Trump verdict vote set, witnesses rejected

The US Senate has voted against calling witnesses in President Donald Trump's impeachment trial.
The US Senate has voted against calling witnesses in President Donald Trump's impeachment trial.

The US Senate has narrowly rejected Democratic demands to summon witnesses for President Donald Trump's impeachment trial, all but ensuring Trump's acquittal in just the third trial to threaten a president's removal in US history. But senators pushed off final voting on his fate to next Wednesday.

The delay in timing showed the weight of a historic vote bearing down on senators, despite prodding by the president eager to have it all behind him in an election year and ahead of his State of the Union speech Tuesday night.

Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke by phone to lock in the schedule during a tense night at the Capitol as rushed negotiations proceeded on and off the Senate floor. The trial came to a standstill for about an hour. A person unauthorised to discuss the call was granted anonymity to describe it.

The president wanted to arrive for his speech at the Capitol with acquittal secured, but that will not happen. Instead, the trial will resume Monday for final arguments, with time Monday and Tuesday for senators to speak. The final voting is planned for 4 pm Wednesday, the day after Trump's speech.

Trump's acquittal is all but certain in the Senate, where his GOP allies hold the majority and there's nowhere near the two-thirds needed for conviction and removal.

Nor will he face potentially damaging, open-Senate testimony from witnesses.

Despite the Democrats' singular focus on hearing new testimony, the Republican majority brushed past those demands and will make this the first impeachment trial without witnesses. Even new revelations Friday from former national security adviser John Bolton did not sway GOP senators, who said they'd heard enough.

That means the eventual outcome for Trump will be an acquittal "in name only," said Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., a House prosecutor, during final debate.

Trump was impeached by the House last month on charges that he abused power and obstructed Congress as he tried to pressure Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden, using military aid as leverage as the ally fought Russia. He is charged with then blocking the congressional probe of his actions.

Senators rejected the Democrats' effort to allow new witnesses, 51-49, a near party-line vote. Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah voted with the Democrats, but that was not enough.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called that decision "a tragedy on a very large scale." Protesters' chants reverberated against the walls of the Capitol.

But Republicans said Trump's acquittal was justified and inevitable.

The Democrats had badly wanted testimony from Bolton, whose forthcoming book links Trump directly to the charges. But Bolton won't be summoned, and none of this appeared to affect the trial's expected outcome. Democrats forced a series of new procedural votes late Friday to call Bolton and White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, among others, but all were rejected.

In an unpublished manuscript, Bolton has written that the president asked him during an Oval Office meeting in early May to bolster his effort to get Ukraine to investigate Democrats, according to a person who read the passage and told The Associated Press. The person, who was not authorised to disclose contents of the book, spoke only on condition of anonymity.

In the meeting, Bolton said the president asked him to call new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and persuade him to meet with Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who was planning to go to Ukraine to coax the Ukrainians to investigate the president's political rivals. Bolton writes that he never made the call to Zelenskiy after the meeting, which included acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone.

The White House has blocked its officials from testifying in the proceedings and objected that there are "significant amounts of classified information" in Bolton's manuscript. Bolton resigned last September - Trump says he was fired - and he and his lawyer have insisted the book does not contain any classified information.

Australian Associated Press