Murkowski comes out against impeachment witnesses, putting Trump on path to acquittal

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski came out Friday against calling witnesses in President Trump’s impeachment trial, all but assuring the Senate will move to wrap up proceedings with a likely acquittal in a matter of days, if not hours.

“Given the partisan nature of this impeachment from the very beginning and throughout, I have come to the conclusion that there will be no fair trial in the Senate. I don’t believe the continuation of this process will change anything. It is sad for me to admit that, as an institution, the Congress has failed,” said Murkowski, R-Alaska, a key moderate senator who has been closely watched on the witness question.

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The announcement came after Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who also had been on the fence on the issue, announced late Thursday that he would not support additional witnesses in Trump's "shallow, hurried and wholly partisan” trial.

Right now, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah are the only GOP senators to signal support for witnesses. Presuming Democrats vote as a bloc and no other Republicans defect, this would leave the pro-witness side with just 49 votes.

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The Senate is expected to vote on the witness question later Friday. From there, proceedings could drag on through Friday night and into the weekend – and possibly beyond – but it takes a two-thirds supermajority to convict a president.

Few senators have publicly budged from party lines during the course of the trial, leaving impeachment managers far short of the votes needed to convict barring some extraordinary turn.

Murkowski, after keeping her views close to the vest, issued her statement just as what could be the final day of proceedings got underway. In it, she said she "carefully considered" the question of allowing witnesses and documents in the trial, "but ultimately decided that I will vote against considering motions to subpoena."

She even seemed to take a swipe at Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., for a day earlier applying not-so-subtle pressure on Chief Justice John Roberts to side with those seeking witnesses. On the floor Thursday, Warren gave Roberts a question that asked if refusing to allow witnesses would “contribute to the loss of legitimacy of the chief justice, the Supreme Court, and the Constitution?"

Murkowski said in her statement: “It has also become clear some of my colleagues intend to further politicize this process, and drag the Supreme Court into the fray, while attacking the Chief Justice. I will not stand for nor support that effort. We have already degraded this institution for partisan political benefit, and I will not enable those who wish to pull down another."

The statement also could have been a reference to Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., clashing with Roberts over the last two days for the latter's refusal to read aloud his question naming the alleged Ukraine whistleblower.

“We are sadly at a low point of division in this country,” Murkowski said.

Trump is accused of withholding aid to Ukraine as leverage to extract an investigation led by that country into Democrats including 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden and his family. He denies it, but former national security adviser John Bolton reportedly has alleged, in his forthcoming book, that the president indeed linked the aid and the investigations.

This prompted a renewed scramble by Democrats to muster the votes to demand witness testimony, from Bolton and others. The New York Times reported Friday that Bolton also claims Trump told him to help with his Ukraine pressure campaign as early as May.

Trump denied the claim.

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As it became clear that votes were lining up to block witnesses, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., alleged earlier Friday that Republicans were on the verge of participating in the “greatest cover-up since Watergate.”

“The president’s acquittal will be meaningless because it will be the result of a sham trial,” he declared.