BREAKING: McConnell reportedly tells colleagues how he'll vote in Trump trial; UPDATE: "Jurisdiction"; UPDATE: Dems now want witnesses; UPDATE: Dems cave -- no witnesses

Whatever suspense remained in the Senate impeachment trial drained out of it with this revelation. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had played his cards close to the vest all along, but this morning sent an e-mail to his caucus declaring his intent to vote to acquit Donald Trump. That puts an end to Senate Democrats’ hopes to get McConnell to pull the necessary 16 other Republicans across the aisle for a conviction and disqualification:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has told GOP colleagues in a letter that he will vote to acquit Donald Trump in the former president’s impeachment trial, according to sources familiar with the communication.

CNN’s Manu Raju got the same word from his sources. McConnell plans to offer a lengthier explanation on the Senate floor:

Oh, it’s not been all that clear. McConnell remained coy throughout, and his signal to his caucus to disconnect their decision on the trial from the issue of constitutionality — or at least suggesting that their earlier vote didn’t commit them to a position — was taken as a sign that he was still considering his own vote. Instead, as I wrote at the time, McConnell appears to have been wisely shaping the battleground to give Senate Republicans the best PR cover for whatever vote they each decided to cast.

With McConnell voting for acquittal, there won’t be more than six Republican votes to acquit in the Senate. And perhaps not even that many; Bill Cassidy voted to approve the trial on constitutional grounds, but he’s clearly been leaning away from conviction ever since. One has to wonder how well the presumed conviction caucus of Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, Pat Toomey, and Rob Portman will hold together after McConnell’s decision.

There wasn’t much suspense to this anyway, but what little there was has dissipated. The only question now will be whether Senate Democrats attempt a censure as part of their bill-of-attainder strategy, or whether they just pursue a straight censure as a consolation prize. The latter might get past a filibuster, but the former will certainly not — and might not even get the conviction caucus on board for that blatantly unconstitutional maneuver.

Update: McConnell’s going with the defense’s strongest argument:

Update: Here’s the full message McConnell sent his caucus. In it, he addressed “the otherwise troubling January exception” by saying that Trump could be prosecuted for any crimes he may have committed:

Perhaps, but the spectacle of a successor DoJ going after the current president’s immediate predecessor would be viciously partisan no matter how well-founded. Gerald Ford understood that and pardoned Richard Nixon to avoid it. At the very least, this opens up an opportunity for Congress and the states to amend the Constitution so that the issues of jurisdiction in instances such as the “January exception” are much more detailed and defined than they are now.

Update: Now that the cat’s out of the bag, Senate Democrats now want to call witnesses — in the middle of closing arguments. Four Republicans crossed the aisle to support the measure:

It’s an odd time to reverse their position. The House called no witnesses for its impeachment, and both House managers and Senate Democrats insisted that members themselves were the only witnesses necessary. Perhaps now that McConnell has made his position known, Democrats want to get as much on the record as possible first.

Update: What an embarrassment. After forcing the issue and winning a vote on witnesses, Senate Democrats caved when Republicans threatened to put several Democrats under oath. Instead, they’ll just submit a statement and call it a day — literally:

Looks like Lindsey Graham’s threat to call lots of witnesses and tie up the Senate for weeks paid off. Trump’s attorneys also threatened to call hundreds of witnesses. After peering into that abyss, Democrats proved they weren’t serious about this trial, either.

Up next: as much as four hours of debate and the final end to this farce.