Trump and Democrats both want drawn-out impeachment trial — but GOP Senate leader McConnell stands in their way

by Editorial Team

Democrats and President Trump have finally found something they agree on — but a powerful Republican may block their dream from coming true.

With the House expected to impeach Trump this week, all eyes will turn to the Senate, where the president is set to face a trial in the new year. And both Democrats and the president, for their own reasons, are hoping for a full-blown trial, replete with bombshell testimony that would keep Americans glued to their TV sets.

However, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the iron-fisted majority leader who controls the Senate, wants to close the book on impeachment — maybe without calling even a single witness.

McConnell told reporters last week that 51 senators — the bare majority needed to pass trial rules — could decide “they’ve heard enough” after a relatively brief, witness-free presentation of evidence from both sides.

The Senate could then vote to quickly kill the two articles of impeachment charging Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress stemming from his attempts to press Ukraine for politically-motivated investigations.

A well-placed Senate source told the Daily News that the behind-the-scenes consensus on Capitol Hill is that McConnell wants “a truncated trial” and “no salacious testimony.”

Many political analysts believe McConnell is taking the smart and safe route by ending the impeachment drama as fast as possible.

That’s because as of now the GOP is united against impeachment. The best way to keep things that way is to avoid possible explosive new disclosures and the political angst that comes with them, according to experts.

“The last thing they want is something that really exposes the details of how Trump abuses his power. They really don’t want to risk that,” said Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law professor at Harvard University who privately advised House Democrats when they drew up the impeachment articles earlier this month.

But Trump himself doesn’t necessarily agree.

The president sees a Senate trial as a spectacular chance to turn the tables on his Democratic accusers, discrediting them with embarrassing allegations about the Ukraine scandal while boosting an array of conspiracy theories as the 2020 presidential campaign gets into high gear.

He has raged about bringing in a dubious cast of witnesses he claims will prove the impeachment inquiry is a “hoax,” including Joe and Hunter Biden, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff and the CIA whistleblower whose anonymous complaint blew the lid off his Ukraine scheme.

“I wouldn’t mind a long process,” Trump said Friday.

Curiously, many Democrats agree with the president about the length of the trial and the need for testimony, even though they have different witnesses in mind.

They want to grill key administration figures like former national security adviser John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. Trump blocked them from testifying in the House inquiry but they all have first-hand knowledge about Trump’s freeze on $391 million in U.S. military aid to Ukraine.

“There ought to be a fair trial, where the whole truth comes out, and I am going to work to get that done,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told The News. In a letter to McConnell Sunday night, Schumer proposed a structure that would ensure a fair and bipartisan trial that includes subpoenaing Bolton, Mulvaney and two other White House officials who never testified in the House inquiry despite subpoenas.

The letter, which suggests a Jan. 6 start date for “pre-trial housekeeping measures,” also requests that McConnell compel the administration to turn over some documents kept out of the House proceedings.

But for McConnell to keep Trump happy without opening the door to game-changing revelations sought by Democrats, he’s going to have to walk a political tightrope.

If he bends to Trump and allows witnesses, McConnell might have a hard time keeping Republicans in check on a plan that would give them the power to solicit testimony, but block the other side from doing so.

“I just don’t think McConnell could ever get 51 votes to say: ‘We can call anyone we want, but the Democrats can’t call anyone.’ It would be a PR disaster,” said Solomon Wisenberg, who served as an assistant counsel on former special prosecutor Ken Starr’s team during the Bill Clinton impeachment.

Independent-minded Republicans in the chamber, such as Sens. Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Cory Gardner, could potentially side with Democrats in voting against a one-sided trial in favor of having a wholesome process, opening up Trump to the danger of testimony from the likes of Bolton.

There are 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats in the Senate, meaning McConnell likely can’t afford more than two GOP defections in a vote on witness rules.

Wisenberg said it may therefore be easier for McConnell to get his caucus to commit to moving fast and scrap high-profile testimony from either side.

“He’s obviously making this decision because the other one is too dangerous,” Wisenberg said. “God knows what Bolton, for instance, would say under oath.”

Some impeachment scholars suggest Democrats have good reason to put impeachment behind them as well.

Biden, whose family is at the center of the impeachment proceedings, could have his 2020 election chances tarnished by prolonged proceedings, while Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren would have to put their presidential campaigns on ice to participate in the trial.

“For the Democrats, it’s really a roll of the dice,” said John Hudak, a Brooking Institute senior fellow of governance studies. “They just don’t know how it will go.”

Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, agreed: “They’re stepping all over their own candidates, and that should be a major worry.”

Tribe said he ultimately doesn’t believe the president’s claim that he wants a full-fledged trial.

“He also said he wanted to testify before special counsel Mueller, he said he wanted to present a defense in the House impeachment, but when push comes to shove, he runs and hides,” Tribe said.

The House, which Democrats control 233-197, is expected to pass the articles of impeachment against Trump in a momentous floor vote before lawmakers depart for the holidays Friday. McConnell has said he’s prepared to start a trial in January.

Ultimately, the GOP-controlled Senate is extremely unlikely to convict and remove Trump, even if more witnesses come forward, as two-thirds of the chamber need to approve. That means 20 Republicans would have to break ranks, presuming all Democrats vote to convict.

But Tribe said conviction isn’t necessarily the goal for Democrats. If just a handful of Republicans break with McConnell and vote for conviction, Tribe said it could have sweeping political ramifications for Trump in 2020.

“Even though Trump might not be removed, there could be a majority of the Senate finding him guilty,” he said. “That would be huge for the coming election.”


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