US Senate rejects witnesses in Trump impeachment trial

The vote in the Republican-controlled Senate cleared the way for an acquittal of the president

epa08183267 Republican Senator from Utah Mitt Romney leaves the Senate floor during a recess in the US Capitol in Washington, DC, USA, 31 January 2020. The Senate voted to reject witnesses as the impeachment trial of US President Donald J. Trump continues.  EPA/SHAWN THEW
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

The US Senate on Friday voted against calling witnesses and collecting new evidence in President Donald Trump's impeachment trial, clearing the way for President Trump's almost certain acquittal in the coming days.

By a vote of 51-49, the Republican-controlled Senate stopped Democrats' drive to hear testimony from witnesses like former national security adviser John Bolton, who is thought to have first-hand knowledge of Mr Trump's efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Those actions prompted the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives to formally charge Mr Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in December.

That made Mr Trump only the third president in US history to be impeached. He denies wrongdoing and has accused Democrats of an "attempted coup".

The Senate trial will resume on Monday with two hours of closing arguments each from the prosecution and defence before senators speak on whether they think Mr Trump should be convicted or acquitted. The final vote is scheduled for Wednesday.

The Senate is almost certain to acquit Mr Trump as a two-thirds majority is required to remove the president and none of the chamber's 53 Republicans have indicated they will vote to convict.

In Friday's vote on witnesses, only two Republicans, Mitt Romney and Susan Collins, broke with their party and voted with Democrats.

"America will remember this day, unfortunately, where the Senate did not live up to its responsibilities, where the Senate turned away from truth and went along with a sham trial," Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters.

Mr Trump is seeking re-election in a November 3 vote. Mr Biden is a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face him.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said the trial should end as soon as possible. "The cake is baked and we just need to move as soon as we can to get it behind us," he told reporters.

Friday's vote on witnesses came hours after the New York Times reported new details from an unpublished book manuscript written by Mr Bolton in which the former aide said President Trump directed him in May to help in a pressure campaign to get Ukraine to pursue investigations that would benefit Mr Trump politically.

Mr Bolton wrote that Mr Trump told him to call Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to ensure Mr Zelenskiy would meet with Mr Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, a key player in the campaign, the newspaper reported.

Robert Costello, a lawyer for Mr Giuliani, called the New York Times report "categorically untrue". Bolton's lawyer and spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.

Democrats had said the news illustrated the need for the Senate to put Mr Bolton under oath.

But Republicans said they had heard enough. Some said they did not think that Mr Trump did anything wrong, while Senators Lamar Alexander and Rob Portman said his actions were wrong but did not amount to impeachable conduct. Senator Marco Rubio said impeachment would be too divisive for the country, even if a president engaged in clearly impeachable activity.

Lisa Murkowski, a Republican moderate who Democrats had hoped would vote with them to extend the trial, said the case against Trump was rushed and flawed.