Senate Democrats backtracked after initially voting earlier Saturday to call witnesses in Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial following new revelations about the former president’s activity on Jan. 6 as rioters were storming the U.S. Capitol.
Their reversal on calling witnesses capped a dramatic and chaotic two hours in the Senate. The impeachment trial appeared ready to wrap with a quick vote on Trump’s acquittal until a dramatic Friday-night revelation about the former president’s conduct while the Jan. 6 violence unfolded shook up the trial.
According to CNN, Trump reportedly responded with mockery after House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) called him on Jan. 6, pleading with the then-president to call off his supporters — prompting a “shouting match” between the two men.
“Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are,” Trump told McCarthy, according to a CNN report published Friday.
The conversation between the two men, which sheds more light on Trump’s state of mind as rioters hunted for lawmakers in the halls of Congress, was confirmed directly by Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.), who is one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump last month.
House impeachment managers argued among themselves until early Saturday morning whether to call for witnesses following the bombshell report, per a Democrat familiar with the situation. At 9:55 a.m., five minutes before the trial was to resume, the managers indicated to Senate Democrats they wanted witnesses. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the lead impeachment manager, then announced to the Senate at 10:00 a.m. that his team wanted to hear from Herrera Beutler.
The surprise announcement threw the Senate into discord.
The chamber recessed briefly, before gaveling back into session and voting 55-45 to allow witnesses in the trial. Five Republicans joined every Democrat in voting to hear witnesses, in a win for proponents of holding Trump fully accountable.
But after the vote, in yet another twist, the Senate agreed not to depose Herrera Beutler directly. Her deposition would likely have prolonged the proceedings and possibly opened the floodgates for other witnesses to be called by Republicans, threatening President Joe Biden’s agenda in Congress. Moreover, Democrats felt the House managers did not have an adequate plan as to what came next.
“Senate Democrats gave them the votes, but the managers didn’t know what their next step was,” said one Democrat familiar with the situation.
Instead, House impeachment managers agreed with Trump’s attorneys to simply enter into the trial record a statement from Herrera Beutler summing up Trump’s call with McCarthy. Democrats signed off, and the Senate moved on to closing arguments.
Some Democrats made the case for admitting new testimony in the wake of CNN’s report on Friday. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) suggested deposing McCarthy and Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), who also spoke with Trump that day, as well as asking the Secret Service to produce communications back to the White House regarding Vice President Mike Pence’s safety during the siege.
Democrats initially seemed ready to move on prior to the Friday-night revelation, viewing the case against Trump as open-and-shut. But that surprise turn made them reconsider ― if only briefly.
Subpoenaing witnesses would almost certainly have prolonged the trial, something Democrats wanted to avoid in order to move on to more politically popular issues such as passing additional coronavirus relief. Democratic lawmakers are racing to send a $1.9 trillion coronavirus bill to Biden’s desk by March, when added federal unemployment insurance is due to expire for millions of Americans.
Democrats also knew that witness testimony wasn’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. Only a handful of Republicans are considering voting to convict Trump, far short of the 17 votes needed.
Trump is now expected to be acquitted later on Saturday, with senators heading home for a weeklong recess immediately after the vote
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.