A day after former President Donald Trump's acquittal, several impeachment executives at the House were working to explain their decision not to call witnesses in his second impeachment trial.
Witnesses were not initially expected to be called during the trial, but that expectation was heightened on Saturday morning when the Chief Impeachment Head of the House of Representatives, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), approved the removal of Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R- WA) demanded.
On Friday, Herrera Beutler released a statement confirming details from her previous report on Trump's conduct during the January 6 storm in the U.S. Capitol, indicating that the former president was not concerned about the uprising. Raskin advocated hearing more from Herrera Beutler, and the Senate voted to draft rules for calling witnesses. Eventually, under opposition from Republicans – and reportedly by some Democrats – the impeachment managers decided that Herrera Beutler's statement should be put on record and no witnesses should be called.
The move has been widely criticized as "an incredible Democratic den", "withdrawal" and "not a serious move". However, on Sunday, Democrats argued they weren't going back.
"I think we got what we wanted," Delace Stacey Plaskett told CNN's Jake Tapper on Sunday. "Which was (Herrera Beutler's) testimony, what she said, and had it recorded in the file. And being able to say it out loud on the record so that others could hear it."
"We haven't gone back," said Stacey Plaskett, impeachment director of the House, about her decision to forego witnesses.
"We had enough evidence to prove that the president did what we said, which sparked a riot to overthrow our government." #CNNSOTU pic.twitter.com/6XoxBV4Mi0
– State of the Union (@CNNSotu) February 14, 2021
Democrats argue witnesses were hard to come by – and didn't matter
Trump spoke to House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) as the Capitol on Jan. 6, according to Herrera Beutler, who last month also voted as one of only 10 House Republicans in the House of Representatives for the second charge against Trump a pro-Trump mob was attacked.
"Well, Kevin, I think these people are more upset about the election than you are," Trump reportedly told McCarthy as rioters stormed the Capitol.
Herrera Beutler had already told this conversation in January after her impeachment vote to a local news agency, the Longview Daily News, but it caught new attention when CNN reported additional details on Friday.
"You have to look at what (Trump) did during the uprising to confirm where his thoughts were," Herrera Beutler told CNN on Friday. "That line right there tells me that he either didn't care, which is final, because you can't allow an attack on your ground, or he wanted it to happen and was okay with it, which makes me so angry."
As convincing as Herrera Beutler's statement may have been – she called Trump's comments "deterrent" – the Democrats argued on Sunday that this would have had no impact on the outcome of the process and that the delay would not have been worth other Senate business.
"We could have had a thousand witnesses, but that couldn't have overcome the stupid arguments that people like McConnell and Capito used to hang their hats on," Raskin told NBC's Chuck Todd on Sunday at Meet the Press.
EXCLUSIVE: @RepRaskin explains why Democrats chose not to hear from witnesses.
Raskin: "We could have had a thousand witnesses, but that couldn't have overcome the stupid arguments that people like McConnell and Caputo used to hang their hats on." pic.twitter.com/tkStrGVxUV
– Meet the press (@MeetThePress) February 14, 2021
Plaskett took a similar line with Tapper. "We didn't need any more witnesses, we needed more senators with spikes," she said on Sunday.
Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO), one of the impeachment executives, told Margaret Brennan on CBS's Face the Nation Sunday that "Witnesses who were not friendly to the prosecution would not volunteer, which meant we would Summons to sue for months and possibly years. "
As both Neguse and Plaskett pointed out, the Democrats are still in a lawsuit to force Don McGahn's testimony in connection with Trump's first impeachment trial.
All of this begs the question of why Raskin proposed removing Herrera Beutler if it would have been difficult to get her testimony and if that was seen as having little impact on the outcome.
For one thing, Herrera Beutler was supposedly ready to testify if he was summoned. Other potential candidates for a deposit – like McCarthy himself or Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville, who phoned Trump during the riot – may have been less willing, but Neguse said Sunday managers only wanted to hear from "one witness", not multiple witnesses . "
Why a deposit considered pointless was proposed seems more complicated.
Pressure from colleagues in the Democratic Senate may have played a role in the property managers' decision on Saturday. According to a report by Politico, Delaware Senator Chris Coons warned his colleagues in the House of Representatives that prosecuting witness statements would mean losing Republican and possibly Democratic votes to condemn Trump.
"The jury is ready to vote," said Coons. "People want to go home for Valentine's Day."
The managers also claimed on Sunday that they were satisfied that Herrera Beutler's words were recorded, as any deposit made would have been similar to what the Washington representative had said in previous statements.
"It became very clear to us that the president's attorney was willing to arrange this so that this statement could be proven and examined by the Senate," Neguse said on CBS. "And that was an important condition."
As Vox's Andrew Prokop pointed out on Saturday, there was little tension over whether statements could affect the final Senate vote. This made the argument of calling witnesses more of an attempt to shed further light on Trump's state of mind – and neglect his support – than anything else.
According to Prokop:
The outcome of the process was not seriously questioned as the Democrats never got anywhere near the 17 Republican Senate votes they would need to convict Trump. (For example, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell announced he would vote for Trump's acquittal on Saturday morning, 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.
As Neguse said on Sunday, "I think it's pretty clear and Senior Manager Raskin raised this, whether there were five more witnesses or 5,000 witnesses … it would have made no difference to those Senators."
A total of 57 senators – 10 fewer than the two-thirds majority required to convict Trump – voted to find him guilty on Saturday. Seven Republicans voted alongside each Democrat to condemn Trump for inciting insurgency. Despite this ruling, which was widely and precisely viewed as largely partisan, the House impeachment managers argued on Sunday that their evidence, including Herrera Beutler's testimony, speaks for itself.
"We had enough evidence to prove that the president did what we said, which sparked an uprising to overthrow our government," Plaskett said on Sunday. "I think that when we rested our case, all Americans believed we had proven our case."