Shortly after the Senate voted to pave the way for witnesses in Donald Trump's impeachment trial, Democratic lawmakers and the former president's defense team on Saturday reached a deal to merely enter a statement by Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler into evidence instead of having her testify under oath on her knowledge of a call between Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
The agreement effectively slammed the door on the possibility of witnesses in the trial and likely means a final vote on the impeachment charge could come later Saturday. After the deal was announced on the Senate floor, Democratic managers moved to their closing arguments.
The abrupt change of course by Democrats was met with outrage by progressive observers and analysts who viewed Herrera Beutler's potential testimony—and that of others who may have been compelled to come forward—as an opportunity to uncover additional information about Trump's conduct on the day of the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol last month.
"Even if you're convinced no testimony will change the minds of 40 Republicans—and I think that's a fair assumption—leaving witnesses on the table is an incredible mistake," tweeted HuffPost's Matt Fuller. "After impeachment managers presented a fantastic case, the decision to fold is what will be remembered."
In the statement that was entered into the record, Herrera Beutler—one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump last month—said that "when McCarthy finally reached the president on January 6 and asked him to publicly and forcefully call off the riot, the president initially repeated the falsehood that it was antifa that had breached the Capitol."
"McCarthy refuted that and told the president that these were Trump supporters," Herrera Beutler said. "That's when, according to McCarthy, the president said, 'Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.'"
Judd Legum of Popular Information argued that because Herrera Beutler's statement had already been released to the public, the agreement to enter it into evidence is "objectively the same as a complete capitulation on witnesses and the Democrats should just own up to that."
"This is retreat. White flag. Malpractice. Completely unstrategic," added Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC). "They just closed the door on others who may have stepped out, as Herrera Beutler urged last night. Just when we thought Dems were being bold and strategic. This is grabbing lameness out of the jaws of boldness."
It was not immediately clear why Democrats decided at the last minute to back off their push for witnesses, but Democratic senators were reportedly "blindsided" by Rep. Jamie Raskin's (D-Md.) announcement Saturday morning that he planned to seek a subpoena for Herrera Beutler's testimony. Trump's defense team countered Raskin by threatening to call hundreds of witnesses, which potentially could have dragged out the trial for days as the Senate would have had to vote on each request.
According to CNN, Senate Democratic leaders pressured House impeachment managers behind closed doors to drop the call for witness testimony:
After a brief recess just before noon on Saturday—a break that came shortly after the Senate opened the door to witnesses with a 55-45 vote—Trump's lawyers returned to the Senate chamber and announced that they reached an agreement with Democratic lawmakers to enter Herrera Beutler's statement into evidence instead of calling her to testify.
"Donald John Trump by his counsel is prepared to stipulate that if Rep. Herrera Beutler were to testify under oath as part of these proceedings her testimony would be consistent with the statement she issued on February 12, 2021, and the former president's counsel is agreeable to the admission of that public statement into evidence at this time," Bruce Castor, one of Trump's lawyers, said on the Senate floor.
Raskin, the lead House impeachment manager, then delivered brief remarks accepting the deal and proceeded to read Herrera Beutler's statement aloud in full.
Politico reported that "during the Senate break after the witness vote Saturday, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) twice came into the managers' room off the Senate floor" and "pressed House Democrats to relent, saying their quest for witnesses would cost them Republican votes to convict and maybe even some Democrats."
"The jury is ready to vote," Coons told the impeachment managers, according to Politico. "People want to get home for Valentine's Day."
Whatever you do please do not point the fingers at @RepRaskin @JoaquinCastrotx @tedlieu and the heroic house mangers who presented a brilliant case and were ready to do more - doing everything possible to exact accountability for our democracy. They did their jobs.
— Murshed Zaheed (@murshedz) February 13, 2021
Citing an unnamed source close to the former president's team, CNN's Jim Acosta reported that Trump "is pleased there won't be witnesses at the trial."
"The source added that the legal team views the Democrats' decision to not call witnesses as a clear victory," Acosta tweeted.
Jeff Hauser, director of the Revolving Door Project, said he's "livid" at Democratic leaders for caving on witnesses and rejected the argument that a longer trial would endanger coronavirus relief efforts.
"They're going on recess next week," Hauser said of senators. "The Democratic leadership is spreading the claim that it's relief vs. accountability. They are lying. Learned helplessness being justified by a knowably false choice."