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.

Democratic Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York argued that Trump wanted to “rig an election” by inviting foreign interference in the 2020 election.

“The facts are the facts,” Nadler said. “The president is a danger to the United States … and he must be brought to heel.”

Presidential power

One of Trump’s lawyers, Alan Dershowitz, offered an expansive defense of presidential power on Wednesday, saying: “If a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in an impeachment.”

Representative Jason Crow, one of the House Democrats acting as prosecutors, said that was an attempt to put the president above the law.

“The implication is … that the president is above the law. … That’s what they want you to believe, and it’s a very dangerous thing,” Crow told CNN on Thursday.

Senator John Barrasso, the No. 3 Republican in seniority, said it was possible the trial could end on Friday without witnesses being called in spite of pressure from Democrats.

“The momentum is clearly in the direction of moving to final judgment on Friday,” he said. Other Republican senators were predicting a similar outcome.

Democrats were not conceding defeat, however.

“There’s tremendous pressure from a vindictive, nasty president on every Republican senator, but I think (as) they sit there … we’ve got a real shot to get witnesses and documents,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said on Wednesday.

While the Senate is expected to acquit Trump and leave him in office no matter what happens, allowing witnesses could inflict political damage on him as his re-election bid picks up steam.