CNN: McConnell's ready to end the circus by tomorrow night

In an hour, the second and final session of the question period in the Senate trial of Donald Trump will begin. When it concludes, a long-awaited fight over subpoenas will commence, but that might just be the beginning of a very quick end, CNN reports. Trump may have his acquittal in hand before his weekend round of golf at Mar-a-Lago:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to move quickly to acquit President Donald Trump if a closely watched vote planned for Friday to compel witnesses and documents for Trump’s impeachment trial is defeated, according to Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, who is the number two Senate Republican.

The discussions come as Republican leaders believe they are closing in on the votes necessary to block any witnesses, a move that would bring a swift end to the trial.

“In the end it’s going to be up to the leader, but my view would be at that point you would want to start bringing this thing to a conclusion,” Thune said Wednesday. “I’m not sure there would be any value or any point in keeping it going.”

The only point left is to see whether the final vote on the verdict is 56-44 to acquit or maybe 51-49 to convict, or somewhere in between those two points. That’s the range of possibilities, and it doesn’t come anywhere near the 67-33 conviction vote necessary for removal from office. No matter what happens, Trump will still be president, whether the trial ends tomorrow night or on February 29th or later. The only issue at hand is which side gets rhetorical bragging rights over the outcome of what is shaping up to be a predictable vote.

Part of those rhetorical bragging rights, though, are whether the Senate subpoenas witnesses to reopen the House investigation. A consensus against that appears to be solidifying in McConnell’s caucus, including with some purple-state incumbents at risk in November. Cory Gardner announced yesterday that he would vote no, and Martha McSally added her name to the nays later in the day:

However, The Hill reports that Mitt Romney is pushing for a yes vote on Bolton, and that it’s turned into a power struggle within the Senate GOP caucus. That fight might already be over, though:

McConnell has staked his re-election to a seventh term on helping Trump implement his agenda and has made clear that he is closely coordinating trial strategy with the White House.

Romney doesn’t have the immediate pressure of re-election, and has told allies that he’s more interested in the role of elder statesman than climbing the Senate’s power ladder.

The Utah Republican made it clear he thought the Senate should hear from former national security adviser John Bolton and possibly other witnesses in the trial. McConnell is decidedly against hearing from new witnesses.

After a week of tense debate, it appears McConnell, a senator from Kentucky, has emerged as the winner of their battle after convincing a handful of wavering Republicans that voting to subpoena additional witnesses and documents would be a mistake.

Romney will probably still vote for the subpoena, and maybe Susan Collins will feel the need to do so with McConnell’s blessing — if he’s sure he has 51 votes otherwise. To that end, John Bolton did McConnell a favor, as I wrote yesterday at The Week:

The timing is notable, but not necessarily because it handicaps Trump.

Bear in mind that the publication date for Bolton’s memoir was in less than two months. The certainty that Bolton would speak out by mid-March one way or the other put Senate Republicans in an extremely uncomfortable position. If they voted to acquit Trump without knowing what Bolton had to say, the outcome would be widely seen as illegitimate. It might have even pushed House Democrats to vote a new article of impeachment on the basis of Bolton’s memoir and force the Senate back into a trial, but at the very least it would have made for campaign fodder against vulnerable Senate Republican incumbents this fall.

Now, however, the leak lets Republicans off the hook, even if still leaves Trump on it. Trump may not have told the truth in his outright denials on the quid pro quo allegation, but at least Senate Republicans now know that for certain. The New York Times leak put the worst possible conclusion from Bolton where they can openly consider it and then still move to the alternate argument. After all, as former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy writes at National Review, there is no need to deny the quid pro quo because it’s a moot point — the aid went without strings attached in the end, and it didn’t rise to the “high crimes and misdemeanors” bar anyway.

So when will the circus pack up and leave town? As soon as tomorrow night if McConnell wins his votes, but perhaps not until Saturday:

Could Trump be acquitted by Friday night?

It’s possible. Several Republican senators made that suggestion after it was discussed at the closed-door GOP lunch on Wednesday. But the reality is we just don’t know — and neither to do they at this point. There are a lot of variables at play (do Democrats get a chance to offer motions that draw the process out? Are there closing arguments? Do senators decide to deliberate?)

So the short answer is, if the witness vote fails, Republican leaders are exploring how to vote to acquit Trump by Friday night. But there is every possibility it moves into Saturday or possibly later. Just stay tuned.

Closing arguments will likely stretch out further without witnesses, or at least it will seem that way. Essentially, both sides will present their opening arguments again, since nothing much changed in between without witnesses. They might add some elements to take advantage of the questions and responses from yesterday and later today, and House managers will almost certainly lose Jerrold Nadler’s self-defeating contributions. Or who knows? If McConnell succeeds in spiking subpoenas, maybe all the House managers will accuse the Senate of being corrupt and in need of impeachment.

At least that’d be slightly less predictable than everything else about this impeachment, and that includes every day since Election Day 2018.