Senate Republicans made a monumental call of immediate and long-term consequence Friday when they voted not to allow any new witnesses in President Donald Trump's impeachment trial.
But in fact there were witnesses — at least to a process intended to protect the president, not the Constitution.
Take it not just from Democrats, but from Trump's former chief of staff, John Kelly, who said before Friday's vote that ending the trial without witnesses is "only a job half done." Seemingly a partial trial fully convinced some Republicans, including Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, that Trump acted improperly.
"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 [Joe and his son Hunter]," Alexander said in a statement. "The House managers," he continued, "have proved this with what they call a 'mountain of overwhelming evidence.' "
But few of Alexander's GOP colleagues were willing to climb that mountain, and he ended up joining them in voting 51-49 to defeat a motion to call witnesses. Many continued to parrot the president's characterization of the shakedown as a "perfect" call. That's why new witnesses were warranted — including potentially the key witness, former national security adviser John Bolton.
A leaked manuscript of Bolton's unpublished book indicates that he directly contradicts the president's account of why military aid to Ukraine was withheld.
Further revelations emerged before Friday's vote. According to the New York Times, Trump directed Bolton "to help with his pressure campaign to extract damaging information on Democrats from Ukrainian officials" during an Oval Office meeting that included acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney — one of the other witnesses sought by Democrats — as well as the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and the White House counsel leading the impeachment defense, Pat Cipollone.
"That meeting never happened," Trump said in a statement on Friday. If only sworn testimony could determine who is telling the truth.
Americans, despite deep divisions, appear to concur. A new Quinnipiac poll found that 75% of registered voters agreed that "witnesses should be allowed to testify in the Senate impeachment trial" — including a plurality of 49% of Republicans.
Instead, senators supporting Trump appeared headed toward an acquittal on Wednesday, although Trump will no doubt celebrate his big win in a Super Bowl pregame interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News and in his State of the Union Address on Tuesday.
Trump got a jump on his end zone dance on Thursday, when he told a Des Moines rally that it was "a happy period because we call it 'impeachment light.' "
Sadly, he's right. What former President James Buchanan apocryphally called "the world's greatest deliberative body" didn't bring the bodies to deliberate. Instead, House managers had to rely on previous testimonies — that is from those not blocked or intimidated by the White House.
"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," Alexander wrote in his statement, adding: "Let the people decide."
And so they will render a verdict, in November — on the president and his Senate defenders, who failed to live up to Buchanan's lamentably outdated description of their institution.