Trump's Impeachment Trial Briefly Derailed, But Both Sides Agree to Move to Vote

The second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump was briefly derailed Saturday morning, after House managers pushed to have witnesses called.

After behind-the-scenes negotiations, the House prosecution team and Trump's legal team agreed that they would move forward without calling potentially hundreds of witnesses, which could have stretched the trial out for several days. They are now back on track for senators to vote Saturday afternoon.

"As I said in the last trial, if the counsel for one side or the other wants to call witnesses I believe they should have the opportunity to do so, but if they've reached an agreement that prevents that from happening or another way of getting the information to the members of the Senate jury, then, that would be great," Senator Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican who has previously voted in favor of convicting Trump on an impeachment charge last year and supported moving forward with the trial this year, said over GOP objections.

Trump is expected to be acquitted, as it requires two-thirds of the chamber to vote to convict. Forty-four Republicans already voted on the trial's first day Tuesday that they don't believe they have the authority to convict the former president on an impeachment charge because he's no longer in office. Trump's term ended January 20.

The Senate adjourned on a rare Saturday morning session, in what was expected to be the end of the trial by afternoon. Instead, House managers started the day with a push to call witnesses. The chamber voted 55-45 in favor of calling witnesses, after news emerged that Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Washington Republican, had detailed notes about a call between Trump and House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy while the riot was ongoing.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who is a staunch ally of Trump, at the last minute voted in favor of having witnesses.

Trump attorney Bruce Caster then told reporters that Trump's legal team would call "lots" of its own witnesses. Each witness would require another Senate vote whether to allow.

As the chamber took a break for negotiations over the witness issue, Trump adviser Jason Miller was spotted walking in the Capitol with a stack of papers that read "witness list 301 (so far)," indicating that the Trump team was willing to stretch the impeachment trial for several days, diverting senators from approving Biden's cabinet appointments or advancing the next coronavirus relief package.

Both sides returned to the Senate floor shortly after 1 p.m. (Eastern) and said they had agreed to read Herrera Beutler's statement into the record, rather than call people for in-person testimony.

The hiccup threatened to lock the Senate in an ongoing debate over an impeachment vote that is all but certain, instead of moving on with key legislation and Biden appointments.

"We could conceivably go well into March, just on debating who could be called, let alone actually doing depositions or the discovery that goes with it," Senator Mike Rounds, a South Dakota Republican, told reporters of the scenario presented if the chamber opted to call witnesses.

House managers briefly sent the chamber into chaos after announcing they wanted to call witnesses. Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz tweeted that even Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, was blindsided by the move, which came after late-night reports about Herrera Beutler's recollections following the riots.

Instead the House managers agreed that they would read Herrera Beutler's account into the record, rather than call her for testimony.

As the Senate paused for behind-the-scenes negotiations on how things would proceed, senators huddled together on the floor. Many had been under the impression they would be wrapping up their work Saturday, so they were confused about what was taking place.

Trump's supporters threatened that allowing witnesses would open up a floodgate for them to call House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris, among other Democrats, as witnesses. Trump's team has argued that the former president's calls for people to "fight" and "fight like hell" were common phrases for politicians and showed a montage of prominent Democrats using them in stump speeches.

Extending the impeachment trial would have thrown a wrench into Biden's effort to build out his administration and pass a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.

Senator Raphael Warnock, a Georgia Democrat, said he wasn't worried about that possibility but was OK with the deal that was reached.

"The charges that the former president is facing are serious," Warnock told reporters. "They speak to what's basic to our democracy—that we're a nation of laws. Hopefully, people will hear the evidence and recognize that some things are more important than politics."

Impeachment trial
In this screenshot taken from a congress.gov webcast, Bruce Castor Jr., defense lawyer for former President Donald Trump, speaks on the fifth day of Trump's second impeachment trial at the U.S. Capitol on February 13. In a surprise move, the Senate voted 55-45 to call witnesses in the impeachment trial. congress.gov/Getty