Republicans deny Democrats’ request for witnesses, evidence at trial


National News

January 22, 2020 - 9:47 AM

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks during a press conference on the first day of the Senate impeachment trial against President Donald Trump on Tuesday. (Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS)

WASHINGTON — In an overtly partisan start to the third presidential impeachment trial in American history, Senate Republicans on Tuesday repeatedly brushed aside Democratic proposals to subpoena witnesses and documents, and appeared on track to approve trial rules that will punt those critical questions until next week.

In a series of party-line votes punctuating 12 hours of debate, Senate Republicans turned back every attempt by Democrats to subpoena documents from the White House, State Department and other agencies, as well as testimony from White House officials that could shed light on the core charges against President Trump. 

At the heart of the trial are charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress approved last month by the Democratic-led House. They assert that Trump used the power of his office to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations into his political rivals, withholding as leverage nearly $400 million in military aid and a White House meeting. 

The president then sought to conceal his actions from Congress, the charges say, by blocking witness testimony and documents.

Trump’s legal team argues that the charges are baseless and amount to criminalizing a president’s prerogative to make foreign policy as he sees fit. In a break with most constitutional scholars, they also claim that the impeachment was unconstitutional because the articles of impeachment do not outline a specific violation of a law. 

Tuesday’s votes came after Republicans abruptly backed off their plan to fast track the trial by squeezing arguments from both House Democrats and President Donald Trump’s lawyers into four days. Under pressure from some Republicans, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., agreed to a total of six days for the two sides to present their cases, a retreat that Democrats initially hoped might signal weakness in the GOP’s unity on the rules for the trial.

But while some Republicans have said they might eventually vote in favor of having witnesses, for now all remained supportive of the GOP timetable to address that question next week.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and other House managers used the rules debate to begin making the broader outlines of their case to senators. 

They frequently used video clips. One is of Trump asserting that Article 2 of the Constitution gives him “the right to do whatever I want as president.” 

Another clip shows the president stating he would “love” to have Mulvaney testify. 

 And there’s a video clip of Mulvaney insisting that leveraging U.S. aid to pressure a foreign country is common practice and people should “get over it.”

“If you really want to get to the bottom of this, if (the administration is) really challenging the fact that (the) president conditioned $400 million in military aid to an ally at war, if Mick Mulvaney has already said publicly that he’s talked to the president about it … don’t you think you should hear from him?” Schiff asked senators, physically turning his body to face the Republican side of the chamber.

The president’s lawyers dismissed the Democrats’ demand for witnesses as proof that the House didn’t prove their case before they voted to impeach last month. “They spent the entire day telling you and the American people that they can’t prove their case,” White House counsel Pat Cipollone told senators. “I could have told you that in five minutes and saved us all a lot of time.”

He cast the impeachment in starkly partisan terms as an attempt to undo the 2016 election. The articles are “not only ridiculous, they’re dangerous to our republic. It’s time for it to end. It’s time for someone —for the Senate — to hold them accountable,” he said of House Democrats.

Schiff was equally caustic, calling it “ass backwards … to have a trial and then ask for witnesses.”