Trump impeachment trial curveball: Senate wants to hear from witnesses

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Former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial got an unexpected extension as senators voted Saturday morning to open the door to witnesses in light of new reporting overnight on Trump’s state of mind during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

The Senate voted 55-45 to extend the trial by subpoenaing witnesses to testify, with five Republicans joining all Democrats. The Republicans were Sens. 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 in the final minutes. 

The surprise vote on witnesses shook Washington and seemed to even catch senators off guard. 

“Finally, something unscripted!” marveled Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., after the vote and subsequent hubbub about what happens next.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said the move for witnesses came as a surprise to the senators and set off “chaos” in the chamber.

“Nobody knows what going to happen,” said Cruz, who also predicted the vote to convict Trump stands at anywhere between 53 and 57 senators — short of the supermajority needed.

“At this point, it’s pandemonium,” Cruz told pool reporters.

The request for witnesses came from lead impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., who cited the “breaking news” overnight about details of a heated phone call that Trump had with GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy during the Capitol attack. 

Raskin said he wanted the opportunity to depose Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., over Zoom for “about an hour or less” to discuss her contemporaneous notes that she made when McCarthy relayed the details of the tense call that took place in the midst of the insurrection. 

Beutler, who was one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in House, released her account of the call Friday, confirming a CNN report that Trump dismissed McCarthy’s pleas to call off the riot and instead told McCarthy that the rioters were “more upset about the election” than the House leader.

VOTE ON CONVICTION COULD COME SATURDAY AS IMPEACHMENT TRIAL ARGUMENTS AND SENATORS’ QUESTIONS CONCLUDE

“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,” Herrera Beutler said in her statement.

Trump’s legal team blasted the decision to call witnesses and threatened to depose 100 people in the case if the door is open. A visibly angry and animated Michael van der Veen said that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Vice President Kamala Harris would “absolutely” need to be deposed, too, but not by Zoom.

“These depositions should be done in person in my office in Philadelphia,” van der Veen told the senators, which drew audible laughter from the Senate chamber. 

DAY FOUR: TRUMP’S IMPEACHMENT DEFENSE RESTS AFTER THREE HOURS: ‘THERE WAS NO INSURRECTION’

Van deer Veen shot back: “I haven’t laughed at any of you. And there’s nothing laughable here.”The trial was headed to a possible conclusion Saturday as both sides had concluded their presentations and senators had completed their question and answer session Friday night.

But the news in recent days on Trump’s conversations with McCarthy and also Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville in the midst of the attack have piqued the curiosity of senators who wanted to learn more about whether Trump was indifferent to the violence underway in Capitol. Tuberville told Politico he told Trump that Vice President Mike Pence was being evacuated from the Senate yet Trump tweeted derogatory comments about his running mate in the midst of the siege. 

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., tweeted late Friday that they should “suspend trial to depose McCarthy and Tuberville under oath and get facts. … What did Trump know, and when did he know it?”

The curveball on witnesses put the Senate in a frenzy on Saturday morning with some senators audibly confused on what they voted for and what comes next. 

DAY 3 RECAP: DEMOCRATIC IMPEACHMENT PROSECUTORS USE RIOTERS’ WORDS AGAINST TRUMP AT TRIAL, RESTING THEIR CASE

Now, the trial is on hold as leaders discuss what witnesses will be called and when, but senators acknowledged this vote opened the door to a great unknown.

“We’re in the wild west,” Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., told MSNBC after the vote. 

Fox News’ Kelly Phares contributed to this report. 

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