Donald Trump Lawyer's Plan to Call 'Lots' of Witnesses Threatens Joe Biden's Agenda

Update: 3:55 p.m. ET Saturday—After an hour of uncertainty and behind-the-scenes negotiations, the Senate agreed to move forward without witnesses, and later in the afternoon 43 senators voted to acquit former President Donald Trump.

As former President Donald Trump's second impeachment trial appeared to be nearing an end, the U.S. Senate unravelled in an unexpected vote to call witnesses—setting up the potential for multiple skirmishes that could drag the process out for days, as President Joe Biden has urged lawmakers to focus on his hefty coronavirus relief plan.

After initially opposing the Democrats' push for testimony about what happened at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 and whether Trump was responsible for the hundreds of people who stormed the building to disrupt the certification of Biden's election, Trump's lawyers appeared to embrace the idea—hinting they could drag the process out. The impeachment trial had been expected to end Saturday afternoon with an acquittal.

Trump attorney Bruce Castor told reporters that the defense team would attempt to call "lots" of witnesses.

Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, told reporters that could mean hundreds.

"The defense counsel for the president says that they have 304 witnesses," he said.

Senators voted 55-45, with five Republicans joining all Democrats, in favor of allowing lawmakers the opportunity to call witnesses. Senator Lindsey Graham, a staunch ally of Trump, was among the Republicans who voted in favor, after changing his vote at the last minute.

The chamber, which is notorious for its sluggishness, likely will have to vote on each witness. It's now unclear when the trial could end.

Biden is at Camp David, a presidential retreat in Maryland, for the weekend. He has largely avoided comment on the impeachment trial and been focused on building support for his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.

"As the [resident has said, that day was an assault on our democracy, and it was a reminder of why it can never happen again," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Friday in one of the rare Biden administration remarks about the impeachment trail.

Biden has said he's not watching the trial as it unfolds on television, but he caught clips on the evening news. He held a bipartisan meeting with governors and mayors on Friday to try to build support around his COVID-19 relief plan that would include $1,400 stimulus checks for most Americans and increased funding for schools to reopen, among other proposals.

Biden has launched a huge lobbying effort for the relief proposal, bringing in special interest groups, elected officials and others to try to sway lawmakers to expedite the measure. Senators were scheduled to have the coming week off to go back home. If they are locked indefinitely in the impeachment trial, they can't promote the plan back home or advance confirmation of Biden's appointees to key positions.

Senator Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, said he's not worried about the possibility of the delayed trial impacting Biden's plans.

"We have shown that we can do both and we are thinking. As a matter of fact two committees are meeting today to organize," Menendez told reporters during a break in the trial after the witness vote.

The coronavirus pandemic has killed at least 480,000 people in the United States in the past year.

Trump is accused of inciting his supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol on January 6 to try to disrupt the certification of the election of Biden.

House impeachment managers during this week's trial aired never-before-seen security footage that showed senators and former Vice President Mike Pence escaped the chamber just feet away from the angry mob. Several lawmakers narrowly evaded face-to-face confrontations with the crowd, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Utah Republican Mitt Romney.

U.S. Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Washington Republican, revealed that House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy told her about a conversation that McCarthy had with Trump during the riot and that the then-president seem unfazed by the violent insurrection.

Graham was spotted huddling with Trump allies Senators Mike Lee, Ron Johnson, Tom Cotton, John Hoeven, Deb Fischer, Steve Daines and Todd Young at his desk, as most members tried to figure out what was happening.

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, announced to his colleagues in a letter Saturday morning that he planned to vote to acquit Trump, because he doesn't think it's constitutional to convict someone who is no longer in office of an impeachment charge.

Trump impeachment
In this screenshot taken from a congress.gov webcast, a roll call vote is taken on a motion to subpoena witnesses on the fifth day of former President Donald Trump's second impeachment trial at the U.S. Capitol on February 13, 2021 in Washington, D.C. House impeachment managers argued that Trump was “singularly responsible” for the January 6th attack at the U.S. Capitol and he should be convicted and barred from ever holding public office again. congress.gov/Getty