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Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) walks to the Senate floor after a brief recess during the U.S. President Donald Trump's Senate i...

4 moments to watch from the impeachment trial debate over witnesses

Republican lawmakers voted Friday to block witnesses from testifying in the Senate impeachment trial for President Donald Trump, setting up a vote to acquit the president next Wednesday.

Senators voted 51-49 to reject a motion to call witnesses after a weeks-long battle between Republicans and Democrats. During the trial, Democratic House managers argued that hearing from more witnesses, including former national security adviser John Bolton, would provide a clearer picture of the president’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rivals.

Trump’s legal defense team disputed the need to call witnesses by asserting that the articles of impeachment, including the abuse of power charge, are not constitutionally valid reasons to remove a president from office. Uncertainty over the outcome of Friday’s vote lingered throughout the week as some GOP senators deliberated whether to vote with their Republican colleagues to block witnesses or support the effort from Democrats.

In the end, only two Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah voted with Democrats. The Senate has adjourned until Monday, when they are expected to begin closing arguments. Here are four moments from Friday’s session.

Schiff questions why Bolton saved revelations for his book

A key part of arguments this week centered around a New York Times report that in Bolton’s upcoming memoir, he alleges Trump told him that military aid should be withheld from Ukraine until the country agreed to help with investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.

In another story published Friday, the New York Times reported that Bolton’s manuscript describes a meeting in May 2019 in which Trump allegedly directed Bolton to help pressure Ukraine.

In the Senate chamber, lead House manager Adam Schiff, D-Calif., took issue with Bolton’s decision not to reveal that information earlier in the impeachment process. “If this trial goes forward and he keeps this to himself, it will be very difficult to explain to the country why he saved it for the book,” Schiff said.

Schiff added that contrary to the Trump team’s claims, House Democrats tried to get Bolton to testify as part of the House impeachment inquiry but Bolton refused to testify and threatened to sue if subpoenaed.

Trump lawyer says articles of impeachment are ‘defective’

Trump lawyer Patrick Philbin rejected Democrats’ arguments that all trials should include witnesses. Philbin told senators that before calling witnesses, they must first decide whether the president’s actions were impeachable under the Constitution.

“These articles of impeachment on their face are defective,” Philbin said.

He argued bringing more witnesses to testify will not do anything to strengthen the charges against Trump. Lawmakers have already heard from a number of witnesses, Philbin said. “You’ve got a lot of evidence already.”

The big vote on witnesses

A tense, six-week debate came to an end after senators voted mostly along party lines against calling witnesses for the trial. The standouts were Sens. Collins and Romney, who were the only two GOP members to vote with Democrats in favor of the motion to call witnesses.

Late Thursday night, Collins issued a statement on her decision: “I worked with colleagues to ensure the schedule for the trial included a guaranteed up-or-down vote on whether or not to call witnesses. I believe hearing from certain witnesses would give each side the opportunity to more fully and fairly make their case, resolve any ambiguities, and provide additional clarity.”

Immediately after the vote to block witnesses Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer described the vote to reporters as a “grand tragedy.”

Roberts declines to cast a tie-breaking vote

Later in the evening after the main vote on witnesses, Schumer asked whether Chief Justice Roberts would be willing to break a tie in the event of an even split between lawmakers on any motions in the trial. Schumer cited two tie-breaking votes by the chief justice during the impeachment of then-President Andrew Johnson in 1868 as precedent.

“I do not regard those isolated episodes 150 years ago as sufficient to support a general authority to break ties,” Roberts responded. “If the members of this body — elected by the people and accountable to them — divide equally on a motion, the normal rule is that the motion fails.” Roberts added that it would be “inappropriate” for him to change this result.

Schumer then introduced four amendments requesting the ability to subpoena depositions and testimony from witnesses including Bolton. Each of the measures failed.