Murkowski says she’s a ‘no’ vote on calling witnesses, virtually assuring Bolton, Mulvaney won’t appear at Trump trial

WASHINGTON – Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, announced Friday she will not vote to call witnesses in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, virtually assuring that Democrats won’t have the 51 votes needed to hear from former national security adviser John Bolton or others.

Murkowski criticized the House’s investigation as “rushed and flawed” and said the proceedings were not fixable.

“Given the partisan nature of this impeachment from the very beginning and throughout, I have come to the conclusion that there will be no fair trial in the Senate,” Murkowski said in a statement. “I don’t believe the continuation of this process will change anything.”

Murkowski was the last of a handful of Republicans who had expressed a potential openness to witnesses.

That likely sets up a 51-49 split in the closely divided chamber against considering additional evidence. Democrats need four Republicans to side with them to continue the trial.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, walks in the basement of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020, while leaving at the end of a session in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) ORG XMIT: DCJC150

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If Murkowski had gone the other way, that could have resulted in a 50-50 tie that would’ve raised the difficult question of whether Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial, could or would break the tie.

The Alaska senator indicated she had Roberts on her mind, saying in her statement that she would “not stand for or support” efforts to “drag the Supreme Court into the fray.”

That comment may have been a reaction to a question posed Thursday by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who asked whether the fact that Roberts is presiding over a trial in which Republicans are blocking witnesses “contribute to the loss of legitimacy” of Roberts and the court.

As the Senate reconvened Friday for what could be the final day of the trial, all eyes were on Murkowski. Other pivotal senators – Maine’s Susan Collins and Utah’s Mitt Romney – had indicated they wanted witnesses. Swing voter Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said late Thursday he did not.

Leaving the Senate chamber around 11 p.m. Thursday, Murkowski told reporters she was still weighing her options.

Pointing to her two volumes packed with notes, she said: “I’m going to go back to my office and put eye drops in so I can keep reading.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, talks with reporters as in the basement of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020, while leaving at the end of a session in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

During Thursday’s session, Murkowski asked Trump’s defense team why senators should not call Bolton to testify. In an upcoming book, Bolton reportedly contradicts a key defense of Trump’s team: that there are no eyewitnesses to the allegation that Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine to get the country to investigate Democrats.

Patrick Philbin, a deputy White House counsel, warned that agreeing to call additional witnesses would establish new standards for impeachment, if the House can send “half-baked” cases and leave the Senate to complete the investigation. Philbin also said Bolton hadn’t confirmed the newspaper report about what’s in his manuscript.

Shortly before Murkowski announced her decision Friday, The New York Times reported additional details about Bolton’s manuscript. Bolton wrote that Trump asked him in May to make sure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky would meet with Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to talk about the investigations Trump wanted, the Times reported.

That request was made during an Oval Office meeting that included Giuliani, acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, and Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel leading Trump’s defense team in the Senate impeachment trial.

Trump, in a statement, denied Bolton’s claim. He has also denied telling Bolton that the Ukraine aid was tied to investigations. But the White House ordered Bolton and others not to testify during the House investigation. 

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., warned Republicans Friday morning that “the truth will eventually come out.”

“We could vote to see the truth in this trial, or it could come out in a few weeks or a few months,” Schumer said. “And on that day, every Republican who voted to hide the truth in an impeachment trial of the president, will have to answer for it.”

Murkowski, one of the Senate’s few moderates, has been in the hot seat before.

In 2018, she was the only Republican senator to oppose the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. (Murkowski ended up voting “present’ on Kavanaugh’s confirmation, to offset the absence of Montana Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican who was attending his daughter’s wedding.)

In 2017, Murkowski joined Collins and Arizona’s John McCain in killing the GOP effort to get rid of the Affordable Care Act.

Murkowski entered the Senate in 2002 after being appointed to the seat by her father, Frank Murkowski, when he resigned his Senate seat to become Alaska’s governor.

During her second re-election bid in 2010, Murkowski lost the GOP nomination to a Tea Party challenger but went on to win the general election as a write-in candidate.

Murkowski was re-elected in 2016 with 44% of the vote in a multi-candidate race. 

Contributing: Nicholas Wu and Bart Jansen.

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