How influential Senate Democrats ended a bid to call witnesses against Trump

Amid the commotion, Senator Chris Coons walked through the door. The stocky Delaware lawyer with a determined demeanor was a committed Democratic moderate known in the building as Biden’s closest ally in the Senate. Although he had just voted for witnesses, Coons could not understand the logic of the managers’ bet. And he feared that the trial would drag on and hurt the new president. In fact, Trump’s defense attorneys, furious and blindsided by Raskin’s witness movement, had sworn just before the vote that if Raskin called even one witness, they would seek to testify at least a hundred. of their own, including Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris. That meant perhaps hours of debate on the floor about relevant witnesses — and perhaps days or weeks of testimony that could eclipse Biden’s presidency until late February or March. It was a threat that hit home as senators in attendance, including other Democrats who had just backed Raskin’s witness strategy, worried about having to endure protracted proceedings. Additionally, several Republicans had indicated to Coons that they were ready to convict the president — but if the lawsuit got out of control, it was unclear what might happen.

With those frustrations in mind, Coons walked into Schumer’s office and demanded to know what was going on. Schumer had authorized the vote, but he was also baffled by Raskin’s decision. He told Coons he didn’t know what Raskin’s game plan was. The Democratic leader was skeptical the scheme would work anyway. If running for their lives on Jan. 6 wasn’t enough to persuade Republicans to convict Trump, it was hard to believe another witness would, Schumer said. Coons, who had a similar mindset, offered to go talk to Raskin’s team himself to stop it all. When Schumer gave him the go-ahead, the senator walked over to the managers.

“I know when a jury is ready to vote, and this jury is ready to vote,” Coons said as he walked into the managers’ room.

As the team rallied around him, Coons argued that Republicans had already made up their minds and calling witnesses was a waste of time. Democrats, he argued, had bigger fish to fry: Biden still needed the Senate to confirm most of his cabinet, and he had a legislative agenda to put in place.

“Dragging this will not be good for the American project or for the American people. We’re trying to do a lot,” he said, choosing terms that sounded to managers like coming straight from the White House. Coons offered a possible compromise: Have Herrera Beutler draft a written affidavit detailing her story, Coons asked. Then let the defense get a statement from McCarthy and be done with it.

“I don’t accept this deal,” Raskin said flatly, stunned that Coons, as a fellow attorney, would expect any prosecutor to agree to such unsavory terms. “We will not allow McCarthy to deny Herrera Beutler’s story without cross-examining him.”

But Coons was adamant. “You will lose Republican votes,” he warned them. “Everyone here wants to go home. They have flights for Valentine’s Day. Some of them are already missing their flights.

Berke chimed in, telling Coons that managers were hoping to drop off Herrera Beutler and McCarthy by videoconference the same day. “Listen, senator, we hear you on the delay,” he said. “But I have to tell you it’s going to go fast… And we can do the closing arguments tomorrow.”

Coons was incredulous at Berke’s naivety. ” That’s crazy ! he fired back. McCarthy would never agree to testify until he retained the services of a lawyer, he retorted. If they were lucky — and it was a big if — it would take days to depose the GOP leader, not hours.

“I encourage all of you to only make affidavits,” Coons said sternly. “Do it today and come to a speedy resolution.”

As he turned to leave, Coons added one more thing. “And just to be clear,” he said over his shoulder, “I only speak for myself.”

When the door closed behind him, the room erupted in collective outrage.

“Are you kidding me ?” said Cicilline, turning to Neguse. “We’re impeaching a president of the United States for inciting a violent insurrection against the government, and these motherfuckers want to go home for Valentine’s Day? Really?”

He wasn’t the only one feeling this. Managers viewed their jobs as one of the most serious things they would do in their lives. And yet their own party was pressuring them to enjoy the long weekend. What myopia. How repulsive. And how disrespectful.

But for Raskin, Coons’ warnings began to rekindle the doubts that had plagued him earlier in the morning. They had managed to get the Senate to accept the concept of witnesses – but the truth was that they still had no witnesses in hand. Moreover, everyone in the room agreed that Coons was not speaking for himself. He might deny it, but his words were as good as a warning from Biden. Despite the unease caused by Coons’ remarks, the leaders continued to press forward.

Berke, Plaskett and Swalwell began working on questions for possible cross-examination of McCarthy about his Trump appeal. Others, including Raskin, debated whether McCarthy would be willing to commit perjury under oath to protect Trump — or whether he would completely deny the Herrera Beutler story, plunging the trial into an intractable argument that would give Republicans another excuse to acquit.

Raskin again called Cheney to have him taken. “If we call McCarthy, will he be honest?” Raskin asked.

On the other end of the line, Cheney thought back to all the times McCarthy had flip-flopped, vowing to do one thing, then do the exact opposite.

“I don’t know,” she admitted.

It was a deflating turn of events for the managers, who were still not ready to throw in the towel. They started thinking about backup plans. “Maybe we drop McCarthy and Short, and just assign Herrera Beutler,” one suggested. “Or we could just assign her notes to save time,” another offered.

“We should delay the final vote at all costs so we can get the votes to convict,” Lieu said. “And save some time to see if we can get in touch with anyone willing to tell their story.”

Berke, taking advantage of the managers’ energy, offered an even more aggressive suggestion: What if no one offers to testify? Let’s call their bluff and ask the Senate to subpoena these witnesses anyway, he proposed. If acquittal was the alternative, what did they have to lose?

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