Senior White House officials tell CBS News they increasingly believe that at least four Republicans, and likely more, will vote to call witnesses. In addition to Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah and possibly Cory Gardner of Colorado, the White House also views Rand Paul of Kentucky as a “wild card” and Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee as an “institutionalist” who might vote to call witnesses, as one official put it.
If that is accurate and the Pandora’s box of witnesses and documents is opened, the Senate trial may turn out to be a lot more uncomfortable for Trump, unless he plans on obstructing the Senate trial as he did the House impeachment hearings. Other witnesses may include acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney; White House aide Robert B. Blair (involved in ordering Ukraine aid to be halted); Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper; and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (the latter two reportedly took part in an Oval Office meeting with Trump on the topic). We might even see documents the State Department has previously refused to release. In other words, we might find out all the facts, not just those Trump is willing to let us hear.
A rift between nervous Republicans and the White House suggests some public education may be having its effect. Republicans for the Rule of Law has been running a pair of ads:
(As an aside, it is interesting that ads of this type are coming from Republicans, while Democrats fight among themselves in the Democratic primary.)
Now, it is possible that potential Republican defectors have searched their souls, decided in good conscience that they need to conduct a fair trial and have grown spines to stand up to Trump and his cohort, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). On the other hand, Republicans with rotten poll numbers may have spent the last few weeks testing public sentiment, only to discover it is politically untenable for them to aid in the Trump coverup. If that is the case, Pelosi should take a victory lap.
Beyond that, however, a trial with witnesses, despite what McConnell says, would be following the precedent set in President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial, during which witnesses were deposed and video of their depositions was presented to senators. In addition, witnesses and documents not previously available certainly have the capacity to shed new light on Trump’s actions and finally hold him accountable for, among other things, abusing his office and obstructing Congress (not to mention violating the Impoundment Control Act, which prohibits the president from unilaterally holding back funds appropriated by Congress).
We have yet to see whether a sufficient number of Republicans do demand a real trial rather than a sham. If so, it would be a major step in reestablishing checks and balances, as well as the stature of the Senate. Let’s hope those Republican senators come through.