Five Senate Republicans voted with the Democrats on Saturday, that the Senate should call witnesses in the impeachment trial of Donald Trump.
The surprise vote, which was likely to stall a trial which had been expected to end in acquittal on Saturday, came after a Republican from Washington state, who was one of 10 GOP House members to vote to impeach Trump, urged people with knowledge of conversations Trump had during the Capitol riot on 6 January to come forward.
In a statement, representative Jaime Herrera Beutler said House minority leader Kevin McCarthy told her he spoke with Trump as rioters were storming the Capitol. She said McCarthy asked Trump to publicly “call off the riot” and told Trump the violent mob were Trump supporters, not far-left activists.
In a statement released via Twitter, 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.’”
On Saturday, lead House impeachment manager Jamie Raskin said his team were requesting that Herrera Beutler be called as a witness.
Prior to the 55-45 vote, Trump impeachment lawyer Michael van der Veen warned senators that if Democrats wished to call a witness, he would ask for at least 100 witnesses and insist they give depositions in person in his office in Philadelphia – a threat that prompted laughter from the chamber.
“There’s nothing laughable here,” the visibly angered attorney said.
In the event, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse voted with Democrats in the first roll call. Lindsay Graham, a close Trump ally, changed his vote from no to yes after it was clear the motion would pass.
There was confusion over whether one witness – Herrera Beutler – would be called, or whether Trump’s lawyers would call witnesses too.
On Friday Trump’s defense team denied he incited the deadly riot and said his encouragement of followers to “fight like hell” at a rally that preceded it was routine political speech.
House managers say Trump was the “inciter in chief” who spread election falsehoods, then encouraged supporters to come challenge the results.
Herrera Buetler, who represents Washington’s third congressional district in the south-western part of the state, said she has relayed parts of her conversation with McCarthy before to constituents and local media. She then called on people with knowledge of Trump’s conversation with McCarthy to 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.