In a surprising turn of events, the Senate briefly considered calling witnesses to Donald Trump's second impeachment trial.
But then they decided against it.
On Saturday morning, the House's impeachment officials asked for Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) to testify as part of their case that the former president had instigated a riot. The Senate then voted to debate the calling of witnesses, and briefly it appeared that the process could take much longer.
But within a few hours, an agreement was reached behind the scenes to avert that outcome. Trump's team agreed that Herrera Beutler's testimony would be consistent with her public statements, and Democrats agreed to drop their request for witnesses in order to pave the way for the trial to close later on Saturday.
Well, the outcome of the trial had never been questioned as the Democrats never got anywhere near the 17 Republican Senate votes they would need to convict Trump. (For example, minority leader Mitch McConnell announced that he would vote for Trump's acquittal on Saturday morning, thereby ending rumors to the contrary.)
This means that the witness question is mostly about further uncovering facts about what happened or offending Trump's political support (rather than having a real chance to convict him). But in the end, the political leaders of both parties preferred to end the process now rather than postpone it. Democrats hope to refocus on President Biden's agenda, and Republicans want to turn focus away from Trump's ugly actions.
Herrera Beutler's revelations and Kevin McCarthy's call to Trump were briefly explained
Herrera Beutler suddenly came to the fore Friday night after she released a statement telling what House Minority Chairman Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) told her about a call to Trump during the uprising told at the Capitol on January 6th.
According to Herrera Beutler, McCarthy told her that he had asked Trump to forcefully end the uprising, and Trump replied, "Well, Kevin, I think these people are more angry about the election than you are." This report shows that Trump remained sympathetic to the rioters even during the uprising and was reluctant to curb them.
There were previous reports that McCarthy spoke to Trump the day a group of supporters of the then-President stormed the U.S. Capitol. But CNN reported new details on the matter Friday night, and the report spurred Herrera Beutler – one of only 10 Republicans in the House to vote for Trump's second impeachment – to issue a statement confirming the report and others " Patriots ”with relevant information to prompt knowledge to come forward.
For weeks, the widespread expectation in Washington was that the House impeachment managers would not call in witnesses, in line with the bipartisan desire of party leaders to lead the trial this Saturday.
But the House impeachment executives, led by Rep. Jamie Raskin (R-MD), picked up on this late revelation and announced Saturday morning that they would call in at least one witness – Rep. Herrera Beutler. Raskin said he would summon Herrera Beutler and any contemporary notes she had, and get her testimonial from Zoom for an hour or less once it becomes available.
And Raskin said he couldn't stop there. He said that when other "patriots" actually appear, as Herrera Beutler has requested, he has reserved the right to ask them to testify.
Trump's team was angry. "We should close this case today!" his lawyer Michael van der Veen said. He suggested that if the House asked for a witness, it would want "over 100 witnesses" (although the Senate would have to approve those witness requests).
Although the Senate initially approved of Raskin's request behind the scenes – all Democrats and five Republicans voted for testimony – they were far less interested in the idea.
Party leaders on both sides preferred to end the process quickly, and after a few hours of trial, Raskin agreed to step down as long as Herrera Beutler's testimony was recorded and Trump's team determined that their testimony would match that testimony. And so the process ends.