The House proved President Trump used aid to Ukraine as a lever against Joe Biden, but that does not merit his removal from office, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) decided Thursday night.
The news was a blow to Democrats pursuing Trump's impeachment because although they did not expect two-thirds of the Senate to convict Trump in his impeachment trial as would be required, they had hoped the Tennessean, who is retiring this year, would want to require more witnesses to illuminate what Trump did.
But Alexander said it was not necessary.
"There is no need for more evidence to prove that the president asked Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter; he said this on television on October 3, 2019, and during his July 25, 2019, telephone call with the president of Ukraine," Alexander said in a statement. "There is no need for more evidence to conclude that the president withheld United States aid, at least in part, to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens; the House managers have proved this with what they call a ‘mountain of overwhelming evidence.’"
He went on to say it was "inappropriate for the president to ask a foreign leader to investigate his political opponent and to withhold United States aid to encourage that investigation."
But that's not impeachable, he concluded, because the charges against Trump "do not meet the Constitution’s ‘treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors’ standard for an impeachable offense," he said.
Democrats had their hopes pinned on getting 51 senators to vote to at least haul in more witnesses who could further elaborate on what the president actually did, and whether it might be worse than they believe the House has already established.
They wanted four witnesses to testify, most urgently former National Security Adviser John Bolton, who could elaborate on claims in his forthcoming book that reportedly gives firsthand accounts of Trump's Ukraine machinations.
But Alexander apparently believes he would not learn anything new.
“I worked with other senators to make sure that we have the right to ask for more documents and witnesses, but there is no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven and that does not meet the United States Constitution’s high bar for an impeachable offense," he said.
Joe Biden called Alexander's decision "absolutely astounding" in an interview Friday morning on Good Morning America. "'Yeah, he did it but it doesn't matter,'" Biden said. "George Washington is rolling over in his grave in his farewell address saying, 'The greatest threat to the Republic is being interfered with by foreign countries.'"
Alexander gave a clue in Thursday's questioning when he attached his name to one offered by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that was directed to Trump's lawyers.
The Senate chamber hushed notably when Graham said he was asking the question with Alexander, as well as several other senators, including Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Rob Portman (Ohio), and Pat Toomey (Pa.), who were considered possible supporters of calling witnesses.
There was a noticeable sense of deflation on the Democratic side of the room when Chief Justice John Roberts read the question that asked even if Bolton fully supported the Democratic case, "isn’t it true that the allegations still would not rise to the level of an impeachable offense,” and would add nothing?
Collins announced soon afterwards that she would support witnesses, and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) has been advocating for witnesses. But Democrats need four Republican senators to agree. They had hoped Murkowski and Alexander would fill that tally.
Murkowski did not reveal her intentions Wednesday night, saying she was going to "put in eye drops" and read through the two binders of notes she compiled first.
Though unlikely, it is still possible for Democrats to prevail. The easiest path would be if Murkowski and one of the less-likely supporters of witness interviews emerges.
There would also be a chance for witnesses if Murkowksi is the only senator to add her support. That would leave the vote at 50-50, assuming no Democrats switch. In that case, Chief Justice Roberts could decide to break the tie. So far, however, he has signaled very little interest in putting his hand on the scale, only once admonishing both sides to remain civil.
If Roberts declines to become an active player, a 50-50 vote fails under the rules of the trial.
Alexander's decision seems to be a win for the argument made by famed Trump lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who said Wednesday that a president could not be impeached if his motivation for an act was "mixed," and was at least in part in the interests of the nation. Dershowitz said that would be true even if, in the belief of the president, that his reelection was what would be the best interests of the nation.
Here is Alexander's full statement:
Washington, D.C., January 30, 2020 -- United States Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today released the following statement on his vote regarding additional evidence in the impeachment proceedings:
“I worked with other senators to make sure that we have the right to ask for more documents and witnesses, but there is no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven and that does not meet the United States Constitution’s high bar for an impeachable offense.
“There is no need for more evidence to prove that the president asked Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter; he said this on television on October 3, 2019, and during his July 25, 2019, telephone call with the president of Ukraine. There is no need for more evidence to conclude that the president withheld United States aid, at least in part, to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens; the House managers have proved this with what they call a ‘mountain of overwhelming evidence.’ There is no need to consider further the frivolous second article of impeachment that would remove the president for asserting his constitutional prerogative to protect confidential conversations with his close advisers.
“It was inappropriate for the president to ask a foreign leader to investigate his political opponent and to withhold United States aid to encourage that investigation. When elected officials inappropriately interfere with such investigations, it undermines the principle of equal justice under the law. But the Constitution does not give the Senate the power to remove the president from office and ban him from this year’s ballot simply for actions that are inappropriate.
“The question then is not whether the president did it, but whether the United States Senate or the American people should decide what to do about what he did. I believe that the Constitution provides that the people should make that decision in the presidential election that begins in Iowa on Monday.
“The Senate has spent nine long days considering this ‘mountain’ of evidence, the arguments of the House managers and the president’s lawyers, their answers to senators’ questions and the House record. Even if the House charges were true, they do not meet the Constitution’s ‘treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors’ standard for an impeachable offense.
“The framers believed that there should never, ever be a partisan impeachment. That is why the Constitution requires a 2/3 vote of the Senate for conviction. Yet not one House Republican voted for these articles. If this shallow, hurried and wholly partisan impeachment were to succeed, it would rip the country apart, pouring gasoline on the fire of cultural divisions that already exist. It would create the weapon of perpetual impeachment to be used against future presidents whenever the House of Representatives is of a different political party.
“Our founding documents provide for duly elected presidents who serve with ‘the consent of the governed,’ not at the pleasure of the United States Congress. Let the people decide.”