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GOP Sen. Murkowski says she will vote against witnesses, calls impeachment articles 'rushed and flawed'

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By Lauren Egan  with NBC News Politics
Image: Lisa Murkowski
Sen. Lisa Murkowski walks in the basement of the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 30, 2020.   -   Copyright  Julio Cortez AP

WASHINGTON — Sen. Lisa Murkowski announced Friday she will vote no to hearing from witnesses in President Donald Trump's impeachment trial, likely dooming Democrats' hopes of hearing testimony from witnesses with firsthand knowledge of why Trump ordered almost $400 million in aid to Ukraine frozen.

Murkowski's decision increases the likelihood that Trump's Senate impeachment trial will be the first in American history with no witness testimony.

"The House chose to send articles of impeachment that are rushed and flawed. I carefully considered the need for additional witnesses and documents, to cure the shortcomings of its process, but ultimately decided that I will vote against considering motions to subpoena," Murkowski said in a statement.

"Given the partisan nature of this impeachment from the very beginning and throughout, I have come to the conclusion that there will be no fair trial in the Senate. I don't believe the continuation of this process will change anything. It is sad for me to admit that, as an institution, the Congress has failed."

Only two Republican senators have said they will vote in favor of hearing from witnesses - Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine. Democrats had hoped Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska who's bucked Trump in the past, would follow in Romney and Collins' footsteps. Republicans have a 53 seat majority in the 100-member Senate, and a majority vote is needed to approve witnesses.

Murkowski's decision means Democrats have just 49 votes, barring any surprise switches from Republican senators.

If Murkowski had voted with the Democrats, the split would have been 50-50, and would have at least opened the door to the unlikely possibility that Chief Justice John Roberts could cast a tie-breaking vote.

Democrats needed to win over four Republicans in order to reach a 51 vote majority. But their hopes dampened early Friday morning when retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., announced he would vote against additional witnesses.

All previous presidential impeachment trials have included witnesses. The trial could now conclude Friday with a vote to acquit Trump. The trial is scheduled to resume at 1 pm ET, with four hours of arguments on whether to hear from witnesses or subpoena documents.

According to the organizing resolution for the trial, senators will then deliberate on the questions before voting. If they don't vote to hear from witnesses, other motions can be made and then the Senate will vote on each of the two articles of impeachment.

The benchmark to convict the president is much higher than the threshold to hear from witnesses. Conviction requires a two-thirds vote of 67 senators. Anything less and the president is acquitted.

Democrats have argued that the Senate should hear from additional witnesses who have firsthand knowledge of Trump's conduct toward Ukraine, including Trump's former national security adviser John Bolton and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.

Democrats stepped up their calls for testimony Sunday night after The New York Times reported that in an unpublished book, Bolton alleges that Trump told him nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine would not be released until officials there offered assistance with investigations into Democratic targets, including former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Trump has denied Bolton's allegations.

NBC News has not seen a copy of the manuscript or verified the report, which cited multiple sources familiar with Bolton's account.