Republicans on Thursday pressed their campaign to discredit the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, with an ally of the president introducing a U.S. Senate resolution calling the procedures used by House of Representatives Democrats unfair but saying nothing about Trump's conduct in the Ukraine scandal.
Forty-four of the 53 Republicans in the 100-seat Senate have signed on to the resolution, which urges the House to hold a formal vote to initiate the impeachment inquiry and give Trump the ability to "confront his accusers" and call his own witnesses, said its lead sponsor, Senator Lindsey Graham. The resolution does not say Trump should not be investigated.
The U.S. Constitution, however, gives the House wide latitude in how to handle impeachment.
The impeachment inquiry focuses on Trump's request in a July telephone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate a domestic political rival, Joe Biden, the former vice president who is a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination to face Trump in the 2020 election.
"I'm not here to tell you that Donald Trump's done nothing wrong. I'm not here to tell you anything other than that the way they're going about it is really dangerous for the country and we need to change course while we can in the House," Graham told a news conference, referring to House Democrats.
Trump's fellow Republicans in Congress this week scaled up efforts to combat the probe after Trump on Monday urged them to get tougher in fighting the Democrats leading it. The inquiry threatens Trump's presidency.
The resolution accused House Democrats of "abandoning more than a century's worth of precedent and tradition in impeachment proceedings and denying President Trump basic fairness and due process accorded every American." The resolution does not defend Trump's behavior in the Ukraine matter.
Even if passed in the Republican-led Senate, the resolution would not affect the House inquiry. However, it would place Republican senators on the record on impeachment at a time when some cracks in Trump's support within his own party have appeared, including pointed criticism from Senator Mitt Romney.
If the House passes articles of impeachment - formal charges - the Senate would then hold a trial on whether to remove Trump from office. A two-thirds majority of the Senate would be required to remove the president. No U.S. president has ever been removed from office via impeachment.
More than two dozen House Republicans barged into a high-security hearing room on Wednesday and delayed for several hours the testimony of a Pentagon official in the impeachment inquiry, complaining about a lack of transparency. Republican members of the three committees leading the House inquiry have taken part in the proceedings throughout.
"Thank you to House Republicans for being tough, smart, and understanding in detail the greatest Witch Hunt in American History. It has been going on since long before I even got Elected (the Insurance Policy!). A total Scam!" Trump wrote on Twitter.
"I'm glad they did it," White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said of the House Republicans, speaking on Fox News.
'FAIRNESS AND DUE PROCESS'
Graham, who on Tuesday agreed with the president's description of the impeachment probe as a "lynching," described the process in use in the House as "illegitimate." Graham also lamented that the Democrats were not using the same procedures that House Republicans used two decades ago when they impeached Democratic President Bill Clinton concerning a sexual relationship with a White House intern.
Republicans have complained about Democrats hearing from witnesses in closed sessions and not allowing lawmakers who are not members of the three committees leading the inquiry from being present for depositions.
Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, accused Trump and his Republican congressional allies of hypocrisy for demanding that impeachment proceedings be done in public even as the administration withholds subpoenaed documents and tries to block testimony to House investigators.
"One the one hand, you say you want everything to be public when it comes to the hearings. But you won't give up any documents," Schumer said on the Senate floor. "The hypocrisy, the self-serving nature of the president's statements and his Republican allies here in the House and Senate is glaring."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced his support for the resolution, saying the House "must adhere to the highest standards of fairness and due process," but did not say when he would bring it up for a vote.
Democrats controlling the impeachment inquiry have said they will hold public hearings in the coming weeks. They hope to complete the inquiry by the end of the year and are coalescing around two articles of impeachment: abuse of power and obstruction, lawmakers and aides have told Reuters.
Authorities at the U.S. Capitol conducted a "sweep" inside the room where the standoff had occurred to check for security breaches such as listening devices after the Republican protest, two sources said on Thursday. Some of the Republican lawmakers had brought cellphones into there room, where electronic devices are prohibited for security purposes.
Trump had withheld $391 million in security aid to Ukraine passed by Congress to help counter Russia-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country.
William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, testified on Tuesday that Trump had made the aid contingent on the Ukrainian president announcing he would investigate Biden, his son Hunter Biden's tenure on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company, and a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine, and not Russia, meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
During the call with Trump, Zelenskiy agreed to the investigations. The aid was later provided.
U.S. election law prohibits candidates from accepting foreign help in an election.
© 2021 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.