/McConnell signals Republicans have votes to block witnesses in Senate trial

McConnell signals Republicans have votes to block witnesses in Senate trial

Momentum appeared to be moving back in Mitch McConnell and his Republican majority’s direction on Thursday over the question of whether to block or call in witnessesat the Senate impeachment trial – even as Donald Trump’s defense strategy shifted away from denying he pressured Ukraine for his own ends.

Democrats are pushing for the president’s former national security adviser John Bolton to testify, with what could be a damaging account of Trump’s “quid pro quo” strategy with Ukraine that has resulted in his impeachment, while Republicans are signaling they have the numbers necessary to shut down the attempt.

If Republicans successfully block witnesses that could effectively trigger the beginning of the end of the impeachment trial, with the time for senators’ questions and final debate wrapping up soon and a final vote on whether to remove Trump from office or acquit him coming as early as Friday.

This week, Trump’s lawyers have subtly but concertedly shifted their arguments away from the president doing nothing wrong to a position equating to, even if he did withhold aid to Ukraine in exchange for investigating his potential Democratic election rival Joe Biden, that doesn’t meet the standard needed for impeachment.

With the question of whether to bring in potentially explosive new witness testimony hanging over the Senate, the trial has been a tense affair.

The spotlight has been on Senators Mitt Romney, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski – three of the more moderate Republican senators who conceivably could join with Democrats to bring on a motion to force new witness testimony at the Senate trial. Democrats need four Republican senators to join them and it’s still unclear, even if Romney, Collins and Murkowski backed the motion, who else would join them.

Ahead of the resumption of impeachment proceedings on Thursday, McConnell was asked by reporters if he had confidence that he had the votes necessary to block a motion on witnesses.

“I always do,” McConnell said. But the top Senate Republican was more unsure on other aspects of the trial. When asked if he had the votes for acquittal by Friday night, McConnell said: “We’ll see what tomorrow brings.”

Mitt Romney in Washington DC, on 29 January.

Mitt Romney in Washington DC, on 29 January. Photograph: Mary F Calvert/Reuters

Privately, Republican Senate staffers expressed confidence that they could block a motion for witnesses.

The rush for witnesses followed a report from a leaked version of Bolton’s upcoming book where he said Trump told Bolton to hold back on congressionally approved national security aid to Ukraine until officials there agreed to help investigate Biden, his family and other matters involving US Democrats.

Bolton’s book has been a persistent topic of discussion throughout the week in Washington. On Monday, the former Trump chief of staff John Kelly was asked about Bolton’s allegation in the book.

“If John Bolton says that in the book, I believe John Bolton,” Kelly said. “John’s an honest guy. He’s a man of integrity and great character, so we’ll see what happens.”

On Thursday, Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, refused to fully respond to Kelly’s comments.

“I respect Gen Kelly enormously and like him personally,” Conway said. “I don’t know what he’s referring to so I can’t answer. I’ve not seen the manuscript.”

Thursday’s questioning portion of the hearings follows an eventful day in the impeachment trial. On Wednesday, Trump lawyer Alan Dershowitz offered one of the most expansive and stunning arguments in Trump’s defense when he said the president could not be removed from national office over requesting political favors if he believed those favors were in the public interest of the country.

“If the president does something which he believes will help him get elected, in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment,” Dershowitz said.

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