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Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) arrives at the U.S. Capitol before the start of the day's Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump in Washington, U.S., January 30, 2020. Photo by Mary F. Calvert/Reuters

Alexander opposes, Collins supports calling witnesses in Trump impeachment trial

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee will oppose calling more witnesses in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, all but dashing Democratic efforts to hear more testimony and boosting odds the Senate will vote imminently to acquit without new testimony, in a matter of days.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said late Thursday she would vote to allow witnesses in the impeachment trial, building momentum for the Democrats’ effort.

But Alexander then said in a statement there was “no need for more evidence,” giving the Trump team the likelihood of a Senate vote in its direction.

Collins, a centrist senator announced her decision after the Senate concluded a long question-and-answer session with the House Democrats prosecuting the charges and Trump’s lawyers defending him.

Alexander released his statement moments later.

A vote on the witness question, expected Friday, could lead to an abrupt end of the trial with Trump’s expected acquittal. Or it could bring days, if not weeks more argument as Democrats press to hear testimony from former national security adviser John Bolton and others.

It would take four GOP senators to break with the majority and join with Democrats to tip the outcome.

Collins said in a statement, “The most sensible way to proceed would be for the House Managers and the President’s attorneys to attempt to agree on a limited and equal number of witnesses for each side. If they can’t agree, then the Senate could choose the number of witnesses.”

But Alexander said that “there is no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven and that does not meet the U.S. Constitution’s high bar for an impeachable offense.”

Collins, Aexander and Lsa Murkowski of Alaska were playing an over-sized role in the final hours of debate with pointed questions ahead of crucial votes. Another Republican senator, Mitt Romney of Utah, has made clear he will vote for witnesses.

Murkowksi drew a reaction during the debate when she asked simply: “Why should this body not call Ambassador Bolton?”

Alexander of Tennessee captured attention just before the dinner break when he questioned partisanship in the proceedings thus far.

In response to Alexander and others, Democrat Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, a congressional staffer during Watergate and now a House prosecutor, told the senators that the Nixon impeachment also started as a partisan inquiry. A bipartisan consensus emerged only after Republicans — including staunch Nixon supporters — saw enough evidence to change their minds, she said.

“They couldn’t turn away from the evidence that their president had committed abuse of power and they had to vote to impeach him,” Lofgren said. Richard Nixon resigned before he was impeached.

While disappointed that House Republicans did not join Democrats in voting to impeach Trump, she said the Senate — “the greatest deliberative body on the planet” — has a new opportunity.

Alexander, after his question Thursday night, consulted with a key staff aide to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. As the senators broke for dinner Alexander and Murkowski met privately.

Trump was impeached by House last month on charges that he abused his power like no other president, jeopardizing Ukraine and U.S.-Ukraine relations. Democrats say Trump asked he vulnerable ally to investigate Joe Biden and debunked theories of 2016 election interference, temporarily halting American security aid to the country as it battled Russia at its border. The second article of impeachment says Trump then obstructed the House probe in a way that threatened the nation’s three-branch system of checks and balances.

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