Tags: Trump Impeachment | mcconnell | impeach

McConnell Bows to GOP Moderates With Trial Rule Changes

McConnell Bows to GOP Moderates With Trial Rule Changes
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellat a ceremony in Washington this month.  (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Tuesday, 21 January 2020 03:28 PM

President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial formally opened in the Senate with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell making last-minute changes to the ground rules, which could still allow the proceedings to wrap up within days.

Responding to objections from within Republican ranks, McConnell altered the trial resolution to give House impeachment managers and Trump’s defense 24 hours spread over three days for each side to make their cases, rather than the two days he initially proposed.

Also, House impeachment inquiry transcripts will be entered into the evidence, rather than being subject to a vote later in the trial.

“The Senate’s fair process will draw a sharp contrast with the unfair and precedent-breaking inquiry that was carried on by the House of Representatives,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said he still plans to propose amendments to the trial rules, primarily to introduce witnesses and new evidence.

“The McConnell rules seem to be designed by President Trump, for President Trump,” Schumer said earlier at a news conference. “It’s a cover up.”

The trial, with Chief Justice John Roberts presiding, opened with a reading of the resolution and initial statements regarding the rules by Democratic Representative Adam Schiff for the House impeachment managers and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone for the president’s defense team.

Cipollone’s statement in support of McConnell’s resolution was brief, saying the only conclusion “will be the president has done absolutely nothing wrong” and the House has “absolutely no case.”

“We respectively ask you to adopt this resolution so we can begin this process,” he said.

Schiff delivered extended remarks, arguing that the Senate should call witnesses as was done in other impeachment cases, including two former presidents and federal judges. McConnell’s rules defer the question of calling witnesses until after opening arguments and 16 hours of questioning by senators.

“I believe the most important decision in this case is the one you will make today -- will the president and the American people get a fair trial?” Schiff said.

The scheduled 1 p.m. start of the trial was delayed for almost 20 minutes as senators milled around chatting. When Roberts opened the trial, the chamber hushed as hand shakes and smiles gave way to serious and sober looks on both sides of the aisle.

Wielding a 53-47 Senate majority, Republicans will have an early chance for a powerful show of partisan unity behind a GOP leader who publicly vowed to coordinate strategy with the White House.

Trump’s eventual acquittal appears virtually assured, with a super-majority of 67 votes needed to convict him and not a single GOP senator suggesting Trump deserves to be removed from office. The trial’s real wild card is its political impact in a year when control of the White House and both chambers of Congress are in play.

The presidential impeachment trial, only the third in U.S. history, comes amid polling that shows most Americans back bringing in new witnesses and other evidence.

More than three in four Americans say Trump administration officials, and the president himself, should be invited to testify before the Senate, according to a poll from Monmouth University released Tuesday. Two other recent polls showed similar results. The Monmouth survey also found that 57% of Americans say the House managers should be able to introduce new evidence to support the two articles of impeachment.

The White House and impeachment managers released filings on Monday in which both sides argued that constitutional separation of powers is at stake in the trial.

The president’s 171-page filing contends that the House failed to prove that the president explicitly linked aid for Ukraine to an investigation Trump sought into former Vice President Joe Biden, who is seeking to challenge Trump in the November election. The president’s lawyers argued that the Senate should swiftly reject the impeachment articles.

The White House also announced that eight House Republicans who’ve been among the president’s most vocal defenders would serve as part of his team “working to combat this hyper-partisan and baseless impeachment.”

They include Reps. Doug Collins, Jim Jordan, Mark Meadows and Elise Stefanik, all of whom were prominent during the House’s impeachment investigation and have made frequent media appearances on behalf of the president. They will provide guidance for the defense and push Trump’s case in the media, according to an administration official.

House impeachment managers had a few strategic moves of their own. In a letter Tuesday, they said Cipollone, who is Trump’s lead defense lawyer, is himself a “fact witness” who must turn over evidence and whose trial involvement raises ethical questions.

“You must disclose all facts and information as to which you have first-hand knowledge that will be at issue in connection with evidence you present or arguments you make in your role as the president’s legal advocate so that the Senate and chief justice can be apprised of any potential ethical issues, conflicts, or biases,” they wrote to Cipollone.

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley dismissed the move as “completely absurd.”

McConnell said previously that the rules for the process would closely track the rules of Bill Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial, though the initial proposal released Monday night had significant differences. Those included giving each side two days to present their cases and not automatically accepting the House impeachment inquiry material as evidence.

McConnell made changes immediately after a closed-door meeting with all Senate Republicans to discuss his proposal.

Sen. Susan Collins, who is considered a key vote on the question of whether to allow witnesses, was among those who raised concern about compressing the House and defense arguments into two days and admitting the House transcript into the record.

“Her position has been that the trial should follow the Clinton model as much as possible,” said Annie Clark, a Collins spokeswoman. “She thinks these changes are a significant improvement.”

McConnell’s proposal doesn’t specifically include a motion to dismiss the charges against Trump, after the majority leader said there wasn’t enough Senate support to pass it. However, the resolution allows for that option, and the White House has said it is reserving its right to use it.

Schumer said one aspect of McConnell’s resolution that Democrats find particularly objectionable is a proposal to have a vote late in the trial about whether or not to subpoena documents and more witnesses. Only if that succeeds, he pointed out, would the Senate go on to debate who should come. The added “obstacle” he said, has the potential effect of voiding the big fight on witnesses Democrats want.

Schumer’s first proposed amendment to the trial procedures is one that would have the Senate subpoena what could be thousands of pages of documents related to the charges against Trump. That includes any related to meetings or calls between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, as well as probes or inquiries regarding Ukraine including any that relate to Biden, his son Hunter Biden and Burisma Holdings.

McConnell initially pressed his rank and file to coalesce behind a plan to have no witnesses, but he bowed to the demands of four Republican senators who insisted that there at least be a vote on whether to call witnesses. Those senators are Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

Collins, Murkowski and Romney have each indicated they could be inclined to vote with Democrats on specific witnesses, but they haven’t committed to doing so.

Romney said he would oppose any attempt to vote on witnesses early on, adding that he “made clear to my colleagues and the public that the Senate should have the opportunity to decide on witnesses following the opening arguments, as occurred in the Clinton trial.”

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President Donald Trump's impeachment trial formally opened in the Senate with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell making last-minute changes to the ground rules, which could still allow the proceedings to wrap up within days. Responding to objections from within Republican...
mcconnell, impeach
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2020-28-21
Tuesday, 21 January 2020 03:28 PM
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