WASHINGTON — John Bolton won’t be dropping any truth bombs on President Trump in the Senate impeachment trial after all.
And neither will anyone else.
The Senate voted against calling witnesses Friday, making Trump’s the first of over a dozen Senate impeachment proceedings in U.S. history to go 100% witness-free. Moments before the vote took place, a GOP moderate blasted her own Republican-controlled Senate for failing to ensure a “fair trial” as justification for her opposition to prolonging the hearings any further.
The chamber killed the motion with a vote of 51-49. Only two Republicans joined Democrats to vote for witnesses: Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine.
The result sets the stage for Trump’s impeachment drama to wind down next week, after the final niceties, debates, and speeches wrap up. Having failed to convert even the four Republicans they needed to score fresh testimony or documents, Democrats look dead-certain to lose the big, final vote to boot Trump out of office, too.
The ultimate failure of Trump’s impeachment was likely always inevitable. But Democrats still hoped for witnesses. They’d set their hopes highest on Bolton, Trump’s ultra-conservative former national security advisor, whose leaked book manuscript reportedly recounts damning conversations with Trump about getting Ukraine to roll out an investigation of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
Such testimony from Bolton would have fed directly into Democrats’ impeachment case against Trump. The House of Representatives impeached Trump in December for abusing his office by pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden, and for then blocking the congressional investigation into what happened.
Bolton’s book says Trump explicitly stated that he wanted to continue a freeze on vital military aid to Ukraine, a nation locked in a brutal war with Russia-backed separatists, until Ukraine announced the investigations Trump wanted, according to The New York Times.
On Friday, the Times reported that Trump asked Bolton “to help with his pressure campaign to extract damaging information on Democrats from Ukrainian officials,” by arranging for Ukraine’s president to meet with Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
Democrats have blasted Bolton for signaling his willingness to testify about big moments in the Ukraine scandal without coming forward to actually say his piece in public.
“It will be very difficult for him to explain to the country why he saved it for the book,” Rep. Adam Schiff, the House Democrat leading the charge against Trump, told senators on Friday. And he berated GOP senators for failing to call Bolton: “I would submit to you, it will be equally difficult for you to explain as it will be for him.”
The failure of the witness vote became all but certain by Friday afternoon after two Republicans who’d once been seen as possible rebels folded and agreed to join their own leadership: Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
Alexander said that no new testimony is needed because Democrats had proved their case with “a mountain of overwhelming evidence.”
Murkowski called the Senate trial a sham that wasn’t worth dragging out.
“I have come to the conclusion that there will be no fair trial in the Senate,” she wrote in a blistering statement Friday. “I don’t believe the continuation of this process will change anything.”
The vote against witnesses made Trump’s Senate impeachment trial something of a historical oddity: The Senate has held 15 impeachment trials before, according to PolitiFact, and all of them featured witnesses.
Most of those proceedings concerned the removal of judges. But two were presidential impeachments.
Former President Andrew Johnson’s Senate impeachment trial involved 41 witnesses, while the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton in the late 1990s featured three witnesses. Clinton’s Senate trial included taped testimony of former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, whose affair with Clinton was a key moment in the case that revolved around Clinton’s lies under oath about their relationship.
The Senate’s refusal to hear witnesses against Trump on Friday prompted Lewinsky to joke that it was “too bad” she had to testify in the Clinton impeachment, because, “i mean, talk about unflattering lighting and having a bad hair day.”
Cover: In this screengrab taken from a Senate Television webcast, Chief Justice John Roberts receives a question from a senator during impeachment proceedings against U.S. President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol on January 29, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Senate Television via Getty Images)