(Bloomberg) — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is setting a course to quash Democrats’ attempts to extend the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump by calling new witnesses, as he pushes toward a goal of ending it swiftly in acquittal.
McConnell on Tuesday made clear he’s not interested in giving in to any demands from Democrats. He said that the partisan House impeachment would result in “an almost entirely partisan outcome in the Senate as well.”
“I’m not an impartial juror,” McConnell said. “This is a political process.”
McConnell’s strategy relies on keeping Democratic requests on procedures, documents and witnesses bottled up and maintaining pressure on any wavering Republicans who might agree with Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s push for more evidence.
Democrats would need only four GOP votes to force the issue, but McConnell and Trump are fighting hard to keep the Republican wall of opposition to impeachment solid. Senate Republican leaders huddled earlier today with a few GOP senators who could vote their own way on things. They included Senators Mitt Romney of Utah, a frequent Trump critic, and Cory Gardner of Colorado, who is the most vulnerable Republican on the ballot in 2020.
Earlier in the day, McConnell ripped Schumer’s call for testimony from acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and former National Security Adviser John Bolton as a “fishing expedition” to make up for a “sloppy” House impeachment. Mulvaney and Bolton refused to testify in the House without a court order at the direction of Trump.
“It’s not the Senate’s job to leap into the breach and search desperately for ways to get to guilty. That would hardly be impartial justice,” McConnell, who has promised to coordinate with Trump’s lawyers on how to conduct the trial, said on the Senate floor.
The Democratic majority in the House is poised to impeach Trump in a vote Wednesday. The Senate would begin a trial in January and McConnell has said there is zero chance the president would be convicted and removed from office.
Trump had expressed interest in a full-blown trial with witnesses that would allow his lawyer to air the president’s counter-arguments and complaints about the impeachment. But McConnell and other GOP senators have been nudging him toward rapidly wrapping up the trial after arguments by House impeachment managers and the president’s counsel. Trump on Tuesday said he’d leave the question of witnesses up to McConnell.
“Yeah, he can decide,” the president told reporters at the White House.
Witnesses and Documents
Schumer has suggested that Trump and Republicans would have something to hide if they aren’t willing to hear testimony from witnesses who refused to testify in the House about what happened when military aid to Ukraine was held up while Trump was seeking a public announcement of investigations linked to Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.
After McConnell publicly declared his intention to coordinate with the White House, Schumer released a letter proposing to call administration witnesses. In a bid to persuade enough Republicans to get on board to force the issue, Schumer said a fair trial would allow senators to get all the relevant facts and adjudicate the impeachment impartially.
“Senators who oppose this plan will have to explain why less evidence is better than more evidence,” Schumer said Tuesday. “And they’re going to have to explain that decision to a public that is understandably skeptical when they see an administration that is suppressing evidence and blocking senior officials from telling the truth about what they know.”
But if a vote on calling witnesses happens only at the end of cases put on by the House and Trump’s lawyers, that could effectively jam Democrats and wear down more independent-minded Republicans who haven’t already committed to an acquittal.
Romney said he doesn’t object to McConnell approach of deciding on witnesses later in the process. Asked whether he’d back calling new witnesses, Romney said, “That’s something which I’ll give consideration to and when I have an answer I’ll pass it along.”
House Democrats said the urgency of the issue necessitated impeachment now rather than litigating their testimony in the courts for months, and made Trump’s blanket attempts to obstruct the impeachment proceeding one of the articles of impeachment.
Schumer also has called for the release of a trove of Ukraine-related documents the White House withheld from the House at Trump’s direction, saying it’s important to get those documents at the start of the trial, not the end.
But McConnell instead proposed using the framework of President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial 20 years ago — which included cases put on with existing evidence for weeks before Republicans slammed through a partisan resolution providing for videotaped testimony from three witnesses.
That served the Senate and the nation well, McConnell said.
Schumer, he said, “wants to guarantee up front that the Senate hear from the very specific witnesses instead of letting the body evaluate the witness issue after, after opening arguments and senators’ questions like back in 1999.”
McConnell said if House Democrats feel they need more witnesses to prove their case, “the answer is not for the judge and jury to cure it over here in the Senate. The answer is the House should not impeach on this basis in the first place.”
(Updates with McConnell quote in third paragraph, meeting with GOP senators in fifth)
–With assistance from Justin Sink.
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