Republican senator defends chief justice
Lisa Murkowski’s full statement on voting against witnesses includes a defence of John Roberts, the Supreme Court chief justice who has been presiding over Donald Trump’s impeachment trial:
It has also become clear some of my colleagues intend to further politicize this process, and drag the Supreme Court into the fray, while attacking the Chief Justice. I will not stand for nor support that effort. We have already degraded this institution for partisan political benefit, and I will not enable those who wish to pull down another.
We are sadly at a low point of division in this country.
Chief Justice John Roberts has been a largely passive player in the impeachment proceedings. For much of the trial, his most active role has been leading the Senate in reciting the pledge of allegiance at the beginning of each session.
But this week he became a kind of ventriloquist’s dummy as all the questions senators asked each side were routed through the chief justice to be read aloud. In two cases, the questions caused controversy.
Mr Roberts declined to read a question submitted by Rand Paul, the Republican senator from Kentucky, because it included the name of the person reported to be the whistleblower whose complaint first alerted Congress to Mr Trump’s alleged efforts to pressure Ukraine.
And Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic senator who is running for president, drew criticism for asking a question that pointedly suggested Mr Roberts was eroding his credibility by presiding over a trial with no witnesses.
Mr Roberts read the question aloud in full:
At a time when large majorities of Americans have lost faith in government, does the fact that the chief justice is presiding over an impeachment trial in which Republican senators have thus far refused to allow witnesses or evidence contribute to the loss of legitimacy of the chief justice, the Supreme Court, and the Constitution?
Democrats have further suggested that Mr Roberts should cast a tie-breaking vote in support of witnesses if the Senate split 50-50 on the proposal.
“If it’s a tie, it’ll be up to the chief justice,” said Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, on Friday morning. “The chief justice knows that every trial has witnesses and documents.”
The Congressional Research Service has said the chief justice “would not be expected to vote” even in the event of a tie.
In any case, Ms Murkowski’s decision to vote against witnesses suggests Republicans have at least 51 votes to resist such a motion.