POLITICS

Democrats Still Don't See Need For Witnesses In Trump's Impeachment Trial

The Senate proceedings could be over as soon as Saturday.

There are lots of things we still don’t know about the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, particularly when it comes to former President Donald Trump’s state of mind as his supporters actively hunted for lawmakers in the halls of Congress.

But we may not learn them as part of Trump’s second impeachment trial, which senators aim to wrap up in the coming days. Trump has already refused House Democrats’ request to testify. Unlike his first impeachment trial last year, Democrats may not even submit many questions during this stage of the trial, speeding up proceedings even further. And although the trial rules allow for witnesses, both Democratic impeachment managers and Trump’s legal team have indicated they don’t plan to call for them. 

“I think that Donald Trump could certainly come and give his explanation of the day. But otherwise, it feels like to me, we’re done,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) told reporters on Thursday.

Most Democrats feel it’s an open-and-shut case that Trump incited a mob that led to the deaths of five people, including a Capitol Police officer. That means there’s little need for questions, some said. 

“Maybe we don’t need to do it. Maybe we just do a few. Maybe the evidence just stands on its own,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said Friday. “If there are questions, it will be a very narrow subset.”

Plus, even if the Senate votes to allow witness testimony, it isn’t likely to change the minds of many Republicans who were ready to acquit Trump before House impeachment managers had even delivered their opening arguments. That’s part of the calculus for Democrats, who are eager to move on to politically popular territory such as passing additional coronavirus relief. Finishing the trial in the next few days will also allow senators to take their previously scheduled recess next week.

“If they can’t get, for political reasons, senators to convict, I think the power of their case will be a lasting testament that will do damage to President Trump ― perhaps has already done significant damage to President Trump,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said Friday on CNN, giving the House impeachment managers high marks for laying out a comprehensive case of Trump’s failure to protect Congress

Still, there are numerous lingering questions. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), a key Republican swing vote, said Thursday that he would like Trump’s attorneys to shed light as to why Trump didn’t call off the mob while the Capitol was under attack.

“If one of the charges was that ‘you should have called out people and you didn’t, even though it was clear that the police officers were under assault,’ please explain that,” Cassidy said.

Trump’s hours of inaction during the attack were also raised by House Republicans who voted for impeachment, including Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.). GOP lawmakers and White House aides reportedly pleaded with Trump to order the mob to stand down. Instead, Trump was “delighted” to hear that his supporters were breaking into the Capitol building, according to Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), one of the few GOP senators who has indicated he may vote to convict Trump.

Trump didn’t issue a public statement calling for peace until hours after the assault had begun. Even then, he heaped praise on the rioters, saying in a video message, “We love you. You’re very special.” 

“What’s also clear is what Donald Trump — our commander in chief — did in those initial hours to protect us: nothing. Not a thing,” House impeachment manager Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) said during opening arguments this week.

Democrats could call witnesses to shed more light on Trump’s inaction on Jan. 6, including former Vice President Mike Pence, who hid with his family in the Capitol as rioters stormed the building shouting, “Hang Mike Pence.”

Pence’s conversations with Trump would likely be subject to litigation over executive privilege, delaying his testimony and prolonging the trial. But Pence was a witness to the events and could provide more information about his point of view that day, as well his efforts to call additional law enforcement and the National Guard. 

Democrats could also call former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to testify. During an appearance on Fox News on Thursday, Meadows said the White House “took immediate action” in responding to the situation on Capitol Hill, a statement that is contradicted by the evidence. Meadows’ conversations with Trump could be subject to executive privilege as well, however.  

Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) is another potential witness. The Alabama freshman revealed earlier this week that he spoke to Trump on Jan. 6 just as the mob closed in on the Senate and informed him that Pence had just been evacuated from the chamber

“He didn’t get a chance to say a whole lot because I said, ‘Mr. President, they just took the vice president out. I’ve got to go,’” Tuberville said.

According to video footage from that day, Pence was removed from the Senate at 2:14 p.m. after rioters had broken into the Capitol. Minutes later, Trump fired off a tweet attacking his own vice president for lacking “the courage” to overturn the election at 2:24 p.m. Tuberville’s conversation with Trump suggested the former president may have been aware something was amiss.

Trump’s attorneys concluded their arguments on Friday after only about three hours of presentations, equating the former president’s actions to Democrats using the word “fight” over and over again, as well as falsely claiming that “antifa” stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 and showing clips of Black Lives Matter protests. His team also denied that Trump knew Pence was in danger when he tweeted about him during the riot.

“At no point was the president informed the vice president was in any danger,” Trump lawyer Michael van der Veen said. 

Van der Veen also blamed the House for not investigating exactly what Trump knew and what he did about it prior to impeaching him, though Trump himself could have answered those questions.

The trial is now expected to wrap up as early as Saturday with a final vote on whether to convict Trump — a lightning-quick proceeding compared to previous trials. Last year, with Republicans in the majority, the Senate debated for nearly three weeks before voting against allowing witnesses and acquitting Trump for abuse of power.