US Democrats were served a significant blow late on Thursday after a key Republican senator said he would vote against calling new witnesses in the impeachment trial of United States President Donald Trump.
Following hours of questions, Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, considered a key holdout, said on Twitter he would oppose calling new witnesses.
“I worked with other senators to make sure that we have the right to ask for more documents and witnesses, but there is no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven and that does not meet the U.S. Constitution’s high bar for an impeachable offense,” Alexander tweeted.
“There is no need for more evidence to conclude that the president withheld United States aid, at least in part, to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens; the House managers have proved this with what they call a ‘mountain of overwhelming evidence.'” he added.
Following Alexander’s comments, it appeared that the best Democrats could hope for was a possible tie on the question of witnesses. But even a tie would likely lead to a defeat.
Republican Senator Susan Collins announced on Twitter she plans to vote for witnesses. Republican Senator Mitt Romney has suggested he too will vote for witnesses.
The remaining holdout was Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, who argued in a submitted question that additional witnesses could be necessary.
“The dispute about material facts weighs in favour of calling additional witnesses with direct knowledge,” Murkowski said. “Why should this body not call Ambassador Bolton?”
Democrats needed four Republicans to join them in voting for witnesses. Only three would result in a tie in the 100-member Senate.
If that were the case, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial, could step in to break the tie. But there is so little precedent for impeachment trials – this is only the third of a president in US history – that Senate aides said there was no way to know exactly what would occur. Even if Roberts decided to break the tie in the Democrats’ favour, the Senate could override his decision with a simple majority vote.
Possible testimony from Bolton was of particular interest after a report – which he has not denied – that he planned to say in an upcoming book that Trump told him he wanted to freeze $391m in US military aid for Ukraine until it investigated Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who worked for a Ukrainian energy firm while his father was vice president.
The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives impeached Trump in December, formally accusing him of abusing his power for pressuring Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. The House also charged Trump with obstruction of Congress.
Two-thirds of the Senate is required to remove Trump from office. He is unlikely to be convicted. Republicans hold a 53-47 majority.