Meanwhile, the top hashtags on Twitter Friday afternoon were #ImpeachmentTrialSham, #GOPCowards, #RIPAmerica, and #RIPGOP.
On Friday afternoon, the top four trending hashtags on Twitter spoke volumes about how scores of Americans felt about the current impeachment proceedings: They were #ImpeachmentTrialSham, #GOPCowards, #RIPAmerica, and #RIPGOP.
Clearly, the Internet is angry at Republican senators. Eager to end President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, the Senate appears to be on the verge of blocking a vote to introduce new witnesses and evidence into the trial.
Democrats had hoped Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the last remaining wild card, might join them in voting to allow witnesses. But Murkowski announced on Friday that she would side with her Republican colleagues and vote against subpoenaing new witnesses, including Trump’s former national security advisor John Bolton.
In a statement, Murkowski blamed the House for sending over “articles of impeachment that are rushed and flawed,” and lamented the partisan nature of the impeachment proceedings.
“I have come to the conclusion that there will be no fair trial in the Senate,” Murkowski said in her statement. “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.”
Murkowski’s decision followed a similar one made by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), widely seen as a necessary vote for Democrats if they hoped to get the 51 votes needed to subpoena new witnesses. Alexander’s announcement that he would also vote against the effort came Thursday night.
“There is no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven and that does not meet the United States Constitution’s high bar for an impeachable offense,” Alexander said in a statement.
“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 called Trump’s attempt to pressure a foreign leader to investigate his political opponent “inappropriate” and acknowledged that Trump clearly did what he’s accused of. But Alexander, who will retire next January at the end of his current term, also said he did not believe the president’s behavior was grounds for impeachment. Instead, the Tennessee senator said that he believed it was up to voters, not the Senate, to decide Trump’s future.
“The question then is not whether the president did it, but whether the United States Senate or the American people should decide what to do about what he did,” Alexander said. “I believe that the Constitution provides that the people should make that decision in the presidential election that begins in Iowa on Monday.”
Critics were quick to point out on Twitter that Trump was impeached by the House over his attempts to compel a foreign government to investigate his 2020 political rivals, thus potentially influencing the 2020 election in which Alexander wants voters to decide Trump’s fate.
It’s been something of a foregone conclusion that the Republican-led Senate will acquit Trump in the trial, but with Murkowski and Alexander falling in line, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) appears to have the votes he needs to make this the first-ever impeachment trial without testimony and evidence in the history of the Senate.
Currently, only two of the 53 Republican senators have said they would vote to allow new witnesses and evidence: Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME).
The other 51 GOP senators have indicated they plan to vote against introducing new witnesses, despite the fact that five separate polls found substantial majorities of Americans (between 66 and 80 percent) support calling witnesses in the Senate trial.
On Monday, the Times reported that in August, Trump told Bolton—a potentially critical witness given his awareness of “many relevant meetings” connected to the Ukraine scandal—that he wanted to continue freezing $391 million in military aid to Ukraine until Ukrainian officials helped dig up dirt on former vice president Joe Biden and other Democrats.
On Friday, around the same time that Murkowski announced she would vote “no” on allowing witnesses, another Times report revealed that more than two months before he asked Ukraine’s president to investigate Biden, President Trump had already directed Bolton to pressure Ukrainian officials to find damaging information on Democrats.
Both reports were sourced to Bolton’s own unpublished manuscript and prompted Democrats to renew their calls for him to be subpoenaed. Instead, Republicans appear to be speeding along toward wrapping up the trial, and could do so as early as Friday night.
Beyond playing to politics, the question of whether the Senate should call new witnesses is one many legal experts have weighed in on. Many agree that no, the Senate doesn’t have to hear more evidence if it chooses not to. But refusing to do so departs from what we’ve seen historically—during Andrew Johnson’s Senate proceedings, the prosecution called 25 witnesses and the defense called 16; in Bill Clinton’s, the Senate deposed three people.
To really understand the gravity of today’s vote on witnesses, consider the average American’s experience in a courtroom. As leading legal ethics expert Stephen Gillers pointed out in a recent Just Security blog post, jurors in a civil or criminal case “would not be allowed to deliver a verdict without hearing witnesses.”
“In court,” he writes, “the litigants would have the right to call witnesses and the judge would protect that right. Here, however, the Chief Justice, who is presiding, appears unwilling to rule that the trial should include witnesses. Consequently, the senators are the judges and the jurors.”
Gillers concludes: “With no real witnesses, the Senate will be moving into Alice in Wonderland territory. Following the trial of the Knave of Hearts, the Queen of Hearts pronounced ‘sentence first, verdict after.’ In the Senate, with no witnesses, this sequence will change. It will be ‘verdict first, trial never.’”