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Senate Vote To Call Witnesses Temporarily Throws Trial Into Uncertainty

In this image from video, House impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) speaks during the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump and says he would like to subpoena Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler.
In this image from video, House impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) speaks during the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump and says he would like to subpoena Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler.

Updated at 11:31 a.m. ET

The Senate voted Saturday morning to call witnesses in the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump.

The vote, which was 55-45, throws a new wrinkle into the proceeding, which had been on a fast track, with many Senators from both sides of the aisle anxious to put it behind them and move on.

House impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., wants to subpoena Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., about a conversation she had with House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. In a statement released late Friday, McCarthy, she said, told her of a conversation he received from Trump telling him that the mob storming the Capitol on January 6th was "more upset about the election than you are."

Raskin suggested deposing Herrera Beutler by Zoom for an hour. Trump attorney Michael van der Veen responded that if the Democratic House managers wish to call witnesses, that he will need "over 100 depositions."

Five Republicans voted with Democrats — Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who changed his vote to yes after initially voting no.

Senators will now need to determine who they wish to hear from. No witnesses were called in the first impeachment trial of Trump, but in the last impeachment trial before that, of former President Bill Clinton, witnesses were deposed on video tape.

Van der Veen said he would oppose holding any depositions by Zoom, saying they should be "in person in my office in Philadelphia," drawing laughter from the Senate. "I haven't laughed at any of you," van der Veen responded.

After the vote, the Senate ground to a halt, amid general confusion among Senators about how to proceed from here.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., asked if he was expecting this, threw up his hands. "Shelby says he's seen three of these and this is the craziest," referring to Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby.

Asked what's next, an informal adviser to the Trump defense team told NPR's Tamara Keith that negotiations are ongoing. But the adviser dismissed the Democrats' move, saying there's a risk that it will drag out the trial for weeks, all so that they can depose a witness whose contribution was already made public in a press release.

Trump attorney Bruce Castor, asked how many witnesses his side would call, responded "lots."

Van der Veen had threatened to call House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and vice-President Kamala Harris as witnesses, but it seems unlikely Democrats would vote to allow them to testify.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.


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