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 PelosiImpeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Klobuchar: 'I have seen no reason why' Hunter Biden would need to testify Johnson dismisses testimony from White House officials contradicting Trump as 'just their impression' MORE (D-Calif.) announced the inquiry.

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Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamImpeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Graham on the impeachment inquiry: 'I made my mind up. There's nothing there' Rand Paul says Trump has 'every right' to withhold Ukraine aid over corruption MORE (R-S.C.) is spearheading the GOP counteroffensive and plans to call President TrumpDonald John TrumpThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Impeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Judd Gregg: The big, big and bigger problem MORE’s personal lawyer, Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiImpeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point This week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Giuliani associate says he sought to pressure Ukraine to investigate Bidens MORE, before his panel to testify about former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenImpeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Trump DACA fight hits Supreme Court Juan Williams: Honesty, homophobia and Mayor Pete 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 SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTop Senate Dem: Officials timed immigration policy around 2020 election Senate fight derails bipartisan drug pricing bills Trump has officially appointed one in four circuit court judges 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 Jean KlobucharDemocrats debate how to defeat Trump: fight or heal Republicans, Democrats brace for first public testimony in impeachment inquiry Klobuchar: A woman with Buttigieg's experience would not be on presidential debate stage MORE (Minn.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerThe Hill's Campaign Report: Bloomberg looks to upend Democratic race Poll: Biden support hits record low of 26 percent The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump demands Bidens testify MORE (N.J.) and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisJuan Williams: Honesty, homophobia and Mayor Pete Democrats debate how to defeat Trump: fight or heal Women who inspired 'Hidden Figures' film will be honored with congressional gold medals 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 Scott GardnerThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Progressive veterans group launches campaign labeling Trump as a 'national security threat' It's time for Congress to establish a national mental health crisis number 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 ErnstThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry GOP senators plan to tune out impeachment week Senate talks on stalled Violence Against Women Act reauthorization unravel MORE (Iowa) and Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Progressive veterans group launches campaign labeling Trump as a 'national security threat' Advocates step up efforts for horse racing reform bill after more deaths 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 McConnellThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Progressive veterans group launches campaign labeling Trump as a 'national security threat' GOP senators plan to tune out impeachment week 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.