Sen. Mitt Romney loses bid for witnesses in impeachment trial of President Trump

(Jacquelyn Martin | AP) 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.

Washington • The Senate on Friday shot down a move to subpoena witnesses and additional evidence in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump despite support from GOP Sens. Mitt Romney and Susan Collins, who joined with Democrats to argue testimony from former national security adviser John Bolton was warranted.

Without hearing from further witnesses, the Senate will return next week to debate and vote on Trump’s fate and, with a GOP majority mostly holding the line, likely acquit the president of charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

That final vote is scheduled for Wednesday.

Romney, R-Utah, had been optimistic earlier this week that some of his Republican colleagues would join him to call for more witnesses, but that hope was dashed as two potential breakaways stood with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to block more testimony.

Romney brushed past reporters after the vote, declining to answer questions.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, voted against allowing witnesses.

McConnell, who initially had planned to wrap up the trial this week, declared victory in the vote against witnesses, arguing those who testified in the House inquiry against the president and the 28,000-plus pages of documents already part of the record were sufficient to judge the accusations.

“There is no need for the Senate to reopen the investigation which the House Democratic majority chose to conclude and which the [House] managers themselves continue to describe as 'overwhelming' and 'beyond any doubt,'” McConnell said in a statement. “Never in Senate history has this body paused an impeachment trial to pursue additional witnesses with unresolved questions of executive privilege that would require protracted litigation. We have no interest in establishing such a new precedent, particularly for individuals whom the House expressly chose not to pursue.”

The schedule of the final phase of the impeachment trial was set Friday. Closing arguments will take place Monday. The president will deliver his State of the Union speech Tuesday. And senators will vote on the two articles Wednesday.

Trump has railed against the impeachment process as a sham and a witch hunt, and most Republican members of Congress have rallied to his side in the months Democrats have pursued the charges.

Romney, however, has said Trump's dealings with Ukraine — wherein he withheld hundreds of millions in U.S. aid to the country while asking for investigations into political rivals — were “troubling in the extreme.”

Senate Republicans, with the exception of Romney and Collins, R-Maine, have remained mostly in lockstep in their approach to the impeachment trial, now in its second week, despite a drip of revelations from Bolton about his firsthand knowledge of the Trump-Ukraine dealings.

The former national security adviser wrote in a draft of a forthcoming book that Trump had ordered the U.S. aid held back from Ukraine until it announced investigations of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, as well as a probe of a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine was involved in hacking the 2016 presidential election.

Trump has maintained he did nothing wrong, even as some of his allies in Congress have said the president's actions were “inappropriate” but not impeachable.

Lee said in a statement Friday that while Trump asked for investigations to be announced into the Bidens and the 2016 election interference, Ukraine eventually got its aid without promising any probes.

“No new witness would change or contradict these facts,” Lee said. "That is why I voted to move on without hearing from additional witnesses. Like any other trial court, the Senate — here sitting as a court of impeachment — has both the authority and the obligation to decline to hold a full trial where the material facts of the case are not in dispute.”

Lee also sent a tweet of support for Romney, who has faced criticism from conservatives for his stand.

“Mitt Romney is a good friend and an excellent Senator," Lee wrote. “We have disagreed about a lot in this trial. But he has my respect for the thoughtfulness, integrity, and guts he has shown throughout this process. Utah and the Senate are lucky to have him.”

The aid to Ukraine was delivered only after news reports surfaced about the money being withheld and members of Congress raised concerns. A whistleblower later alerted intelligence officials that Trump had requested a “favor” from the Ukrainian president after the country’s leader asked for military equipment.

Utahns, who are giving Trump higher marks now than in years past, had signaled interest in hearing from more witnesses as the Senate trial continued; nearly half of respondents in a recent Salt Lake Tribune/Suffolk University poll said they wanted more testimony compared with 31% who said they opposed such a move.

Even so, 60% of Utahns said they wanted Trump to remain in office and 35% said he should go.

Nationally, some 75% of registered voters wanted to allow witnesses in the Senate trial, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll.

Democrats said their GOP counterparts were protecting Trump and going against the wishes of Americans.

“The American people overwhelmingly want to hear from witnesses. But thanks to the Republican Party, they’re being denied witnesses in an impeachment trial for the first time in American history,” said Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez. “Voters deserve better from their elected officials.”