The impeachment trial of President Trump took an unexpected turn Saturday as the Senate voted 55-45 to consider witnesses in the trial. Senators could be seen huddling on the floor after a wrench was thrown into the proceedings.
At the center of the sudden shift was a report Friday evening from CNN that shed new light on a heated phone call between then-president Trump and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy as the Capitol was under siege on Jan. 6. Rather than call witnesses, impeachment managers and Trump’s defense team ultimately agreed to enter a statement from Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler about the call into record rather than depose her, which could have delayed the trial.
Here’s what we know about the call and the events around it.
During the Jan. 6 Capitol siege, McCarthy reportedly called Trump begging for help
McCarthy reportedly called Trump Jan. 6 as a mob attacked the Capitol building following Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally and asked him to forcefully call off his supporters.
The call became heated, according to the report from CNN, and Trump first tried to blame Antifa for the attack before telling McCarthy, “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.”
McCarthy angrily told Trump that members of the mob were trying to break into his office, and said, “Who the [expletive] do you think you are talking to?”
CNN’s latest reporting cited several House Republicans who were familiar with the call. In the wake of the insurrection, McCarthy himself spoke on the House floor and said Trump was at least partly responsible for the attack.
The new details bolster Democrats’ argument that Trump abdicated his duty to protect the Constitution and continued to incite the insurrection even after it was underway, a sentiment that was echoed by one anonymous Republican who spoke to CNN.
“He is not a blameless observer, he was rooting for them,” the Republican member of Congress told CNN.
Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler has been sharing details of the call since January
Though several House Republicans were familiar with McCarthy’s call to Trump, one has spoken out about it on the record.
Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler was among the handful of House Republicans to vote to impeach Trump over his role in the Capitol attack. Herrera Beutler, who represents Washington’s 3rd Congressional District, has relayed parts of her conversation with McCarthy before to constituents and local media. She also released a statement last month in support of impeachment which referenced the call.
In the wake of the CNN report, Herrera Beutler Friday released a statement that said people with knowledge of Trump’s actions on Jan. 6 should speak out.
“And to the patriots who were standing next to the former president as these conversations were happening, or even to the former vice president: if you have something to add here, now would be the time,” she said.
House impeachment manager Jamie Raskin said Saturday called for a vote on whether to consider witnesses in the wake of Herrera Beutler’s statement. He asked the Senate to subpoena her and hold a deposition over Zoom. Ultimately, Herrera Beutler’s Friday night statement was introduced into evidence to avoid having to depose her and others in the trial.
Why these revelations are significant to the trial
In his remarks Saturday, Raskin said Herrera Beutler’s statement spoke to Trump’s state of mind as he was told members of Congress were in danger.
“Needless to say, this is an additional critical piece of corroborating evidence further confirming the charges before you as well as the president’s willful dereliction of duty,” Raskin said.
Raskin wanted to depose Herrera Beutler to fill gaps about what exactly Trump knew and when as the attack unfolded. Instead, her statement was introduced into trial.
House impeachment managers have suggested Trump was aware of the immediate danger to former vice president Mike Pence when Trump sent a tweet at 2:24 p.m. attacking Pence for not having “courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country.”
People close to Pence have told reporters that Trump did not reach out to check on Pence’s safety, but Pence has so far declined to discuss Trump’s role in the attack.
Witnesses could have substantially extended the trial
The proceedings came to an abrupt halt less than an hour after getting underway Saturday, with senators taken aback by the unexpected development. Both Democrats and Republicans braced for the possibility of a drawn-out dispute over which, and how many, witnesses might suddenly factor into a trial that just hours earlier was heading to a swift vote and likely acquittal.
Lawyers for Trump threatened a prolonged process and said they’d ask to interview hundreds of people, highlighting concerns from Democrats who worried that the prolonged trial could delay critical votes on President Biden’s Cabinet nominees and a major COVID-19 relief package.
The Senate ultimately moved Saturday to proceed with closing arguments after entering Herrera Beutler’s statement into the record.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.