Saturday, 6 Mar 2021

Donald Trump impeachment trial live: Senate reaches deal to avoid calling witnesses

Welcome back to our live coverage of former US President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial.

There was an unexpected development this morning, as the Senate voted to call witnesses. That vote followed a fresh allegation from Republican Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, who spoke publicly about a confrontational phone call during the riot betweenTrump and Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

For all the details on that, plus the latest news, read on.

Deal reached to avoid calling witnesses

A deal has indeed been reached between the prosecution and defence teams. Republican Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler’s statement is being admitted as evidence, which means she will no longer be called as a witness – and neither will anyone else.

“Donald John Trump, by his counsel, is prepared to stipulate that if Representative Herrera Beutler were to testify under oath, her testimony would be consistent with the statement that she issued,” defence lawyer Bruce Castor said.

So, that’s that. All that panic this morning was for nothing.

In her statement, which is now part of the evidentiary record, Ms Herrera Beutler recounted details of a phone call between Donald Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy during the riot.

“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,” Ms Herrera Beutler said.

“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.'”

6.45am: Another twist: Now there might NOT be witnesses

After all that drama, it appears there might not be witnesses after all.

Behind the scenes, the two sides have reportedly been discussing entering Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler’s statement into the official record and moving on, instead of deposing her and potentially other witnesses.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio reckons a deal has been done. So do John Thune and Democrat Joe Manchin.

Needless to say, this would be quite the backdown from the prosecution after the vote earlier today.

6.38am: Phone log provides some relief to Trump

Here’s another interesting development, and a more positive one for Trump’s defence team.

The Washington Post reports Republican Senator Mike Lee has given the prosecution and defence teams a copy of his phone’s log from January 6, which shows when he received a call from Trump.

The then-president called Lee accidentally during the riot as he was trying to reach another Republican Senator, Tommy Tuberville. Lee then handed his phone to Tuberville.

The log shows this call started at 2.26pm and lasted four minutes.

Why is this good for the defence? Because it shows the call happened after Trump sent his tweet attacking Mike Pence at 2.24pm.

Tuberville has confirmed to reporters that he told Trump the vice-president had been evacuated from the Senate chamber (that happened at 2.15pm). The log means Trump may not have known that when he sent the tweet.

6.30am: Trump team 'stunned, stupefied' by sudden development

Jonathan Karl, the chief Washington correspondent for America’s ABC News, reports the president and his team were blindsided by the sudden push for witnesses this morning.

“Donald Trump was preparing for this to be over today, was expected to make a public statement, perhaps immediately after a verdict. Declare victory, declare vindication,” Karl reported.

“This was entirely unanticipated by Donald Trump’s legal team. They did not think witnesses would happen. And we are told by sources close to the president that they are stunned, stupefied, and still trying to digest what the implications of this are.”

6.22am: Defence lawyer foreshadows 'lots' of witnesses

Here is Trump defence lawyer Bruce Castor.

6.15am: Who the Trump team wants to testify

The Senate is going to resume at 12.30pm, about 15 minutes from now.

In the meantime, Trump adviser Jason Miller has popped up in the halls of Congress brandishing a list of about 300 witnesses the defence reckons it would like to call.

Among the names on the list: Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Vice President Kamala Harris, Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senator Cory Booker, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and impeachment managers Joaquin Castro and Ted Lieu.

6.11am: Growing calls to make Pelosi testify

Republican Senator Ted Cruz – he, too, has been advising the defence team throughout the trial – has joined the calls for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to be brought in as a witness.

Here is what he’d like to ask her.

6am: Republican leader says he will vote to acquit

Another really important development this morning, which has been overshadowed somewhat by the sudden push for witnesses, is an email reportedly sent by Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The message, sent to Mr McConnell’s colleagues, confirms that he will vote to acquit Donald Trump.

“As I have said for some time, today’s vote is a vote of conscience and I know we will all treat it as such,” McConnell wrote.

“I have been asked directly by a number of you how I intend to vote, so thought it right to make that known prior to the final vote.

“While a close call, I am persuaded that impeachments are a tool primarily for removal and we therefore lack jurisdiction. The Constitution makes perfectly clear that presidential criminal misconduct while in office can be prosecuted after the president has left office, which in my view alleviates the otherwise troubling ‘January exception’ argument raised by the House.

“Given these conclusions, I will vote to acquit.”

This is a body blow to the prosecution, because without McConnell’s support, conviction is pretty much impossible.

It’s also a sign that the impeachment managers have still failed to persuade most Republicans that the trial is constitutional.

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