US Democrats have been dealt a major blow in their efforts to call witnesses at President Trump's impeachment trial. Republican Lamar Alexander says he will not support witnesses, as Democrats warn of ‘normalization of lawlessness’.
An effort to call witnesses at the Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump appeared on the verge of failure Thursday night after at least one of four Republican senators that Democrats needed to open the way said he opposed the idea.
The setback for Democrats on the witnesses question meant that Trump could be acquitted by the Senate as early as Friday. He would thereafter be the third president in US history to have been impeached but to have avoided removal at trial.
Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who is retiring, announced at the end of a two-day question-and-answer period that although what Trump had done was “inappropriate”, the misconduct did “not meet the US Constitution’s high bar for an impeachable offense”.
“The question then 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,” Alexander said in a statement.
One wavering Republican senator, Susan Collins of Maine, announced on Thursday night that she would support witnesses, while a second, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, said she would sleep on it. A third, Mitt Romney of Utah, indicated he would also support witnesses, saying: “I would like to hear from Mr Bolton”.
But it appeared that the best Democrats could hope for was a tie vote on the question.
John Roberts, who is presiding at the trial in his capacity as chief justice of the United States, might break such a tie vote – or he might allow the vote to stand and declare the motion to be unsuccessful, meaning that the push for witnesses would fail.
The lead prosecutor in the case, the House manager Adam Schiff, warned that the Republicans’ unified determination to protect Trump instead of collecting evidence was paving the way toward a presidency unbound by congressional oversight or any other checks and balances.
“What we have seen in the past few days is a descent into constitutional madness, because that way madness lies,” Schiff said, comparing the Republican position to Richard Nixon’s infamous defense of his conduct in the Watergate scandal: “When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”