WASHINGTON ― The third impeachment trial of a U.S. president in history is set to kick off this week in the GOP-controlled Senate, where Republicans have all but promised a swift acquittal of Donald Trump and argued against the inclusion of new evidence and witness testimony during the proceedings.
Before the seven House impeachment managers can begin presenting their evidence, senators must finalize and pass a resolution authored by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) laying out the rules governing the trial.
Under the proposed rules, both sides would be allowed 24 hours of opening arguments over just two days beginning Wednesday, followed by a short period of questioning and then a vote on whether to even consider witnesses and additional evidence. If the Senate doesn’t allow witnesses, the trial could be over by the end of next week.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Tuesday blasted McConnell’s proposed rules, accusing the Republican leader of choosing “a cover-up for the President rather than honor his oath to the Constitution.”
“For weeks, he has insisted that he will adhere to the rules used during the Clinton impeachment trial and that ‘fair is fair’ ― but his proposal rejects the need for witnesses and documents during the trial itself,” Pelosi said in a statement.
“In contrast, for the Clinton trial, witnesses were deposed and the President provided more than 90,000 documents,” she added.
The seven House impeachment managers, led by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), echoed Pelosi’s disproval.
“A White House-driven and rigged process, with a truncated schedule designed to go late into the night and further conceal the President’s misconduct, is not what the American people expect or deserve,” they said in a statement.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) threatened to force votes on witness testimony on Tuesday, but key moderate Republicans want a decision on whether to call witnesses put off until later in the trial. The procedural debate is expected to be contentious and may even occur under a closed session of the Senate, one prohibited from public view.
Trump is charged with abuse of power for his dealings with Ukraine and his efforts to block congressional investigations.
Most Republicans say the case against Trump is insufficient to remove him from office ― indeed, many of them maintain that the president did nothing wrong by pressuring a foreign government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a political rival.
“The Democrats have proven … Trump’s innocence. The only guy that’s been transparent during this is Trump,” Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said in an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt earlier this month, adding he would “absolutely” vote to acquit Trump.
The president blocked a number of key Trump administration officials from testifying during the House impeachment inquiry, including acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton. Bolton has since offered to testify in the Senate trial if subpoenaed.
Democrats will need to convince at least four GOP senators to vote with them to subpoena their desired witnesses.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a moderate, issued a statement last week clarifying that she is “likely” to support calling witnesses but only after the presentation of evidence by both the House managers and the president’s defense team. Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Lisa Murkowski (R-Ala.), and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) have also expressed openness to calling witnesses.
“I tend to believe having additional information would be helpful. It is likely that I would support a motion to call witnesses at that point in the trial just as I did in 1999,” Collins said in the statement.
But many of her colleagues say they see no reason to call additional witnesses during the Senate trial, arguing House Democrats should have sought testimony from Mulvaney, Bolton and others by taking their case to court.
“I don’t think we’re going to have any witnesses. I think it’ll be over right then. I think it’s going to be pretty fast,” Scott said in the Hewitt interview.
Democrats have vowed to force votes on motions to compel witness testimony ― part of an effort to pressure vulnerable Republican senators up for re-election in November. They said Republicans would be complicit in a “cover-up” if they didn’t agree to call witnesses in the trial.
During the proceedings, all senators will be prohibited from speaking and may only submit questions in writing to the chief justice, according to the Senate’s rules. All electronics are forbidden on the floor; senators will be required to leave their phones in a cubby outside the chamber floor. The proceedings are expected to run six days a week — every day but Sundays — with the trail taking up five hours each day.
One person who will not be bound by those rules is the accused, who weighed in on Twitter suggesting the case be dismissed outright.
Hayley Miller contributed reporting. This article has been updated with statements from Pelosi and the House impeachment managers.
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