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House Democrats may call new impeachment witnesses if Senate doesn't

Key House Democrats pressing the Senate to hear from new witnesses in President TrumpDonald TrumpIran convicts American businessman on spying charge: report DC, state capitals see few issues, heavy security amid protest worries Pardon-seekers have paid Trump allies tens of thousands to lobby president: NYT MORE’s impeachment trial are leaving the door open to another possibility: calling those witnesses themselves if Senate Republicans do not.

House Democrats impeached Trump last month on two charges related to his handling of foreign policy in Ukraine, but their investigations into the issue remain open even as the spotlight turns to the launch of the Senate trial.

Democrats in both chambers are hoping the emergence of new evidence and eyewitness offers to testify will force Senate GOP leaders to consider the unexplored information, including captivating details of Trump’s pressure campaign recently provided by Lev Parnas, a Soviet-born businessman with close ties to Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiOfficials brace for second Trump impeachment trial Sunday shows - Capital locked down ahead of Biden's inauguration Rove: Chances of conviction rise if Giuliani represents Trump in Senate impeachment trial MORE.

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Most Senate Republicans, taking cues from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGraham calls on Schumer to hold vote to dismiss article of impeachment against Trump Rove: Chances of conviction rise if Giuliani represents Trump in Senate impeachment trial Boebert communications director resigns amid Capitol riot: report MORE (R-Ky.), oppose any effort to seek testimony from Parnas and other key figures who refused to cooperate in the initial House investigation — a list that includes John BoltonJohn BoltonNSA places former GOP political operative in top lawyer position after Pentagon chief's reported order After insurrection: The national security implications McConnell won't reprise role as chief Trump defender MORE, Trump's former national security adviser, who has since changed his tune and offered to testify under subpoena.

Yet even if McConnell has his way and prevents new witnesses from appearing, they may find a stage in the House, where a number of Democrats are already advocating for their testimony if they’re silenced by the Senate.

“We would be remiss in the House of Representatives not to follow this trail to its conclusion. And Parnas has emerged as an important figure in this criminal conspiracy to force or coerce a foreign government to help Trump's reelection campaign,” said Rep. Hank JohnsonHenry (Hank) C. JohnsonHouse Judiciary Democrats ask Pence to invoke 25th Amendment to remove Trump Five things to watch during Electoral College battle Hoyer says Trump Georgia call likely criminal, wants 'serious' investigation MORE (D-Ga.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, which drafted the impeachment articles late last year.

With Democrats hoping to maximize the pressure on Senate Republicans through the trial phase, Judiciary members have not discussed that strategy in any depth, Johnson emphasized. But it’s likely to gain favor with committee leaders, he said, if Senate Republicans deny new and willing witnesses a voice.  

“They have their eye on it,” Johnson said.

Rep. Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelState Department sets up new bureau for cybersecurity and emerging technologies How Congress dismissed women's empowerment 2020: A year in photos MORE (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which had some jurisdiction over Trump's impeachment, stopped just short of saying Democrats would summon relevant witnesses if the Senate does not. But he left the door wide open to doing so, vowing that Democrats will charge ahead with their Ukrainian investigation “if we're feeling that we're being played and that they're not being forthcoming with the truth.”

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“We're not going to just say, ‘OK, we've disposed of it and now the ball’s in their court and there’s nothing left for us to do.’ I think quite the contrary,” Engel said. “The more we hear, and the more things come out, the more resolute we are to make sure that we're dealing with the truth, and that it’s not being swept under the rug.”

The comments came the same day that House Democrats, led by Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffAngus King warns of 'grave danger' of Trump revealing classified information Schiff says 'massive intelligence and security failure' led to Capitol breach Sunday shows - Capital locked down ahead of Biden's inauguration MORE (D-Calif.), presented the two impeachment articles to the Senate, where John Roberts, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, swore in the 100 senators to do “impartial justice” in weighing whether Trump's conduct merits his removal. The trial begins formally on Tuesday.

The Democrats' impeachment case rests on the argument that Trump violated his office in withholding almost $400 million in military aid to Ukraine last summer to pressure the country's president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to open investigations into the 2016 elections and the son of former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenFear of insider attack prompts additional FBI screening of National Guard troops: AP Iran convicts American businessman on spying charge: report DC, state capitals see few issues, heavy security amid protest worries MORE. Both probes might have helped Trump politically, and Democrats charged the president on two fronts: abusing his power in seeking foreign help in an election; and obstructing Congress as the House sought to investigate the affair.

“The president necessitated this by his abuse of power and his obstruction of Congress and his actions which undermined our national security, violated his oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution and jeopardized the integrity of our elections,” Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiCowboys for Trump founder arrested following Capitol riot Retired Army general: 'We can't have demonstrators showing up at a state Capitol with damn long guns' Graham calls on Schumer to hold vote to dismiss article of impeachment against Trump MORE (D-Calif.) said Thursday.

Throughout the months-long House investigation, lawmakers heard from a host of diplomats and national security officials — both current and former — with insights into Trump's campaign to win the investigations he sought from Ukrainian leaders. Many sounded warnings that the shadow foreign policy in Kyiv — led by Giuliani — prioritized Trump’s political interests even as it threatened U.S.-Ukraine relations and efforts to contain Russian aggression in the region.

This week, Parnas offered vivid new details of that campaign, providing Democrats with a trove of documents, phone records, emails and text-messages related to his communications with Giuliani, a disreputable Ukrainian prosecutor, an unstable Republican landscaper and others who participated in the effort to oust Marie YovanovitchMarie YovanovitchTrump has discussed possible pardons for three eldest children, Kushner: report Former Giuliani associates plead not guilty to new fraud charges Why it's time for a majority female Cabinet MORE, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine whom Trump recalled in April.

“President Trump knew exactly what was going on,” Parnas told MSNBC's Rachel MaddowRachel Anne MaddowA vaccine, a Burrito and more: 7 lighter, memorable moments from 2020 Klobuchar: Trump 'trying to burn this country down on his way out' DC attorney general: Ivanka Trump 'highly misleading' on lawsuit deposition MORE last week. “He was aware of all my movements.”

Trump, for his part, has denied any connection to Parnas.

“I don’t know who this man is,” Trump said Thursday.

Parnas and another Soviet-born businessman, Igor Fruman, were both arrested in October and charged in New York on unrelated campaign finance charges. Given those legal troubles, many Republicans have dismissed Parnas as a potential witness, saying he simply lacks the credibility to be of any value in the case.

“I wouldn't trust him as far as I can throw him,” Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham calls on Schumer to hold vote to dismiss article of impeachment against Trump Impeachment trial tests Trump's grip on Senate GOP An attack on America that's divided Congress — and a nation MORE (R-S.C.) said last week.

Democrats have a different view, noting that much of the information Parnas provided came in the form of concrete communications records and physical documents.

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Rep. Val DemingsValdez (Val) Venita DemingsSeven Senate races to watch in 2022 Demings on Florida: 'We're excited about what we're seeing' but 'taking absolutely nothing for granted' Why it's time for a majority female Cabinet MORE (D-Fla.), the former police chief of Orlando and now one of the seven Democratic impeachment managers, acknowledged that Parnas is ”someone who's had his issues.”

“But as a former law enforcement officer,” she quickly added, “I also know that we've been able to put some pretty strong cases together for people who ... have started on the wrong side, but decided to try to right their wrongs by cooperating with our state attorney. And that could be the situation here.”

Rep. Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyFreshman GOP lawmaker apologizes for Hitler quote Newly sworn-in Republican lawmaker condemned by Holocaust Museum after Hitler quote 150 House Democrats support Biden push to reenter Iran nuclear deal MORE (D-Ill.) agreed.

“They may find him credible, may not, but it also may lead to other information," she said, urging the Senate to call him in.

Included in the records Parnas relinquished was a previously unknown May 10 letter from Giuliani to Zelensky asking for a 30-minute meeting — a request Giuliani said was made “with [Trump's] knowledge and consent.”

Trump last week denied any knowledge of the Giuliani letter. “But if he wrote a letter,” the president added, “it wouldn't have been a big deal.”

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Aside from Parnas and Bolton, Democrats are also clamoring to hear testimony from a number of other administration officials, many of whom had declined to appear before the lower chamber last year after the White House blocked their participation.

Schakowsky said she wants to summon Giuliani to testify, while Johnson suggested Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyAuthor: Meadows is history's worst White House chief of staff The Hill's Morning Report - House to impeach Trump this week Democrats, GOP face defining moments after Capitol riot MORE, Trump's acting chief of staff, and Mike PompeoMike PompeoBiden should expand contact between US and Taiwanese officials On The Money: Retail sales drop in latest sign of weakening economy | Fast-food workers strike for minimum wage | US officials raise concerns over Mexico's handling of energy permits US officials raise concerns over Mexico's handling of energy permits MORE, the secretary of State, should also appear.

“Just the whole list that has been ... talked about earlier — but add Lev Parnas to the list,” Johnson said.

Jordain Carney contributed.