Burr, Til­lis vote no on new wit­nesses in Trump im­peach­ment

The News & Observer (Sunday) - - Triangle & N.c. -

North Carolina’s U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Til­lis voted with the ma­jor­ity of their Repub­li­can col­leagues to block the Se­nate from call­ing wit­nesses in the im­peach­ment trial of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Fri­day evening, clear­ing the way for a fi­nal vote on ac­quit­tal.

The vote was 51-49 with Repub­li­cans Su­san Collins of Maine and Mitt Rom­ney of Utah join­ing 47 Democrats and in­de­pen­dents in want­ing ad­di­tional wit­nesses and doc­u­ments be­yond what was pro­vided by the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. The fi­nal vote will be held Wed­nes­day at 4 p.m. af­ter clos­ing ar­gu­ments on Mon­day and speeches from sen­a­tors on Mon­day, Tues­day and Wed­nes­day.

Trump was im­peached in De­cem­ber in the Demo­crat­ic­con­trolled House on two ar­ti­cles — abuse of power and ob­struc­tion of Congress. The charges stem from Trump’s with­hold­ing of ap­proved aid to Ukraine, al­legedly un­til the na­tion’s pres­i­dent an­nounced in­ves­ti­ga­tions into Joe and Hunter Bi­den and in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

The votes of Burr and Til­lis were not a sur­prise.

Burr tipped his hand in an in­ter­view this week on for­mer Gov. Pat McCrory’s ra­dio show.

“The hearsay that John Bolton or any­body else may bring to this is ir­rel­e­vant be­cause even if the pres­i­dent said this, it does not raise to the level of re­moval from of­fice, which is a sa­cred thing be­cause the Amer­i­can peo­ple have duly elected him,” Burr said.

Til­lis has re­peat­edly said in pre­vi­ous weeks that he would not vote for more wit­nesses, in­clud­ing for­mer Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial Bolton.

Bolton, whose po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee has en­dorsed Til­lis in 2014 and 2020, has a new book that al­leges Trump told him the aid was tied to the in­ves­ti­ga­tions, The New York Times re­ported.

Til­lis said ear­lier this week the Bolton rev­e­la­tion “hasn’t af­fected my de­ci­sion” on wit­nesses. He’s re­peat­edly called the im­peach­ment trial “a sham.”

“It should be dis­missed based on the lack of ev­i­dence and lack of process,” Til­lis said on McCrory’s show.

Repub­li­cans con­trol 53 votes in the Se­nate. It would take 67 sen­a­tors to vote to re­move Trump — an out­come that has al­ways been ex­tremely un­likely. Til­lis said in early De­cem­ber that he would vote to ac­quit the pres­i­dent.

Re­tir­ing Sen. La­mar Alexan­der of Ten­nessee, con­sid­ered a po­ten­tial swing vote on wit­nesses, said late Thurs­day night that he would not vote for ad­di­tional wit­nesses. Alexan­der did, how­ever, say that Demo­cratic House man­agers con­vinc­ingly proved that Trump with­held the aid, “at least in part, to pres­sure Ukraine to in­ves­ti­gate the Bi­dens.”

“It was in­ap­pro­pri­ate for the pres­i­dent to ask a for­eign leader to in­ves­ti­gate his po­lit­i­cal op­po­nent and to with­hold United States aid to en­cour­age that in­ves­ti­ga­tion. When elected of­fi­cials in­ap­pro­pri­ately in­ter­fere with such in­ves­ti­ga­tions, it un­der­mines the prin­ci­ple of equal jus­tice un­der the law,” Alexan­der said in a state­ment. “But the Con­sti­tu­tion does not give the Se­nate the power to re­move the pres­i­dent from of­fice and ban him from this year’s bal­lot sim­ply for ac­tions that are in­ap­pro­pri­ate.”

Trump faces re-elec­tion in Novem­ber.

Asked Fri­day if he agreed with Alexan­der’s com­ments on Trump’s ac­tions be­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ate but not im­peach­able, Burr said: “I’ve said that be­fore.”

Til­lis said he would not char­ac­ter­ize Trump’s con­ver­sa­tions.

“We’re all ar­riv­ing at the same place from dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives,” Til­lis said Fri­day about Alexan­der. “I keep on go­ing back to, I don’t char­ac­ter­ize the Pres­i­dent’s con­ver­sa­tions any more than I do any other mem­ber of the Se­nate.”

Til­lis, too, will be on the bal­lot this year. He has a pri­mary on March 3.

State Sen. Er­ica Smith, one of five Democrats run­ning to chal­lenge Til­lis, said based on the ev­i­dence she’s seen that Trump is guilty.

“Based on the doc­u­ments from the House and what the House im­peach­ment lead­ers and pre­sen­ters have shared, it ap­pears our pres­i­dent is guilty of ob­struc­tion of Congress as well as get­ting for­eign as­sis­tance as it per­tains to Joe Bi­den’s son,” Smith said.

Cal Cun­ning­ham, an­other Demo­crat in the race, said ear­lier this month that he wanted to hear Trump’s de­fense be­fore giv­ing his opin­ion on con­vic­tion or ac­quit­tal. He also said he wanted wit­nesses and doc­u­ments.

“If Sen­a­tor Til­lis ac­tu­ally cared about fair­ness or his sworn con­sti­tu­tional duty, he would have voted to per­mit wit­nesses to­day — in­stead he de­nied North Carolini­ans valu­able in­for­ma­tion, not only to aid Mitch McCon­nell’s cover up of Pres­i­dent Trump, but to main­tain his good graces with the White House as he seeks re­elec­tion,” Cun­ning­ham, a lawyer and for­mer Army pros­e­cu­tor, said in a state­ment.

Cun­ning­ham said ear­lier that the ev­i­dence was “very grave and very se­ri­ous” that Trump had com­mit­ted an “abuse of power.” But Cun­ning­ham has not said whether he would vote to con­vict or ac­quit the pres­i­dent if he were cur­rently in the Se­nate.

J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE AP

Sens. Richard Burr, left, and Thom Til­lis, both North Carolina Repub­li­cans, leave the cham­ber dur­ing the im­peach­ment trial of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Fri­day. They voted against sub­poe­naing new wit­nesses.

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