Chuck Schumer launched an assault on Mitch McConnell’s plans for how to hold Donald Trump’s impeachment trial Monday night, calling them a ‘cover-up’ designed to hide evidence from the American people.
The Democratic minority leader assailed McConnell’s bid to hold a fast-track trial and almost entirely rule out the chance of getting witnesses and documents as a ‘national disgrace.’
Speaking outside New York’s Penn station before he boarded a train to Washington D.C. he said McConnell had torn up a promise to follow the precedents set by Bill Clinton’s trial.
He accused McConnell of trying to exclude existing evidence gathered by the House and said: ‘He doesn’t want to hear any of the evidence and he doesn’t want to hear any new evidence. That’s a cover-up, not a trial.’
Schumer said McConnell had torn up a promise to follow the precedent of the Clinton trial rules, which allowed 24 hours over four days for each side and also explicitly included all previous evidence gathered by the House, and therefore by extension, Ken Starr.
Instead, Schumer said, McConnell kept his planned rules secret until the last minute of a public holiday.
‘Leader McConnell is going along with President Trump’s cover-up hook, line and sinker,’ the Democrat said.
‘When you look at his resolution, it’s no wonder he delayed it until the last minute. He didn’t want people to study it or know about it.’
The condemnation sets the stage for a bitter spectacle in the Senate at 1pm on Tuesday when the trial is supposed to resume with senators debating the rules.
Anger: Chuck Schumer called Mitch McConnell’s plans for Donald Trump’s impeachment trial ‘a national disgrace’ as he headed from New York to Washington D.C.
Master of the Senate? Mitch McConnell’s plan was revealed Monday evening, with just hours to go until senators get to decide on the rules for the trial of Donald Trump
Under the scheme outlined by Republicans later Monday afternoon Democrats and Donald Trump will each have just 24 hours over two days to make their cases at his impeachment trial.
Each side will face presenting their case late into the night as the Republican majority leader plans to slam the case through the Senate, a leaked resolution revealed.
But he will allow the possibility of the trial calling witnesses or documents – but not until the third stage of the trial, after Democratic prosecutors and Trump’s defense have made their case and senators have had 16 hours to ask questions in writing through the Chief Justice John Roberts.
The plan sets up a fast-moving trial which could sit late into the night as each side tries to get through their 24 hours.
But the rules remain a plan until they are confirmed – or amended – by senators which will happen entirely behind closed doors when they go into a closed session, expected late Tuesday afternoon.
The spectacle of cameras being switched off and reporters being told to leave is likely to fuel Democratic attacks of ‘cover-up’ which is now the party’s main attack on the trial.
As drawn up by McConnell, they represent a win for Trump, who wants the trial over with rapidly – but they are a tightrope for the Republican majority leader who has at least three moderates already voicing reservations about a lack of witnesses.
The moderates – Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska are likely to watch closely the latest poll which suggests overwhelming public support for witnesses at the trial.
Donald Trump’s lawyers in a new brief call the impeachment case against him ‘flimsy’. The president himself left the White House to fly to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he will be for the start of his trial. He said nothing as he left the White House
The rules do not offer an explicit chance for Trump’s lawyers to ask to dismiss the articles against him before Democrats make their case, but do allow them to do so on their own initiative as early as Wednesday morning.
Republican senators have already said they would mostly vote against instant dismissal, and its absence from the four-page rules package suggests it is unlikely Trump would instruct his lawyers, led by by Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, and his private attorney Jay Sekulow, to try.
Under the terms being proposed by McConnell – who controls 53 of the 100 Senate seats and needs 51 of them to get his rules approved – the timetable for the first day of the trial would be:
- Tuesday 1pm: trial begins with swearing in of Jim Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who missed being sworn by Chief Justice John Roberts last week;
- Tuesday afternoon: McConnell presents his plan, formally called the motion, on how the trial should proceed and has two hours to do so;
- 3.30pm or so: Chuck Schumer, the minority leader gets to present his plan and also has two hours to lay it out;
- by 6pm: The Senate will go into closed session – meaning cameras are switched off, reporters are thrown out, and senators debate the proposal unwatched and unrecorded. The rules for that debate are unknown;
- Tuesday evening: The Senate should return to open session to vote on the final rules.
If that happens and senators agree with McConnell’s plan, what happens next would be:
- Wednesday 9am: Deadline for Trump’s team to ask for an instant dismissal of the articles of impeachment – a possibility which Republicans have said would not pass the Senate. House Democrats can make their own motions about the trial but cannot demand witnesses be subpoenaed;
- 11am: Each side has until then to file their response to motions put forward
- 1pm: The trial begins in earnest. If there are no motions to deal with, the Democrats start making their case and assuming that happens;
- Friday 1pm: Democrats case has to conclude by now and have taken up no more than 24 hours. There are no restrictions on staying up late;
- Friday 1pm: Trump’s side begin making their case;
- Monday January 27, 1pm: Trump’s defense has to conclude by now and have taken up no more than 24 hours. There are no restrictions on staying up late.
- Monday afternoon: Senators now have 16 hours to ask written questions. Roberts decides which to answer and in what order and reads them out to the Democrats and Trump’s attorneys.
After that each side has four hours to make the case for any witnesses they want to subpoena. Each witness will be voted on individually.
That is where clarity on the timetable ends. If there are no witnesses, the senate could move to a rapid vote.
But if there are they would first be deposed – raising massive questions over how long that could take and whether any of their evidence would ever by in public.
The timetable appears intended to slam through a trial before Trump is due to deliver the State of the Union address on Tuesday 4 February.
Schumer immediately blasted the McConnell proposal as a ‘national disgrace.’
‘After reading his resolution, it’s clear Senator McConnell is hell-bent on making it much more difficult to get witnesses and documents and intent on rushing the trial through,’ Schumer said.
The contours of the trial’s arguments are already clear with less than 24 hours to go until it starts in earnest.
Trump’s legal team asserted Monday that he did ‘absolutely nothing wrong,’ calling the impeachment case against him ‘flimsy’ and a ‘dangerous perversion of the Constitution.’ The lawyers decried the impeachment process as rigged and insisted that abuse of power was not a crime.
The brief from Trump’s lawyers, filed before arguments expected this week in the Senate impeachment trial, offered the most detailed glimpse of the lines of defense they intend to use against Democratic efforts to convict the president and oust him from office over his dealings with Ukraine.
It is meant as a counter to a filing two days ago from House Democrats that summarized weeks of testimony from more than a dozen witnesses in laying out the impeachment case.
American flags blow in wind around the Washington Monument with the U.S. Capitol in the background at sunrise on Monday, Jan. 20, 2020, in Washington. The impeachment trial of President Donald Trump will resume in the U.S. Senate on Jan. 21
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., front left, and House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and other House impeachment managers, walk to the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020
Poll says 51% of Americans want Senate to REMOVE Donald Trump from office
Americans are split on whether the Senate should move to remove Donald Trump from office, with 51 per cent saying a poll released Monday that he should be convicted.
In the CNN/SSRS poll, 45 per cent of Americans said the Senate should not vote to convict and remove the president and 4 per cent of respondents said they had no opinion on the matter.
But 89 per cent of Democrats believe he should be convicted and removed from office while only 8 per cent of Republicans agree. Independent voters are split.
The poll comes the day before the Senate is set to begin the proceedings in the impeachment trial.
It also shows a slight shift from the same poll in December, which had 47 per cent of Americans said Trump should not be removed compared to the 45 per cent who want to see him ousted from the White House.
Of the 1,156 respondents, 58 per cent feel Trump did abuse his power of the presidency and 57 per cent say it’s true he obstructed the House from being able to properly investigate him.
The 110-page filing from the White House shifted the tone toward a more legal response. It still hinged on Trump´s assertion he did nothing wrong and did not commit a crime – even though impeachment does not depend on a material violation of law but rather on the more vague definition of ‘other high crimes and misdemeanors’ as established in the Constitution.
‘It is a constitutional travesty,’ the lawyers wrote.
The document says the two articles of impeachment brought against the president – abuse of power and obstruction of Congress – don’t amount to impeachment offenses. It asserts that the impeachment inquiry, centered on Trump’s request that Ukraine’s president open an investigation into Democratic rival Joe Biden, was never about finding the truth.
‘Instead, House Democrats were determined from the outset to find some way – any way – to corrupt the extraordinary power of impeachment for use as a political tool to overturn the result of the 2016 election and to interfere in the 2020 election,’ Trump’s legal team wrote. ‘All of that is a dangerous perversion of the Constitution that the Senate should swiftly and roundly condemn.’
‘The Senate should speedily reject these deficient articles of impeachment and acquit the president,’ according to a summary.
Trump’s team continues to attack the ‘abuse of power’ articles voted through the House, which lawyer Alan Dershowitz has argued does not constitute a crime.
‘House Democrats’ newly-invented ‘abuse of power’ theory collapses at the threshold because it fails to allege any violation of law whatsoever,’ they write.
The prosecution team of House managers was expected to spend another day on Capitol Hill preparing for the trial, which will be under heavy security. Before the filing, House prosecutors arrived on Capitol Hill to tour the Senate chamber.
Earlier Monday, Trump claimed Democrats ‘didn’t want’ fired national security advisor John Bolton to testify. Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway told Fox news the president ‘may exert executive privilege’ to prevent Bolton from testifying before the Senate. ‘The House should have called John Bolton if they were so anxious to hear from them,’ she said.
“Very little, although the president may exert executive privilege.
The impeachment case accuses Trump of abusing power by withholding military aid from Ukraine at the same time that the president was seeking an investigation into Biden, and of obstructing Congress by instructing aides to not participate. But Trump’s team contended Monday that even if Trump were to have abused his power in withholding the Ukraine military assistance, it would not be impeachable, because it did not violate a specific criminal statute.
Opening arguments are expected within days following a debate Tuesday over rules, including about whether witnesses are to be called in the trial.
Trump signaled his opposition to witnesses, tweeting Monday: ‘They didn´t want John Bolton and others in the House. They were in too much of a rush. Now they want them all in the Senate. Not supposed to be that way!’
That’s a reference to former national security adviser John Bolton, who was not subpoenaed by the House in its impeachment inquiry but has said he is willing to testify in the Senate if he is subpoenaed.
The White House brief argues that the articles of impeachment passed by the House are ‘structurally deficient’ because they charge multiple acts, creating ‘a menu of options’ as possible grounds for conviction.
The Trump team claims that the Constitution requires that senators agree ‘on the specific basis for conviction’ and that there is no way to ensure that the senators agree on which acts are worthy of removal.
The Trump lawyers accused Democrats of diluting the standards for impeachment, an argument that echoed the case made Sunday by one of Trump’s attorneys, Alan Dershowitz, who contended in talk shows that impeachable offenses must be ‘criminal-like conduct.’
That assertion has been rejected by scholars, and Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, called it an ‘absurdist position.’
Earlier Monday, President Trump took up his own impeachment defense, complaining that he got ‘ZERO’ fairness during a House inquiry and claiming Democrats ‘didn’t want’ security advisor John Bolton as a witness.
Trump made his case Monday on the eve of the debut of arguments in his Senate impeachment trial – amid a still unresolved debate and speculation about whether a rump group of Republicans will join Democrats to push for witnesses.
Bolton, Trump’s fired national security advisor, has become a key figure, following testimony by other witnesses that he called the Ukraine policy being carried out by Rudy Giuliani, the White House acting chief of staff, and a U.S. ambassador a ‘drug deal.’
Trump complained he got ‘ZERO’ fairness in the House inquiry
Trump tweeted that Democrats ‘didn’t want’ John Bolton to appear, although they sought his testimony
‘They didn’t want John Bolton and others in the House,’ Trump said of the Democratic impeachment inquiry and his fired national security advisor
READ THE ARTICLES OF IMPEACHMENT AGAINST DONALD TRUMP
In 1,414 words, the articles of impeachment passed by the House of Representatives lay out two charges against President Donald Trump.
Article I: Abuse of Power
Using the powers of his high office, President Trump solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, in the 2020 United States Presidential election.
He did so through a scheme or course of conduct that included soliciting the Government of Ukraine to publicly announce investigations that would benefit his reelection, harm the election prospects of a political opponent, and influence the 2020 United States Presidential election to his advantage.
President Trump also sought to pressure the Government of Ukraine to take these steps by conditioning official United States Government acts of significant value to Ukraine on its public announcement of the investigations.
President Trump engaged in this scheme or course of conduct for corrupt purposes in pursuit of personal political benefit. In so doing, President Trump used the powers of the Presidency in a manner that compromised the national security of the United States and undermined the integrity of the United States democratic process.’
Article II: Obstruction of Congress
As part of this impeachment inquiry, the Committees undertaking the investigation served subpoenas seeking documents and testimony deemed vital to the inquiry from various Executive Branch agencies and offices, and current and former officials.
In response, without lawful cause or excuse, President Trump directed Executive Branch agencies, offices, and officials not to comply with those subpoenas. President Trump thus interposed the powers of the Presidency against the lawful subpoenas of the House of Representatives, and assumed to himself functions and judgments necessary to the exercise of the ‘sole Power of Impeachment’ vested by the Constitution in the House of Representatives.
In the history of the Republic, no President has ever ordered the complete defiance of an impeachment inquiry or sought to obstruct and impede so comprehensively the ability of the House of Representatives to investigate ‘high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
This abuse of office served to cover up the President’s own repeated misconduct and to seize and control the power of impeachment — and thus to nullify a vital constitutional safeguard vested solely in the House of Representatives.
‘They didn’t want John Bolton and others in the House. They were in too much of a rush. Now they want them all in the Senate. Not supposed to be that way!’ Trump tweeted Monday.
He also went after Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, whose caucus and Senate colleagues have been sworn in to impartially weigh evidence against Trump.
‘Cryin’ Chuck Schumer is now asking for “fairness”, when he and the Democrat House members worked together to make sure I got ZERO fairness in the House. So, what else is new?’ Trump wrote.
The House invited Bolton to testify in its impeachment inquiry, but the fired national security advisor then joined an effort to seek a ruling from a federal judge about whether he could appear. Bolton’s lawyer asked a judge to rule on whether his client should comply with the request from Congress or a White House instruction for witnesses not to appear.
Early this year, Bolton said through his lawyer that he was willing to appear in the Senate trial. Amid the standoff, the House did not subpoena Bolton, although it heard from multiple officials who spoke of his role – including security advisor Fiona Hill, who testified about his ‘drug deal’ comment.
‘I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up,’ Hill said Bolton told her. Hill also said Bolton consider Giuliani, who was working to dig up information on the Bidens in Ukraine, a ‘hand grenade.’
Schumer said Sunday he would force a vote on allowing witnesses as the Senate impeachment trial gets underway Tuesday.
‘We have the right to do it, We are going to do it and we are going to do it at the beginning on Tuesday if leader [Sen. Mitch] McConnell doesn’t call for these witnesses in his proposal,’ he said.
‘If they say well let’s wait and hear the arguments we’ll want a vote after they hear the arguments as well and we will do everything we can to force votes again,’ he said. He would need to assemble 51 votes – which would include four Republicans – to prevail.
House Intelligence Chair Rep. Adam Schiff said of Bolton this year, after the House had already voted out two impeachment articles: ‘If we are proceeding in a rationale way where we are trying to be fair to the President and fair to the American people, he should testify before the triers of fact, which are the senators.’
Trump’s push against witnesses comes as key Republicans including Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and Susan Collins of Maine have spoken about witnesses. Romney says he would like to hear from Bolton, and Collins has said she is ‘likely’ to back a motion to hear from witnesses.
Democrats have demanded the Senate hear from witnesses for there to be a fair trial – after the White House refused to allow key figures like Mulaney to appear.
The process fight comes days after Trump’s legal team put forward the legal argument that abuse of power and obstruction of Congress – the two impeachment articles passed by the House – do not even constitute a crime.
‘The Articles of Impeachment are constitutionally invalid on their face. They fail to allege any crime or violation of law whatsoever, let alone “high Crimes and Misdemeanors,” as required by the Constitution,’ Trump’s lawyers wrote in a six-page brief released Saturday.
Trump lawyer Alan Dershowitz has argued that abuse of power is not a crime, and therefore not an impeachable offense
Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow signed a six-page defense of Trump
‘They are the result of a lawless process … Nothing in these Articles could permit even beginning to consider removing a duly elected President or warrant nullifying an election and subverting the will of the American people,’ according to the brief, signed by Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow and White House counsel Pat Cipollone and
They wrote in response to a lengthy Democratic legal brief arguing that Trump violated his oath and abused his office.
‘In fact, it alleges no violation of law whatsoever. House Democrats “abuse of power” claim would do lasting damage to the separation fo powers under the Constitution,’ Trump’s team responded.
Trump lawyer Alan Dershowitz has made a similar argument in TV appearances, as he did on ABC’s ‘This Week’ Sunday. He cited Justice Benjamin Curtis and the impeachment of Andrew Johnson – who he said forwarded the argument that an impeachable offense must also be a crime. That trial involved dozens of witnesses.
‘So I am making an argument much like the argument made by the great Justice Curtis,” said Dershowitz. “And to call them absurdist is to, you know, insult one of the greatest jurists in American history. The argument is a strong one. The Senate should hear it.’
The House on Monday filed its own reply to the arguments put forth by Trump’s team in response to the impeachment articles.
‘President Trump maintains that the Senate cannot remove him even if the House proves every claim in the Articles of impeachment. That is a chilling assertion. It is also dead wrong. The Framers deliberately drafted a Constitution that allows the Senate to remove Presidents who, like President Trump, abuse their power to cheat in elections, betray our national security, and ignore checks and balances,’ House impeachment managers wrote in a document that bears all of their names.
‘Despite President Trump’s stonewalling of the impeachment inquiry, the House amassed overwhelming evidence of his guilt,’ they added. ‘It did so through fair procedures rooted firmly in the Constitution and precedent. It extended President Trump protections equal to, or greater than, those afforded to Presidents in prior impeachment inquiries. To prevent President Trump’s obstruction from delaying justice until after the very election he seeks to corrupt, the House moved to decisively to adopt the two Articles of impeachment. Still, new evidence continues to emerge, all of which confirms these charges,’ they added.
Americans are split on whether the Senate should vote to convict and remove Donald Trump from office – 51 per cent say he should be removed, while 45 per cent say he should not
THE TRUMP DREAM TEAM: WHO’S DEFENDING PRESIDENT IN SENATE
Lead counsel: Pat Cipollone, White House Counsel
Millionaire conservative Catholic father-of-10 who has little courtroom experience. ‘Strong, silent,’ type who has earned praise from Trump’s camp for resisting Congress’ investigations of the Ukraine scandal. Critics accused him of failing in his duty as a lawyer by writing ‘nonsense letters’ to reject Congressional oversight. His background is commercial litigation and as White House counsel is the leader of the Trump administration’s drive to put conservative judges in federal courts. Trump has already asked aides behind the scenes if he will perform well on television.
Jay Sekulow, president’s personal attorney
Millionaire one-time IRS prosecutor with his own talk radio show. Self-described Messianic Jew who was counsel to Jews for Jesus. Longtime legal adviser to Trump, but he is himself mentioned in the Ukraine affair, with Lev Parnas saying that he knew about Rudy Giuliani’s attempts to dig dirt on the Bidens but did not approve. Michael Cohen claimed that Sekulow and other members of Trump’s legal team put falsehoods in his statement to the House intel committee; Sekulow denies it. The New York Times reported that he voted for Hillary Clinton.
Alan Dershowitz, Harvard law professor
Shot to worldwide fame for his part in the ‘dream team’s’ successful defense of OJ Simpson but was already famous for his defense of Claus von Bulow, the British socialite accused of murdering his wife in Rhode Island. Ron Silver played Dershowitz in Reversal of Fortune. In 2008 he was a member of Jeffrey Epstein’s legal team which secured the lenient plea deal from federal prosecutors. But Dershowitz was a longtime friend of Epstein and was accused of having sex with two of Esptein’s victims. He denies it and is suing one of them, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, for libel, saying his sex life is ‘perfect.’ He admits he received a massage at Epstein’s home – but ‘kept my underwear on.’ Registered Democrat who spoke out against Trump’s election and again after the Charlottesville violence. Has become an outspoken defender of Trump against the Robert Mueller probe and the Ukraine investigation.
Ken Starr, former Whitewater independent counsel
Famous and reviled in equal measure for his Whitewater investigation into Bill and Hillary Clinton’s finances in Arkansas which eventually led him to evidence of Bill’s affair with Monica Lewinsky. He was a federal appeals judge and George H.W. Bush’s solicitor general before that role. He later became president and chancellor of Baylor University in Waco but was removed as president in May 2016 for mishandling the investigation into allegations of multiple sexual assaults by football players and other students, then quit voluntarily as chancellor. Is the second Jeffrey Epstein defender on the team; he was present in 2008 when the plea deal with prosecutor Alex Acosta was made which let Epstein off with just 13 months of work release prison.
Pam Bondi, White House attorney
Florida’s first female attorney general and also a long-time TV attorney who has been a Fox News guest host – including co-hosting The Five for three days in a row while still attorney general. Began her career as a prosecutor before moving into elected politics. Has been hit by a series of controversies, among them persuading then Florida governor Rick Scott to change the date of an execution because it clashed with her re-election launch, and has come under fire for her association with Scientology. She has defended it saying the group were helping her efforts against human trafficking; at the time the FBI was investigating it over human trafficking. Went all-in on Trump in 2016, leading ‘lock her up’ chants at the 2016 Republican National Convention. Joined the White House last November to aid the anti-impeachment effort.
Robert Ray, Ken Starr’s successor
Headed the Office of the Independent Counsel from 1999 until it closed for business in 2002, meaning it was he, not Ken Starr, who wrote the final words on the scandals of the Clinton years. Those included the report on Monica Lewinsky, the report on the savings and loan misconduct claims which came to be known as Whitewater, and the report on Travelgate, the White House travel office’s firing and file-gate, claims of improper access to the FBI’s background reports. Struck deal with Clinton to give up his law license. Went into private practice. Was charged with stalking a former lover in New York in 2006 four months after she ended their relationship. Now a frequent presence on Fox News.
Jane Raskin, private attorney
Part of a husband-and-wife Florida law team, she is a former prosecutor who specializes in defending in white collar crime cases. Their connection to Trump appears to have been through Ty Cobb, the former White House attorney. She and husband Martin advised Trump on his response to Mueller and appear to have been focused on avoiding an obstruction of justice accusation. That may be the reason to bring her in to the impeachment team; Democrats raised the specter of reviving Mueller’s report in their evidence to the impeachment trial.
Patrick Philbin and Michael Purpura, Deputy White House Counsels
Lowest-profile of the team, they work full-time for Cipollone in the White House. Philbin (left) was a George W. Bush appointee at the Department of Justice who helped come up with the system of trying Guantanamo Bay detainees in front of military commissions instead of in U.S. courts. He was one a group of officials, led by James Comey, who rushed to seriously-ill John Ashcroft’s bedside to stop the renewal of the warrant-less wiretap program. Unknown if Trump is aware of his links to Comey. Purpura (right) is also a Bush White House veteran who shaped its response to Congressional investigations at a time when there were calls for him to be impeached over going to war in Iraq. His name is on letters telling State Department employees not to testify. Has been named as a possible Trump nominee for federal court in Hawaii.
Senate set to begin its historic impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump in chamber where Republicans are in control
The Senate on Tuesday afternoon will commence just the third impeachment trial of a U.S. president, with Donald J. Trump and his ‘perfect’ call to Ukraine on trial before a jury of 100 senators – 53 of them from the party the president has dominated for three years.
The chamber’s procedures will be governed by a combination of precedent, improvisation, and raw political power – with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell withholding his proposed rules to govern debate until the final hours before the most senior Republican gavels in the start of the trial.
Neither side is predicting that Democrats can muster the two-thirds needed to remove a president from office. But neither are they diminishing the political stakes, with Trump’s fate, the direction of the 2020 elections, and control of Congress all arguably up for grabs.
President Donald Trump
The historic trial is set to begin Tuesday at 1 pm.
A rhetorical battle that has been fought on Twitter and in Capitol hearing rooms for years has now been joined by a phalanx of lawyers – with the president’s legal team mocking the procedure as a ‘charade’ based on ‘flimsy evidence.’
A group of seven House impeachment managers – a diverse bunch of lawyers and litigators who nevertheless have never dealt with a case of his magnitude – punched back with their own filing Monday, citing ‘overwhelming evidence’ of Trump’s guilt.
The public, too, is weighing in, on Monday in the form of a new CNN poll that found a 51 per cent majority now backs Trump’s removal from office. But Trump’s political base is holding, with 45 per cent saying the Senate should vote against removal – about the same percentage that backs Trump in most surveys of his approval.
But on a critical procedural question, the public has shifted against the president’s position: An overwhelming 69 per cent of Americans want a trial with witnesses. That includes a 48 per cent plurality of Republicans and 69 per cent of independents.
The number follows an intensive push for witnesses by congressional Democrats who found themselves stymied by White House obstruction during their House impeachment inquiry. They even included ‘Obstruction of Congress’ as the second of two articles of impeachment. The first is on abuse of power. Both were voted out of the house on a mostly party-line vote.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer is vowing to demand a vote on witnesses at the first available opportunity at the outset of the trial. McConnell appears to have his conference in line for now – but that does not mean he can prevent a potential rump group from breaking off later in the trial.
Senator Mitt Romney of Utah – who delivered a blistering critique of Trump before the November 2016 election – and perennial holdout Susan Collins of purple state Maine have each expressed support for witnesses in some capacity.
The focus on witnesses come as Democrats continue to bet the next explosive revelation that could somehow shift the arithmetic is right around the corner.
As is so often the case in the Senate, impeachment will kick off not with a substantive debate about the matter at hand, but a clash over the process itself.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell only hours before debate was set to begin put out his proposed rules. They would provide for a series of late night, with blocks of 24 hours set aside for each side to make its case, then another 16 hours for senators to ask written questions.
Schumer blasted the proposal as ‘nothing short of a national disgrace,’ and vowed to try to amend the procedure.
After a two-hour debate over process, Schumer gets to offer his own ideas as amendments – something he is vowing to do. He wants to call at least four witnesses and bring forth documents related to Ukraine. The Senate next is set to go into closed session for lawmakers to figure out a way forward.
That is a throw-back to 1999, when leaders of both parties orchestrated a closed meeting inside the old Senate chamber to figure out how to get to a trial. But in that case, even amid a fraught party clash, senators reached a 100-vote consensus on how to proceed.
The preceding few weeks have seen an astonishing amount of new material emerge, with no certainty yet that it will change any minds in the trial.
House Democrats handed over reams of documents, including voluminous material provided by indicted former Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas, who has said he participated in efforts to get the government of Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.
Parnas turned over such items as a May 2019 letter from Giuliani to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky seeking a private meeting and saying he was acting with Trump’s ‘knowledge and consent.’
He also turned over photos of himself with Trump, Trump family members, and key Trump World figures. His lawyer says he wants to testify.
Each side will make its arguments as best they can in initial one-hour increments. House managers include California Rep. Adam Schiff, who Trump lawyers singled out for denying the president ‘any semblance of fairness’ while overseeing House proceedings.
Schiff, in remarks before the House Intelligence committee, has accused the president of orchestrating a ‘shakedown’ of Ukraine for his own political benefit.
On the sidelines is presidential candidate Vice President Joe Biden, whose own work on Ukraine under President Obama has become part of the Trump defense. Republicans are threatening to call his surviving son, Hunter, as a witness, due to Hunter Biden’s lucrative position on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma, that was part of the push by Trump and his allies for a probe that might tarnish a rival.
But with a trial that could last week, the former VP will have ample time to travel Iowa and early primary states, while rival senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Amy Klobuchar will sit view the trial as jurors in the Senate.
Like fellow colleagues, they won’t be able to make speeches on the floor – just ask written questions.
Also out of the spotlight will be Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani. He was left off the president’s dozen-strong legal team, having spent months arguing the president’s case on television. But he will certainly be part of the record, whether or not former national security advisor John Bolton is allowed to testify. Bolton disparaged the ‘drug deal’ Giuliani was running in Ukraine, according to witness testimony.
Weighing in from across the Atlantic will be President Trump, who opted to fly to meeting at the annual economic conference in Davos. He spent part of Monday tweeting about what he calls the impeachment ‘hoax.’
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