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Chief Justice John Roberts could decide vote on impeachment witnesses


US-POLITICS-IMPEACHMENT

WASHINGTON — As the Senate enters a do-or-die battle on whether to call witnesses at President Trump’s impeachment trial, the spotlight is turning on Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and whether he could break a tie vote.
With Republicans growing increasingly confident that they have the numbers to block a vote on Friday on subpoenaing witnesses like John Bolton, Democrats are pinning their hopes on risk-averse Roberts, 65, who is presiding over the trial.
The motion for witnesses needs 51 votes to succeed — requiring four GOP senators to break with their party and side with Democrats, which looks increasingly unlikely.
In the event of a 50-50 tie, there is speculation that Roberts could insert himself into the proceedings.
There is precedent, with Chief Justice Salmon Chase breaking tie votes twice in the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson in 1868.
But that move was controversial at the time, and given the highly partisan nature of this trial, it’s unlikely Roberts would want to involve himself, according to one Republican senator who personally knows him.
“Just based on what I know of the chief justice, he is very cautious on the law,” said Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, who served as a clerk for Roberts when he was in law school in the early 2000s.
“Now, I could be totally wrong. I would guess whatever the question, if it’s 50-50, I bet he doesn’t vote,” he said.
“If it’s not settled ground and if it’s controversial, I think he would not want to break new ground,” Hawley continued.
Democrats such as Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont said they would like Roberts to settle the matter in the event of a 50-50 vote but trusted him to do the right thing.
“I would prefer that and I would accept whichever way he went, whether it was in my position or others.” the Democrat told reporters when asked if Roberts should break a tie vote.
“But that’s up to the chief justice. I have a lot of respect for him and the way he’s been handling this,” he continued.
When asked about the precedent Chase set in the Johnson impeachment trial, Leahy said he trusted Roberts’ judgment.
“Knowing Chief Justice Roberts as well as I do, and I’ve known him for years, he’s read that history more than any of us.”
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Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown said the fact that witnesses hadn’t been called had to be troubling for the chief of the Supreme Court — the highest legal body in the land.
“I don’t know what John Roberts is thinking, but it’s got to bother him that one side is saying no witnesses, no evidence,” Brown told reporters Thursday morning.
“I’m not a lawyer, but I understand you’ve got prosecution, you’ve got the defense, and you have witnesses, testimony and evidence,” he said.
“That this is so violative of that, it’s got to unnerve the Supreme Court chief justice,” Brown concluded.
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