Republicans wrestle with impeachment strategy

Senate Republicans realize they need to push back more aggressively on the fast-moving impeachment inquiry in the House, but they have yet to display a unified strategy. 

The disunity comes as public opinion polls show growing support for impeachment proceedings, giving more momentum to congressional Democrats almost three weeks after Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiMcCarthy: Pelosi appointing members of Jan. 6 panel who share 'pre-conceived narrative' Kinzinger denounces 'lies and conspiracy theories' while accepting spot on Jan. 6 panel Pelosi taps Kinzinger to serve on Jan. 6 panel MORE (D-Calif.) announced the inquiry.

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Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamDACA court ruling puts weight of immigration reform on Democrats Senate braces for a nasty debt ceiling fight Bipartisan group says it's still on track after setback on Senate floor MORE (R-S.C.) is spearheading the GOP counteroffensive and plans to call President TrumpDonald TrumpRonny Jackson, former White House doctor, predicts Biden will resign McCarthy: Pelosi appointing members of Jan. 6 panel who share 'pre-conceived narrative' Kinzinger denounces 'lies and conspiracy theories' while accepting spot on Jan. 6 panel MORE’s personal lawyer, Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiBob Dole: 'I'm a Trumper' but 'I'm sort of Trumped out' Ex-Trump adviser Barrack charged with secretly lobbying for UAE Aides who clashed with Giuliani intentionally gave him wrong time for Trump debate prep: book MORE, before his panel to testify about former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHouse Republican calls second bout of COVID-19 'far more challenging' Conflicting school mask guidance sparks confusion Biden: Pathway to citizenship in reconciliation package 'remains to be seen' MORE and Ukrainian corruption.

But Senate GOP aides warn the risky move could backfire on Republicans.

“I think bringing Rudy Giuliani to the Senate Judiciary Committee is probably a mistake,” said a Senate Republican aide, who requested anonymity to discuss party strategy. “He’s not the stable lawyer that he once was. He’s become Trumpian in saying whatever sounds good at the moment. It’s one thing when you’re doing that on TV, it’s another when you’re under oath to a congressional committee.” 

The aide, however, said there’s pressure on Graham to get more aggressive in response to the escalating tactics of House Democrats.

“If the House isn’t going to follow the norms of impeachment and do a vote and do legitimate live hearings then I think Graham is going to be more inclined to do some stunts,” the aide said. 

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Graham initially said he did not want to delve into the allegations being pushed by Giuliani, who claims that efforts to interfere in the 2016 election likely originated in Ukraine. He is also calling for an investigation into unsubstantiated allegations that Biden interfered in Ukrainian anti-corruption efforts.

Graham told reporters before the two-week October recess that he didn’t want to unleash a storm of partisan bickering by launching a Ukraine probe. 

“I don’t want to turn the Senate into a circus,” he said. “We’re not going to do anything because we don’t have any jurisdiction. I have no interest in opening up that front. I don’t want to blow up the Senate.”

But Graham, who has been in contact with Giuliani, abruptly shifted gears this past week, announcing he will now have Trump’s personal lawyer testify. 

“It’s very helpful because at the right time it will give me the opportunity to show all my evidence as if I were prosecuting a case. If they don’t think they I have evidence, they don’t me,” Giuliani told The Hill in an interview Thursday.

Giuliani called Graham “a good friend of mine,” saying he has talked to the South Carolina Republican, considered one of Trump’s strongest Senate allies, about efforts to delve into the Ukraine controversy. 

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, are itching to pounce on Giuliani if he comes up to Capitol Hill. Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerCould Andrew Cuomo — despite scandals — be re-elected because of Trump? Democratic negotiator: 'I believe we will' have infrastructure bill ready on Monday DACA court ruling puts weight of immigration reform on Democrats MORE (D-N.Y.) has demanded he testify under oath. 

Democrats could barrage Giuliani with a range of questions about Trump’s involvement in efforts to push Ukraine to investigate Biden, and give the three Democrats on the panel running for president — Sens. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharBiden signals tough stance on tech with antitrust picks Hillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill to hold platforms accountable for misinformation during health crises | Website outages hit Olympics, Amazon and major banks Competition laws could be a death knell for startup mergers and acquisitions MORE (Minn.), Cory BookerCory BookerCongress can make progress on fighting emissions with Zero Food Waste Act Scott: 'There is hope' for police reform bill Kavanaugh conspiracy? Demands to reopen investigation ignore both facts and the law MORE (N.J.) and Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisWill Pence primary Trump — and win? Kavanaugh conspiracy? Demands to reopen investigation ignore both facts and the law 'CON laws' limit the health care competition Biden aims to deliver MORE (Calif.) — a national platform to go on the attack. 

Giuliani told The Hill that he would expect to testify under oath but hasn’t yet decided whether he’ll accept Graham’s invitation. 

If he doesn’t testify, it would present Graham with a serious dilemma of whether to move ahead without a star witness.

Giuliani told The Hill that he’s working on lining up alternative witnesses. 

“I began it and I have the best overview of it,” he said of his investigation into Ukrainian corruption and possible ties to Biden. “Some of these Ukrainians have a lot more information than I have. So I’m trying to get them to come over here to get interviewed.” 

Democrats would undoubtedly challenge the credibility of Giuliani’s witnesses, particularly in the wake of federal charges filed against two of his associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who helped dig up information on Ukrainian corruption and potential links to Biden. 

Ukrainian-born Parnas and Fruman, who was born in Belarus, were arrested Wednesday night at Dulles International Airport with one-way tickets out of the country. Both men are U.S. citizens.

Giuliani suggested that Graham has also changed his mind on inviting Biden and his son Hunter to testify.

But the Senate Republican aide predicted that’s unlikely.

“I don’t think that Biden would be called. I think that’s probably Giuliani more than Graham,” the aide said. 

Launching a Senate investigation into Ukrainian corruption and the Bidens could put vulnerable Republicans in a tough spot heading into 2020.

Sen. Cory GardnerCory GardnerEx-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm Biden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program Gardner to lead new GOP super PAC ahead of midterms MORE (R-Colo.), a top Democratic target next year, repeatedly declined to say Thursday if it was appropriate for Trump to ask a foreign leader to investigate Biden.

GOP Sens. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstGrassley pressured to run as Democrats set sights on Iowa Republicans focus tax hike opposition on capital gains change Biden signs bill to bolster crime victims fund MORE (Iowa) and Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallySchumer, Tim Scott lead as Senate fundraising pace heats up GOP group launches million ad campaign pressing Kelly on filibuster Democrats facing tough reelections back bipartisan infrastructure deal MORE (Ariz.), two other incumbents up for reelection next year, also stopped short of rendering a judgment.

Ernst said she didn’t have enough information and McSally just urged Congress to treat the impeachment inquiry in a “serious and solemn manner.”

A second Senate Republican aide said GOP leaders initially wanted to steer clear of the politics of impeachment and paint it as a frivolous, partisan exercise by House Democrats that would interfere with passing regular legislation.

But the thinking has changed in light of new polls showing Democrats are making strides in the court of public opinion, with a growing number of Americans now saying Trump should be impeaching.

“What Graham is thinking is the House is producing all this news and information and it’s all against the president, and when it’s not, they don’t release it,” said the GOP aide.

“I think there’s a desire within the conference to go on offense and that’s what this is,” the aide added.

A Fox News poll released Wednesday showed that a record 51 percent of voters want to see Trump impeached and removed from office.

A survey by PBS NewsHour, NPR and Marist published Thursday found that 52 percent of Americans and 54 percent of independents support the impeachment inquiry. 

Graham said he plans to circulate a letter among fellow Senate Republicans informing Pelosi that a majority of the Senate GOP conference believes Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was not an impeachable offense.

Other Senate Republicans have also stepped up their attacks on Pelosi in recent days.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGrassley pressured to run as Democrats set sights on Iowa House Democrats grow frustrated as they feel ignored by Senate Democrats question GOP shift on vaccines MORE (R-Ky.) on Tuesday blasted House Democrats for launching the impeachment inquiry.

“Overturning the results of an American election requires the highest level of fairness and due process, as it strikes at the core of our democratic process,” he tweeted. “So far, the House has fallen far short by failing to follow the same basic procedures that it has followed for every other President in our history.” 

The emerging consensus among Republicans is that the best way to respond to any articles of impeachment passed by the House is to dismiss them as quickly as possible in the Senate, likely without a trial.

Giuliani told The Hill that a Senate trial would have negative repercussions on the country. 

“It would probably be dismissed immediately,” he said, adding it would be “horrible” if impeachment articles passed the House and resulted in a Senate trial.