Trump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans

White House counsel Pat Cipollone previewed aspects of a likely Senate impeachment trial with Republican senators Wednesday, highlighting procedural rules while also decrying what he called an unfair inquiry in the House.

Senators who attended the lunch meeting with Cipollone said he spent much of the time discussing which articles of impeachment the House is likely to hit President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrumps light 97th annual National Christmas Tree Trump to hold campaign rally in Michigan 'Don't mess with Mama': Pelosi's daughter tweets support following press conference comments MORE with and what supporting facts Democrats will use to make their case in the Senate.

A White House official said the meeting was “the outgrowth of a conversation between several members [in the Senate] and all of us over at the White House” who thought it would be a “good time” for Trump’s legal team to meet with the entire GOP conference.

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Cipollone also argued that the House inquiry was flawed because Trump’s defense team was not given the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses and Republicans were constrained in calling their own witnesses, GOP senators said.

“He said a number of times, ‘We don’t think there’s any reason the House should send this to the Senate,’ ” said Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntTrump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans Overnight Defense: Trump cancels presser, cuts short NATO trip | Viral video catches leaders appearing to gossip about Trump | Dem witnesses say Trump committed impeachable offenses | Trump reportedly mulling more troops in Middle East Trump legal team gears up for Senate impeachment trial in meeting with GOP senators MORE (R-Mo.) when asked about Cipollone’s message to Republican senators.

Cipollone said several times that the House Democrats’ case against Trump wasn’t strong enough to warrant an impeachment vote, reflecting a belief among some White House officials that Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Pelosi 'Don't mess with Mama': Pelosi's daughter tweets support following press conference comments Bloomberg: Trump should be impeached On The Money: Congress races to beat deadline on shutdown | Trump asks Supreme Court to shield financial records from House Democrats | House passes bill to explicitly ban insider trading MORE (D-Calif.) might stop short of a final vote that could put moderate Democrats from swing districts in a tough spot.

While Pelosi has not said an impeachment vote is a certainty, the House is expected to move forward with articles of impeachment this month.

Wednesday’s meeting with Cipollone was hosted by Senate Republican Steering Committee Chairman Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeHillicon Valley: Pelosi works to remove legal protections for tech companies from USMCA | Treasury sanctions Russian group over 0 million hack | Facebook sues Chinese individuals for ad fraud | Huawei takes legal action against FCC Senators defend bipartisan bill on facial recognition as cities crack down Trump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans MORE (Utah), who met on at least two prior occasions with the White House counsel to discuss the Senate impeachment process.

Trump has also hosted a series of weekly meetings with small groups of GOP senators at the White House to shore up his relations with lawmakers who could ultimately vote on whether to remove him from office.

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With the prospect of a Senate trial becoming more likely, some Republicans were growing concerned they had little sense of what to expect.

“Trials don’t happen very often, so members have lots of questions about what’s going to happen,” said one GOP senator. “There were a lot of members who were starting to panic because they didn’t know, they didn’t know who was in charge.”

Sen. Mike BraunMichael BraunTrump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans Pressure grows on House GOP leaders to hold line ahead of impeachment trial Senate approves stopgap bill to prevent shutdown MORE (R-Ind.) told reporters Wednesday that some senators weren’t clear on questions like how many votes it would take to decide key procedural questions.

“Like the vote threshold, a lot of us were uncertain there,” Braun said.

Fifty-one votes will be needed to pass procedural motions.

Republican lawmakers familiar with the preparations for the Senate trial described Cipollone as the “quarterback” in charge of the legal strategy, even while Trump has handled much of the political and communications component.

Some GOP senators have urged Trump to step back from the partisan fighting and not let himself be so consumed by it, a strategy that former President Clinton employed effectively during his impeachment.

Republican senators who attended Wednesday’s meeting said much of it was spent discussing what the House impeachment managers’ case was likely to look like in the Senate.

Lawmakers asked Cipollone about timing and “what should we do when we get it,” referring to the articles of impeachment, another GOP senator said.

The White House counsel and Senate Republicans also discussed the likelihood of articles of impeachment including new information or accusations that haven’t yet come up in the House hearings, according to two senators in the room.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP senator blocks Armenian genocide resolution Hannity slams Stern for Clinton interview: 'Not the guy I grew up listening to' The Hill's Morning Report - Dem dilemma on articles of impeachment MORE (R-S.C.) predicted after the meeting that House Democrats will draft and vote on multiple articles of impeachment.

“This will be designed to allow Dem House members to vote FOR some articles and AGAINST others. They will ‘try’ to give the appearance of fairness,” Graham tweeted.

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There was some discussion about the ability to call witnesses, but Trump’s counsel didn’t provide any specific names, leaving GOP senators unsure of whether the president’s team will try to bring in the anonymous whistleblower who sparked the impeachment inquiry, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffWhite House adopts confident tone after Pelosi signals go on impeachment Democrats could introduce articles of impeachment next week The shifting impeachment positions of Jonathan Turley MORE (D-Calif.) or former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump to hold campaign rally in Michigan Castro hits fundraising threshold for December debate Buttigieg draws fresh scrutiny, attacks in sprint to Iowa MORE’s son Hunter Biden.

The meeting also left unanswered exactly how long the Senate trial might last.

Senators said it could last a month or longer, citing Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial, which lasted about five weeks.

As Cipollone met with the GOP conference, the Senate released its legislative calendar for 2020, which left the entire month of January blank in anticipation of a trial.

“I’ve heard there’s a big shotgun hole in the middle of January with nothing on it,” said Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordTrump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans Israeli, Palestinian business leaders seek Trump boost for investment project The Hill's Morning Report — Schiff: Clear evidence of a quid pro quo MORE (R-Okla.).

Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerGOP senator blocks Armenian genocide resolution Trump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans Schumer briefs Democrats on impeachment trial 'mechanics' MORE (R-N.D.) said GOP leaders have to prepare for the “worst case” scenario of a trial stretching for multiple weeks.

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Blunt, the chairman of the Rules and Administration Committee, said if the House passes articles of impeachment, Senate leaders will look at the calendar and assess if there’s a chance to strike a bipartisan deal to set the rules of the trial.

If Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocratic challenger to Joni Ernst releases ad depicting her as firing gun at him Senate confirms eight Trump court picks in three days The case for censuring, and not impeaching, Donald Trump MORE (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson — Democrats call on Supreme Court to block Louisiana abortion law | Michigan governor seeks to pause Medicaid work requirements | New front in fight over Medicaid block grants House, Senate Democrats call on Supreme Court to block Louisiana abortion law Why a second Trump term and a Democratic Congress could be a nightmare scenario for the GOP MORE (D-N.Y.) fail to reach a deal, McConnell will try to muster 51 votes within his conference to pass a partisan rules package.

McConnell on Tuesday told reporters that if the Senate fails to pass a rules package at the start of the trial, debate will proceed, and the chamber will hold a series of votes on various procedural motions.

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulTrump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans Democratic congressman calls for study of effects of sex-trafficking law McConnell says he's 'honored' to be WholeFoods Magazine's 2019 'Person of the Year' MORE (R-Ky.), who spoke at Wednesday’s meeting, said he will offer a motion to dismiss the impeachment articles after the House prosecutors and the president’s defense team have a chance to present their arguments.

“Under the Clinton impeachment rules, a motion to dismiss was allowed after opening arguments. So I would think at the very least we should have that. If there’s going to be opening arguments, we should do like we did in the Clinton trial and at least have a motion to dismiss at that point,” he said.

Paul also said he would push hard to allow the president’s defense team broad authority to choose their witnesses.

“The other thing that I think needs to be very clear is that the president gets to call any witness he so desires for his defense,” he said.

Jordain Carney contributed.