Donald Trump impeachment trial back on track after deal to skip witnesses

Donald Trump is the only former or serving president to have been impeached twice. Credit: AP

Donald Trump's second impeachment trial is back on track to likely conclude on Saturday after a deal was made not to call witnesses.

Earlier in the day, the trial took an unexpected twist when Senators voted to consider calling witnesses.

The trial was then paused while both sides tried to work out an agreement and a deal was then reached to skip witness testimony, averting a prolonged trial and allowing several hours of closing arguments from both sides to begin.

It means a vote on whether to convict the former president over the deadly riot in Congress on January 6, could still be held on Saturday.

Acquittal still appears likely, following the news that this is the way Republican leader Mitch McConnell plans to vote to acquit the former president.

The impeachment trial had descended into confusion after lead prosecutor Jamie Raskin of Maryland asked for evidence from Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler over fresh information.

She has widely shared a conversation she had with House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy over Mr Trump’s actions on January 6 as a mob was rioting at the US Capitol over the presidential election results.

Mr Raskin said it was necessary to determine Mr Trump’s role in inciting the deadly riot.

A majority of Senators voted to consider calling witnesses. Credit: AP

There were 55 senators who voted to debate the motion to demand Ms Herrera Beutler give evidence, including Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who changed his vote in the middle of the count.

The debate and votes on whether potential witnesses could be allowed will likely delay the final vote.

Mr Trump’s attorney Michael van der Veen baulked at the request, saying he would then call 100 witnesses and that it was not necessary.

Donald Trump's lawyer Michael van der Veen claimed he would call 100 witnesses. Credit: Senate Television/AP

The nearly week-long trial has been delivering a grim and graphic narrative of the January 6 riot and its consequences for the nation in ways that senators, most of whom fled for their own safety that day, acknowledge they are still coming to terms with.

Acquittal is expected in the evenly divided Senate, a verdict that could heavily influence not only Mr Trump’s political future but that of the Senators sworn to deliver impartial justice as jurors as they cast their votes.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell will reportedly vote to acquit Mr Trump and his decision is likely to influence others weighing up their votes.

House prosecutors have argued that Mr Trump’s rallying cry to go to the Capitol and “fight like hell” for his presidency just as Congress was convening to certify Joe Biden’s election was part of an orchestrated pattern of violent rhetoric and false claims that unleashed the mob.

Five people died, including a rioter who was shot and a police officer.

Defence lawyers countered in a short three hours on Friday that Mr Trump’s words were not intended to incite violence, they were simply political rhetoric, and impeachment is a “witch hunt” designed to prevent him from serving in office again.

Mr Trump is the only president to be impeached twice, and the first to face trial charges after leaving office.

Unlike last year’s impeachment trial in the Ukraine affair – a complicated charge of corruption and obstruction over his attempts to have the foreign ally dig up dirt on then-rival Mr Biden – this one brought an emotional punch over the unexpected vulnerability of the nation’s tradition of peaceful elections.

What has caused Donald Trump's private anger amid new Senate trial shocks? Listen to ITV News's US politics podcast: Trump Lost! What Now?