Trump poised to be acquitted as Democrats’ bid to call witnesses falters

Crucial Republican senator says US president’s actions ‘inappropriate’ but not impeachable

The impeachment trial of Donald Trump looked set to end without hearing witness testimony after a crucial Republican senator said he opposed a motion for further evidence, clearing a path for the acquittal of the president as early as Friday.

Lamar Alexander was one of four Republican senators Democrats hoped would vote against party lines to extend the trial by calling new witnesses, such as John Bolton, the former national security adviser. Although Mr Alexander said on Thursday that Democrats had in effect proven their case, Mr Trump's conduct was not impeachable, only "inappropriate".

Mr Alexander's decision contrasted with a statement by Susan Collins. The Republican senator from Maine said she would support a motion for witnesses. Mitt Romney, the Republican from Utah, had indicated he also wanted to hear testimony.

Lisa Murkowski, the fourth possible Republican swing vote, told reporters she would announce her position on Friday morning.


Republicans have a 53-47 majority in the Senate, so even if Ms Murkowski backs calls for more evidence, Mr Alexander's no vote would probably mean a 50-50 tie. While some Democrats expressed hope that John Roberts, the chief justice of the supreme court presiding over the trial, might break the tie in favour of witnesses, such a scenario was considered unlikely. A stricter two-thirds majority is required to convict Mr Trump.

Senators are expected to vote on Friday to determine whether to allow testimony from witnesses in the Ukraine scandal, such as Mr Bolton, who did not testify during the impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives after the White House told its officials not to co-operate.


The vote on whether to convict or acquit Mr Trump, which is all but certain to fall in his favour, could come as early as Friday evening. That would allow Mr Trump to claim victory just days before next week's Iowa caucuses, which launch the 2020 presidential election campaign, and his State of the Union address to Congress.

Republican leaders have argued against calling new witnesses, saying the case against Mr Trump was deeply flawed and that the House impeachment hearings last year provided adequate testimony.

In the previous two presidential impeachment trials in US history, the Senate has heard testimony from witnesses.

Mr Trump was charged with abusing his power and obstructing Congress in the Ukraine scandal. He is accused of withholding military aid to the country in order to persuade Kiev to launch an investigation into Joe Biden, the former US vice-president and a potential rival for re-election in November, and his son Hunter, who held a lucrative board seat at the Ukrainian gas company Burisma.

Mr Alexander on Thursday criticised Mr Trump’s conduct, but said it did not rise to the level of an impeachment offence.

"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," he said in a statement.

“But the constitution does not give the Senate the power to remove the president from office and ban him from this year’s ballot simply for actions that are inappropriate.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2020