WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate is considering pushing off final acquittal in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial until next week under a proposal being negotiated Friday by party leaders.
The situation remained fluid, but senators have indicated they want more time to publicly debate the charges and air their positions on the coming vote, according to a Republican familiar with the proposal but unauthorized to discuss it. The person was granted anonymity.
The shift in timing ahead of Trump’s all but certain acquittal shows the significance of the moment bearing down on senators in voting that would bring to a close the third presidential impeachment trial in American history.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made the offer to Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, the person said. Senators were debating it while the proceedings were underway on the Senate floor. Schumer had not yet agreed to it.
Trump still appeared headed for acquittal as senators prepared on Friday to reject efforts to call more witnesses and moved to start bringing the trial to a close.
Under the proposal, the vote on witnesses would still occur later Friday. But the Senate would resume Monday for final arguments, with time Monday and Tuesday for senators to speak. The final voting would be Wednesday.
The impeachment of the president is playing out in an election year before a divided nation. Caucus voting begins Monday in Iowa, and Trump gives his State of the Union address the next night.
The eventual acquittal was increasingly clear after key Republicans said Thursday night they had heard enough.
Eager for a conclusion, the president and his allies in the Republican majority are brushing past new revelations from John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, as well as historic norms that could make this the first Senate impeachment trial without witnesses.
In an unpublished manuscript, Bolton writes that the president asked him during an Oval Office meeting in early May to bolster his effort to get Ukraine to investigate Democrats, according to a person who read the passage and told The Associated Press. The person, who was not authorized to disclose contents of the book, spoke only on condition of anonymity.
In the meeting, Bolton said the president asked him to call new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and persuade him to meet with Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who was planning to go to Ukraine to coax the Ukrainians to investigate the president’s political rivals. Bolton writes that he never made the call to Zelenskiy after the meeting, which included acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone. The revelation adds more detail to allegations of when and how Trump first sought to influence Ukraine to aid investigations of his rivals.
The story was first reported Friday by The New York Times.
In a statement on Friday, Trump denied the account in Bolton’s manuscript.
“I never instructed John Bolton to set up a meeting for Rudy Giuliani, one of the greatest corruption fighters in America and by far the greatest mayor in the history of NYC, to meet with President Zelenskiy,” Trump said. “That meeting never happened.”
Meanwhile, v oting on the witness question was expected late Friday after hours of debate, with other Senate votes stretching well into the evening.
Democrats contended the outcome won’t mean a true acquittal for Trump but a cover-up.
“They’re about to dismiss this with a shrug and a ‘Who cares?’” said the Senate’s third-ranking Democrat, Patty Murray of Washington. “The full truth will come out.”
On the eve of voting, GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, said the Democrats had proved their case, that Trump abused power and obstructed Congress, but he did not think Trump’s actions rose to the impeachable level.
Another Republican senator, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, announced Friday that she, too, would oppose more testimony, wary of creating a tie vote that would drag Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the rare trial, into the fray.
“I have come to the conclusion that there will be no fair trial in the Senate,” she said. “I don’t believe the continuation of this process will change anything. It is sad for me to admit that, as an institution, the Congress has failed.”
Protesters stood outside the Capitol as senators arrived on Friday, but few visitors have been watching from the Senate galleries.
Despite the Democrats’ singular, sometimes-passionate focus on calling witnesses, the numbers are now falling short. It would take four Republicans to break with the 53-seat majority and join with all Democrats to demand more testimony.
Chief Justice John Roberts, in the rare role presiding over the impeachment trial, could break a tie, but that seems unlikely.
Alexander said in a statement late Thursday there was “no need for more evidence,” giving the Trump team the likelihood of a Senate vote in its direction. Not that he accepted Trump’s repeated claim of “perfect” dealings with Ukraine.
Alexander told reporters at the Capitol that after “nine long days and hearing 200 video clips of witnesses ... I didn’t need any more evidence because I thought it was proved that the president did what he was charged with doing.”
Said Alexander: “But that didn’t rise to the level of an impeachable offense, so I didn’t I didn’t need any more evidence to make my decision.”
Asked whether Trump deserved reelection in the wake of such wrongdoing, Alexander said, “Everyone will have to make that decision for themselves.”
Trump was impeached by the House last month on two charges, first that he abused his power like no other president, jeopardizing Ukraine and U.S.-Ukraine relations. Democrats say Trump asked the vulnerable ally to investigate Joe Biden and debunked theories of 2016 election interference, withholding American security aid to the country as it battled Russia at its border. The second article of impeachment says Trump then obstructed the House probe in a way that threatened the nation’s three-branch system of checks and balances.
Before Alexander’s statement, Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said late Thursday she would vote to allow witnesses in the impeachment trial, briefly raising Democrats’ hopes for a breakthrough.
But Alexander weighed in minutes later.
Bolton’s forthcoming book contends he personally heard Trump say he wanted military aid withheld from Ukraine until it agreed to investigate the Bidens. Trump denies saying such a thing.
Thursday’s testimony included soaring pleas to the senators-as-jurors who will decide Trump’s fate, to either stop a president who Democrats say has tried to cheat in the upcoming election and will again, or to shut down impeachment proceedings that Republicans insist were never more than a partisan attack.
“Let’s give the country a trial they can be proud of,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, the lead prosecutor for House Democrats. He offered to take just one week for depositions of new witnesses, sparking new discussions.
Trump attorney Eric Herschmann declared the Democrats are only prosecuting the president because they can’t beat him in 2020.
“We trust the American people to decide who should be our president,” Herschmann said. “Enough is enough. Stop all of this.”
Senators dispatched more than 100 queries over two days. The questions came from the parties’ leaders, the senators running for the Democratic nomination against Trump and even temporary coalitions from both sides of the aisle.
Trump’s lawyers focused some of their time Thursday refloating allegations against Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who served on the board of a gas company in Ukraine while his father was vice president. Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., one of the managers, said the Bidens have little to tell the Senate about Trump’s efforts to “shake down” Ukraine for his campaign.
The White House has blocked its officials from testifying in the proceedings and objected that there are “significant amounts of classified information” in Bolton’s manuscript. Bolton resigned last September — Trump says he was fired — and he and his attorney have insisted the book does not contain any classified information.
Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Andrew Taylor, Matthew Daly, Laurie Kellman and Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.