Republicans consider skipping witnesses in Trump impeachment trial
Senate Republicans are weighing a speedy impeachment trial that could include no witnesses for President Trump’s legal team or for House Democrats.
The discussions come as the House is moving forward with articles of impeachment against Trump, teeing up a trial in the Senate that would start in January.
The White House has indicated publicly that it has a wish list of potential witnesses, including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Hunter Biden and the whistleblower who sparked the impeachment inquiry.
But Republican senators, including Trump allies and members of leadership, appear reluctant to drag themselves through a drawn-out trial with messy procedural votes when the outcome appears pre-baked.
“I think a protracted period where there are motions to call witnesses offered by both sides and lots of votes … is not going to be terribly popular with either side. I think there’s going to be a desire to wrap this up in at least somewhat of a timely way,” Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Republican senator, told reporters.
He added that while a final decision won’t be made until closer to the trial, “there’s going to be a lot of people who I think are going to say, ‘I don’t really want to drag this on.’”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked about the possibility of a Senate trial where neither side got witnesses, replied: “I hope so. That’s what I like.”
Pressed on the White House wanting to call individuals like Schiff, he noted that Democrats could, in turn, call Vice President Pence or Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“I want to end this thing as quickly as possible,” Graham added.
How to handle witnesses, or who would be called as a witness, has become a persistent point of debate among senators as they try to game out what a trial would look like.
Though both Trump’s legal team and the House impeachment managers would be able to request witnesses, they’ll need the backing of 51 senators to win the procedural motions to formally call a particular witness. Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the chamber.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, warned against getting into a “bidding war” over witnesses.
“When the outcome is almost certain, once both sides have presented their case, I think it would be legitimate to ask is there anymore that we need to hear that is going to change the result, and if not how much more time is reasonable to spend on this?” Blunt said.
He added that “surely no one wants to get into a bidding war of upping the ante on who can call what witnesses, just for the sake of calling witnesses.”
During the Clinton impeachment trial, the Senate passed a resolution 100-0 that established the procedure for filing motions, how long senators would get to ask questions and how witnesses would be called.
A second resolution, on witnesses, broke down along party lines. It allowed for subpoenas for key figures such as Monica Lewinsky, Sidney Blumenthal and Vernon Jordan Jr. to testify as part of the trial.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), during a weekly press conference on Tuesday, laid out two possible paths for what could happen in Trump’s impeachment trial after the House managers and Trump’s team make their case.
“It could go down the path of calling witnesses and basically having another trial or it could decide and again 51 members could make that decision that they have heard enough and believe they know what would happen and could move to vote on the two articles of impeachment sent over to us by the House. Those are the options. No decisions have been made yet,” McConnell said.
Pressed on his preference and how he thinks any potential witnesses should be handled, the tightlipped GOP leader demurred, saying: “We will make that decision after we have heard the opening arguments.”
The discussions among GOP senators about skipping witnesses come even as the White House is saying it wants to call Schiff, Hunter Biden and others to testify in a Senate trial. Republicans have viewed them as top targets for weeks, but House Democrats blocked their request to call them as part of the public hearings.
“I know the president has made clear he wants Adam Schiff, he wants Hunter Biden, he wants Joe Biden, and many others, but we don’t have a witness list past what he has already said publicly,” Hogan Gidley, a spokesman for the White House, told reporters on Tuesday.
The White House has not formally said who it will try to call as part of a Senate trial. Senators said on Tuesday that they had not gotten a final decision from Trump’s team about what their game plan is or who, if anyone, they would like to call.
Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) said GOP senators were debating rules around witnesses, but the discussions were ongoing.
“I think the issue would be whether you’re going to call witnesses or not, in general,” he added.
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) predicted the White House would be able to get the 51 votes to call witnesses, including Hunter Biden, but questioned the potential political fallout. Republicans have several senators in tough races next year including two — Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Cory Gardner (Colo.) — from Clinton-won states.
“Obviously House managers might want to call [former national security adviser] John Bolton and the president might want to call the whistleblower. There are probably a lot of senators who would rather not vote on either of those,” Cramer said.
Pressed specifically on Hunter Biden, Cramer added: “I think 51 senators would vote for that. Now 40 of them might rather not vote. … I think the political problem is what happens to some of the 51 in the upcoming election.”
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