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Republicans push to acquit Trump as soon as Friday

Thursday’s Q&A could be the calm before the storm, with key votes on witnesses Friday — and, possibly, a verdict

Rep. Mike Braun, R-Ind., adjusts his glasses as he speaks to media on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020, during a break in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Jacquelyn Martin, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The message from Republican senators during the first break in Thursday’s impeachment trial was brief: We’re done.

“I personally think almost every senator on each side has probably already come to a conclusion,” said Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind. “In my own mind, if you think you need more after all this, that’s hard to understand, but I respect the people who do need it.”

Among those who want to know more is Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, who made it clear Wednesday that he wants to hear from former national security adviser John Bolton. But it’s looking less likely that Romney will get that chance.

Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, confidently said senators would reject a motion Friday to hear from more witnesses and stay until they render their verdict on President Donald Trump.

“That’s where all the momentum is right now,” he said.

Senators continued questioning House managers and Trump’s defense team Thursday during what could be a lull before the storm Friday, when attorneys argue up to four hours on the motion to call witnesses, followed by a vote. If that motion is voted down, the GOP-controlled Senate could vote to acquit the president.

But Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., hinted he could employ parliamentary procedure to thwart a swift acquittal of Trump.

“The minority has rights, and we will exercise those rights,” Schumer told reporters, without elaborating. He added that his efforts until then would be centered on finding enough Republican votes to call for new witnesses.

Romney has been a focal point in the witness debate that has roiled the GOP conference after revelations emerged earlier in the week from the manuscript of a forthcoming book by Bolton. Trump’s former security adviser wrote that the president told him last summer that military aid was withheld from Ukraine to pressure that country to investigate the president’s political rival, Joe Biden, and other Democrats.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, walks to the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020, during a break in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Jacquelyn Martin, Associated Press

Romney had said before the trial that he would want to hear from Bolton, when the former ambassador offered to testify if subpoenaed. But news reports on the manuscript prompted Romney to make a forceful argument for witnesses among Republican colleagues, particularly Bolton who could provide firsthand testimony on Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.

The House impeached Trump last month, charging him with abuse of power in allegedly pressuring Ukraine to conduct investigations that would benefit him politically. The second article of impeachment accuses Trump of obstructing Congress while House Democrats investigated his dealings with Ukraine.

Romney and fellow Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have publicly expressed interest in hearing from additional witnesses. And just one more GOP senator would need to break ranks to reach the 51 votes needed to request additional witnesses.

But news reports Thursday also speculated on the possibility of a 50-50 tie on the witness vote, which would mean it fails. Under the rules, Chief Justice John Roberts could choose to break the tie and cast a deciding vote.

Questions on whether more testimony and documents are needed were posed to attorneys on both sides during the second day of questioning.

White House attorney Patrick Philbin made an impeachment-by-the-numbers argument to drive home the point that House managers have had their opportunity to prove their case.

He said House managers have argued their case for 21 hours, showing 192 video clips of 13 out of the 17 witnesses they deposed, and more than 28,000 pages of documents have been admitted as evidence.

“They said proven, sufficient, uncontested, overwhelming at least 68 times,” Philbin said, adding “don’t be taken in by the idea that we can’t have a trial here, you can’t have a valid proceeding unless they bring someone in here to testify live.”

But Trump’s legal team has also criticized House managers for not deposing any firsthand witnesses to the president’s conduct, instead relying on secondhand observers and speculating on Trump’s motives and intentions.

House managers, however, said their efforts to subpoena top White House aides such as Bolton were blocked by unprecedented exercise of executive privilege, forcing them to rely on the Senate to conduct a “fair trial” with witnesses to get at the truth of why Trump withheld aid to Ukraine and if it was to personally benefit him politically.

Most GOP senators fear calling new witnesses will prolong the trial indefinitely. They want to swiftly acquit the president before his State of the Union address Tuesday and not risk embarrassing or damaging the president with new testimony. The Republican-controlled Senate is expected to find Trump not guilty on both articles of impeachment when it votes Friday or Saturday.