WASHINGTON — Republican senators are using a novel argument to reject calls for new witnesses and documents, saying Democrats haven’t provided overwhelming evidence, therefore there’s no need to call for more evidence.
House impeachment managers have pleaded with the Senate to subpoena documents and new witnesses, such as former national security adviser John Bolton. But Republicans on Friday attempted to turn the managers’ own words against them.
Since Democrats claimed there is already overwhelming evidence against President Donald Trump, Republicans argue, then by definition you wouldn’t need to call more evidence. At the same time, they say there is not, in fact, overwhelming evidence against the president.
“I’m further away from changing my mind on witnesses,” said Republican Sen. John Barrasso. “When they speak they talk about overwhelming evidence, rock-solid evidence, and even mountains of evidence. You’d think if you have that kind of a case you wouldn’t need additional witnesses.”
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Sen. Joni Ernst said Friday afternoon she is still waiting to see the incontrovertible case promised by Democrats. “They keep proclaiming that this is overwhelming evidence. Then likely we wouldn’t need additional evidence or witnesses,” she said.
Asked if this amounted to a catch-22 — no new evidence is needed when the case is overwhelming, even if the case is not overwhelming — Ernst and Barrasso said no, because that is the impeachment managers’ responsibility. “It’s their job to make the case. It’s the Senate’s job to judge and listen,” said Barrasso.
Republicans voted down eight subpoena attempts for documents and witnesses at the start of the trial. There will be one more vote on the matter next week. A large majority of Republicans were always expected to vote against new witnesses, which would set up a final vote where they could acquit Trump by late next week.
But if just four Republicans side with Democrats, new subpoenas could be issued. Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Mitt Romney of Utah are the only senators who have signaled they may be open to calling in new evidence, though others have said they are waiting to make up their mind.
But it’s becoming clear most Republicans see this as an open-and-shut case.
“They’ve said the same thing I don’t know how many times,” said Florida Sen. Rick Scott. “I don’t believe anything they’ve said so far is impeachable.”
House Democrats started their opening arguments Wednesday and had until Friday evening to conclude. The White House will then give arguments during a short session Saturday, followed by two full days to talk on Monday and Tuesday.
After that, there will be 16 hours for senators to provide written questions, followed by four hours of debate on whether to call additional witnesses and then a vote.
After three straight days of sitting (mostly) silently well into the evening, both sides were showing signs of frustration. “Oh, who the hell knows,” said Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono when asked if she thought the arguments were getting through to Republicans. “I don’t think they’re showing any signs of being willing to listen.”