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Senate Unexpectedly Votes To Subpoena Witnesses And Documents In Impeachment Trial

Feb 13, 2021
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And it is not clear what's next in the current and second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump over his role in the January 6 Capitol riot. The Senate voted against expectations today to subpoena witnesses and documents in that trial. What happens next? How long it could take - well, let's turn now to NPR's White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Tam, thanks so much for being with us.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Glad to be with you.

SIMON: It was expected that the whole trial might even wrap up today, but there were developments overnight and reports. And so tell us about that 55-45 vote today.

KEITH: Yeah, so they voted to potentially subpoena witnesses and documents in this trial. And it was a bit of a surprise that even the House impeachment managers asked for witnesses. They only asked for one witness, Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, who had last night or early this morning put out a statement that said that when the insurrection was happening, afterwards, she was told by Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader, that President Trump - that they had had this heated phone call about President Trump calling off the insurrectionists, and that during that call, President Trump shot back at McCarthy and said, well, they seem to care more about the election than you do, seeming to side with the insurrectionists.

In the end, there were five Republicans that voted with Democrats to call witnesses - Senator Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. For his part, he didn't initially want witnesses, but he says if there are going to be witnesses, let's have a lot.

SIMON: And just to underscore this, the significance of a phone call like that could potentially be that President Trump was directly informed that there was violence at the Capitol and directly declined to do something, right?

KEITH: That is it - that it could make the case pretty clearly that he wanted this or that he wasn't upset by what happened after his speech at the Capitol or after his speech at the Ellipse and after months of denying the result of the election and calling on his supporters to do something about it.

SIMON: Tell us about the process of subpoenaing witnesses, deposing them. That can take a while, right?

KEITH: It certainly can. And senators are threatening that this could draw things up for months. I don't know that that will happen. We really don't know how this is going to happen. After the vote, they went into what's known as a quorum call. Now they're recessed. Essentially, the senators are negotiating the next steps. The president's team are saying they want a lot of witnesses. It's unclear how many witnesses or who Democrats would want, but this is a negotiation. Things in the Senate typically get worked out before you see it on the floor.

One moment that stands out from this morning, though, is once Democrats had asked for a witness, President Trump's lawyer, Michael van der Veen, said that this is going to draw out for a long time.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL VAN DER VEEN: None of these depositions should be done by Zoom. We didn't do this hearing by Zoom. These depositions should be done in person in my office in Philadelphia.

KEITH: He got pretty heated. That caused laughter, which he then said, no, this isn't a laughing matter. This is serious. And, of course, now they are negotiating the next steps.

SIMON: Yeah. And by the way, a special shoutout to our colleagues Terry Gross and others at WHYY in Philly-delphia (ph), one of our favorite member stations. So Lindsey Graham indicated that Republicans could try to slow down the process by subpoenaing their own long list, right?

KEITH: That's right. And that's why there's a negotiation going on. I have been texting with an aide advising the president's team. He says that this whole thing is pointless, that this risks dragging the trial out for weeks and that, essentially, the Democrats are asking to depose a witness, Congresswoman Herrera Beutler, who put all of this out in a press release anyway. But once that door opens, the potential exists that there could be more people called and more information gleaned, and that doesn't necessarily work out for the president.

SIMON: NPR's Tamara Keith, thanks so much.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.