The Senate will hear from witnesses in the impeachment trial of Donald Trump after House Democratic impeachment managers requested testimony on Saturday from Congresswoman Jaime Herrera-Beutler of Washington regarding her knowledge of a heated phone conversation between House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Donald Trump on the day of the 6 January insurrection at the Capitol.
Five Republicans — Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — voted with all 50 Democrats to allow the impeachment managers and Mr Trump’s defence counsel to call witnesses.
Mr Trump’s lawyer Michael van der Veen responded to the development by threatening to call dozens of witnesses of his own to the witness stand in order to delay the proceedings and potentially drag Democratic politicians through the mud.
“I’m going to need 100 witnesses. Not just one,” Mr Van der Veen said.
“The only thing that I ask, if you vote for witnesses, do not handcuff me by limiting the number of witnesses that I can have. I need to do a thorough investigation that they did not do,” he said of the impeachment managers. “I need to do the 9/11-style investigation that Nancy Pelosi called for. It should have been done already. It is a dereliction of the House managers’ duty that they didn’t.”
The 9/11 Commission, which was established more than a year after the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001, took nearly two more years to complete. It was not published until 26 July 2004.
Mr Raskin responded by pointing out that this was the time set aside at the beginning of the impeachment trial for each side to call witnesses should they make that request.
The Senate voted 89-11 in favour of the rules package governing the trial, with both Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell saying it set out a “fair” process for Mr Trump.
“This is the proper time that we were assigned to talk about witnesses,” Mr Raskin said on Saturday.
“This is completely within the course of the rules set forth by the Senate.”
He added that while the president’s counsel “now says he wants to interview hundreds of people, there’s only one person” they really need to interview to get the answers everyone wants: Mr Trump.
“Bring him forward as we suggested last week because a lot of this is matters that are in his head, what — why did he not act to defend the country after he learned of the attack. Why was he continuing to press the political case. This piece of evidence is relevant,” Mr Raskin said.
Despite Mr Raskin’s explanation that the request for witnesses was well within the bounds of the rules set out at the commencement of the trial, Mr van der Veen said on Saturday that the request was “inappropriate and improper.”
“We should close this case out today,” he said. “We have each prepared our closing arguments. … The House managers need to live with the case that they brought.”
Mr Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina, initially voted with most of his GOP colleagues against calling witnesses, but switched his vote after it became apparent the measure would pass.
He has been threatening for weeks that if Democrats vote to call witnesses, that will open the floodgates for Mr Trump’s lawyers to call witnesses of their own to show the attack on the Capitol was pre-planned and that there’s no way Mr Trump’s speech on 6 January could have incited the riotous behaviour that ensued.
“If you open up that can of worms, we’ll want the FBI to come in and tell us about how people preplanned this attack and what happened with the security footprint of the Capitol. You open up Pandora’s box if you call one witness,” Mr Graham said in an interview with Fox News earlier this month.
Mr Graham’s argument, though, is a straw man because Mr Trump’s speech on 6 January was the culmination of a months-long effort by the president to undermine his supporters’ faith in the 2020 election results and subsequently whip up their fury against Congress’ certification of that vote.
At the core of Democrats’ impeachment article, “incitement to insurrection,” lies the argument that the 6 January attack on the legislature was not some “spontaneous” event. The managers presented hours of evidence earlier this week showing how Mr Trump’s “stop the steal” efforts predated even the election itself, with his pronouncements that he could only lose if there was widespread voter fraud.
Those statements — and the “stop the steal” movement more broadly — were of course based on debunked and discredited conspiracy theories. Of the more than 60 court challenges Mr Trump and the GOP brought before judges after the election, just one succeeded. It did not materially change the outcome in Pennsylvania, where Joe Biden won the commonwealth’s 20 electoral votes.
Ms Herrera-Beutler, the Washington Republican congresswoman who on 17 January first disclosed hearing of Mr McCarthy and Mr Trump’s tense exchange during the riot, has stood by her story.
Ms Herrera-Beutler issued a new statement on Friday evening. In her own words, here is what happened:
“When McCarthy finally reached the president on January 6 and asked him to publicly and forcefully call off the riot, the president initially repeated the falsehood that it was antifa that had breached the Capitol. McCarthy refuted that and told the president that these were Trump supporters. That’s when, according to McCarthy, the president said: ‘Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.’”
Mr McCarthy reportedly responded to the president: “Who the f*** do you think you’re talking to?”
Ms Herrera-Beutler’s statement from Friday underscored that she has gone on the record multiple times to confirm her account of the phone call between Mr Trump and Mr McCarthy.
“Since I publicly announced my decision to vote for impeachment, I have shared these details in countless conversations with constituents and colleagues, and multiple times through the media and other public forums,” she said.
The congresswoman exhorted her colleagues to come forward with their accounts of Mr Trump’s dereliction as commander in chief during the riot.
“If you have something to add here, now would be the time,” she said in her statement.