GOP sen­a­tors find safety by adopt­ing Trump team’s logic

The News & Observer (Sunday) - - News - BY STEVEN T. DENNIS Bloomberg News

Repub­li­can sen­a­tors pro­tected Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump – and each other – from con­fronting fresh ev­i­dence in the pres­i­dent’s im­peach­ment trial by adopt­ing ar­gu­ments from his lawyers about why the trial had run its course.

The vote against seek­ing new doc­u­ments and tes­ti­mony was a ra­zor-thin 51-49, and came only af­ter a hand­ful of wa­ver­ing Repub­li­cans took some rhetor­i­cal leaps to avoid pro­long­ing the elec­tionyear trial.

The vac­il­lat­ing law­mak­ers lined up be­hind var­i­ous, some­times com­pet­ing ra­tio­nales for block­ing wit­nesses and op­pos­ing con­vic­tion of­fered to them by the pres­i­dent’s team as it evolved over the course of the trial. Trump’s lawyers had ar­gued the House had failed to prove Trump did any­thing wrong, but even if they had, his ac­tions were not im­peach­able and should be de­cided by vot­ers in Novem­ber.

Above all, they warned sen­a­tors that seek­ing new ev­i­dence would lead to weeks or months of de­lays and set a prece­dent that would tie the Se­nate in knots.

La­mar Alexan­der of Ten­nessee said he be­lieved the House had proved Trump im­prop­erly sought an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Joe Bi­den and Hunter Bi­den and with­held aid to do so, but said he shouldn’t be re­moved nor was there a need for ad­di­tional ev­i­dence.

Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said the Se­nate started with a “flawed prod­uct” and she be­came “frus­trated and dis­ap­pointed and an­gry at all sides.” And Marco Ru­bio of Florida ar­gued it would dam­age the coun­try to re­move Trump even if the al­le­ga­tions against the pres­i­dent were cor­rect.

The vote forced a re­play of an un­wel­come dance a hand­ful of hold­out Repub­li­cans have re­peat­edly stayed with Trump. They were forced to de­fend pres­i­den­tial ac­tions that make them un­com­fort­able be­cause they’re loath to draw Trump’s ire.

Democrats ac­cused their GOP col­leagues of be­ing un­able to carry out their oath to do “im­par­tial jus­tice” be­cause of their de­sire to please the pres­i­dent. Democrats said they’re con­cerned Trump will now feel free to cheat in an elec­tion just nine months away.

The Se­nate will continue de­bat­ing im­peach­ment next week, but the endgame is clear. Trump will be ac­quit­ted on a largely party-line vote on Wed­nes­day at 4 p.m., the day af­ter Trump de­liv­ers the State of the Union ad­dress.

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell had sought to hold a swift trial and block fresh ev­i­dence from the start, ar­gu­ing the House’s im­peach­ment was a par­ti­san, shoddy mess. But it wasn’t al­ways clear he would get his wish, es­pe­cially af­ter re­ports that for­mer Trump Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser John Bolton con­tra­dicted the heart of Trump’s de­fense in his up­com­ing book man­u­script.

Any doubt about the out­come was erased when Murkowski is­sued an ex­tra­or­di­nary, melan­choly state­ment Fri­day.

“Given the par­ti­san na­ture of this im­peach­ment from the very be­gin­ning and through­out, I have come to the con­clu­sion that there will be no fair trial in the Se­nate,” she said. “I don’t be­lieve the con­tin­u­a­tion of this process will change any­thing. It is sad for me to ad­mit that, as an in­sti­tu­tion, the Congress has failed.”

Alexan­der, a re­tir­ing McCon­nell ally who has oc­ca­sion­ally clashed with the pres­i­dent, is­sued a state­ment of his own Thurs­day that other sen­a­tors said re­flected the pri­vate sen­ti­ments of many.

Alexan­der said the House proved its case – that Trump abused his pow­ers and un­der­mined equal jus­tice un­der the law – but that he shouldn’t be re­moved from of­fice. “Let the peo­ple de­cide,” Alexan­der said.

An­other Repub­li­can, Rob Port­man of Ohio, chose a sim­i­lar ra­tio­nale. He said Trump’s re­quest that Ukraine in­ves­ti­gate Joe Bi­den as he with­held mil­i­tary aid was “wrong and in­ap­pro­pri­ate.” But Port­man said Trump shouldn’t be re­moved from of­fice. He echoed the pres­i­dent’s lawyers’ ar­gu­ment that seek­ing new ev­i­dence would set a “dan­ger­ous prece­dent” mak­ing fu­ture im­peach­ments more likely.

Ru­bio, a ri­val of Trump’s in the 2016 Repub­li­can race, is­sued a lengthy, qual­i­fied state­ment that didn’t ad­dress whether the un­der­ly­ing case had been proven.

“Just be­cause ac­tions meet a stan­dard of im­peach­ment does not mean it is in the best in­ter­est of the coun­try to re­move a pres­i­dent from of­fice,” he said.

Such rea­son­ing veers from Trump’s long-stand­ing po­si­tion that his July 2019 call with Ukraine’s pres­i­dent was “per­fect” and that he de­served full vin­di­ca­tion. It also dif­fers from his lawyers’ ini­tial ar­gu­ments that the ar­ti­cles of im­peach­ment make ac­cu­sa­tions “con­trary to the facts.”

Ru­bio also said the Se­nate had no need to seek fur­ther wit­nesses af­ter the House failed to go to court to chal­lenge the pres­i­dent’s ef­forts to block them from tes­ti­fy­ing.

Democrats ar­gued that ear­lier im­peach­ment tri­als in­cluded wit­nesses who had not tes­ti­fied in the House, and said it the Repub­li­can Se­nate was set­ting a prece­dent by hold­ing a trial with­out any.

The sen­ti­ment that the vot­ers should de­cide was the one uni­fy­ing theme in all of the fi­nal Repub­li­can state­ments op­pos­ing wit­nesses. Democrats dis­missed that ra­tio­nale, say­ing the GOP doesn’t want those vot­ers hear the truth about Trump’s con­duct from cur­rent and for­mer aides, such as Bolton.

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Chuck Schumer warned that ev­i­dence would continue to emerge – in­clud­ing in Bolton’s book – and that Repub­li­can sen­a­tors will be to blame for fail­ing to hear those de­tails un­der oath be­fore cast­ing a fi­nal ver­dict.

While a hand­ful of Repub­li­cans had pub­licly ag­o­nized over how to vote, just two, Su­san Collins of Maine and Mitt Rom­ney of Utah, voted to seek new ev­i­dence, in­clud­ing the tes­ti­mony of Bolton.

Most had long since de­clared them­selves un­con­vinced by the House’s case and con­tin­ued to back the pres­i­dent. Repub­li­cans ar­gued that Democrats’ real in­tent was to pres­sure vul­ner­a­ble Se­nate Repub­li­cans up for re-elec­tion in Novem­ber, in­clud­ing Cory Gard­ner of Colorado, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Martha McSally of Ari­zona and Thom Til­lis of North Carolina, all of whom voted with Trump.

There was never any ex­pec­ta­tion that Trump would ac­tu­ally be re­moved. That would re­quire at least 20 GOP votes, and no Repub­li­can in Congress has said his con­duct mer­ited re­moval from of­fice.

ERIN SCHAFF NYT

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, heads to a meet­ing Fri­day with Repub­li­cans dur­ing a break in the trial of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. Sev­eral Se­nate Repub­li­cans said that even if Trump did ev­ery­thing im­peach­ment man­agers said, he should not be re­moved. “It is sad for me to ad­mit that, as an in­sti­tu­tion, the Congress has failed,” Murkoswki said.

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