White House softens calls for lengthy Senate impeachment trial
The White House is softening its calls for a lengthy Senate impeachment trial that would include several controversial witnesses just as the House prepares to impeach President Trump.
The president and some of his top advisers have indicated publicly in recent days that they are open to a shorter trial in the upper chamber, a view that aligns with multiple Republican senators who have said they hope to quickly acquit Trump if he is impeached in the House.
“Plans are being made. I’m not going to get ahead of the legal strategy just yet, I don’t want to tip our hand,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Wednesday on “Fox & Friends.”
“The president is weighing especially what is best for the country,” she continued. “If we go into a long trial, is that what’s good for the country? We’re not sure yet.”
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, meanwhile, told reporters Monday that she was less concerned about the length of the trial than ensuring it allowed Trump to make his case.
“It’s not about protracted and lengthy or short and quick so much as full and fair,” she said.
Trump himself has been increasingly deferential to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in recent days over the terms of a potential impeachment trial. The president last week told reporters he would be open to “long or short” in terms of trial length, and on Tuesday said he would let McConnell decide how to handle witnesses.
The president previously said he would like to see several witnesses called, including Joe and Hunter Biden, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and the anonymous whistleblower whose complaint about the president’s phone call with Ukraine’s leader triggered the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.
The new shift in tone followed meetings White House counsel Pat Cipollone and legislative affairs director Eric Ueland had with McConnell to coordinate on impeachment strategy.
“We’re having a lot of discussions about the best way to proceed in the event the House actually presents articles of impeachment to the Senate,” Ueland said last week in an interview with The Hill.
McConnell said Tuesday that he does not believe witnesses should be called in a Senate trial, warning that calling certain individuals could lead to “mutual assured destruction.” He rejected a proposal earlier in the day from Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to call four current and former administration officials to testify.
“I think we’ve heard enough. After we’ve heard the arguments, we ought to vote and move on,” McConnell told Fox News Radio.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of Trump’s closest allies in the Senate, also predicted impeachment would “die quickly” in the Senate in an interview with CNN over the weekend.
Negotiations over the parameters of a Senate trial are expected to begin this week.
While the White House has signaled it’s prepared for a quick trial to acquit Trump, no announcements have been made about its legal strategy. Trump has a tendency to change his mind, and could reconsider how he wants witnesses handled in the aftermath of Wednesday’s expected House vote.
Trump has fumed over the House proceedings, blasting the process as unfair and eviscerating top Democrats like Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Schiff, who presided over a slew of public impeachment hearings, over what he views as a partisan “sham.”
“By proceeding with your invalid impeachment, you are violating your oaths of office, you are breaking your allegiance to the Constitution, and you are declaring open war on American Democracy,” Trump wrote in a letter to Pelosi on Tuesday.
Trump and his allies demanded testimony from the whistleblower who raised concerns about his call with Ukraine as well as Schiff during the House proceedings. But Democrats rebutted those efforts, fueling accusations of unfairness from the White House, which itself blocked multiple witnesses from testifying.
Trump has viewed the likely impeachment trial as a venue for vindication, since the GOP-controlled Senate is widely expected to acquit Trump on articles of impeachment likely to be approved by the House along party lines on Wednesday.
Trump earlier this month demanded House Democrats quickly impeach him if they were going to do it so he could mount a robust defense in the Senate, expressing desire to call House Democratic leaders, the Bidens and “many more” to testify.
“I say, if you are going to impeach me, do it now, fast, so we can have a fair trial in the Senate, and so that our Country can get back to business,” Trump tweeted on Dec. 5, just before Pelosi ordered her chairmen to move forward with drafting articles of impeachment.
“We will have Schiff, the Bidens, Pelosi and many more testify, and will reveal, for the first time, how corrupt our system really is. I was elected to ‘Clean the Swamp,’ and that’s what I am doing!” Trump tweeted.