Impeachment is hurtling toward a Senate trial, but the White House and Senate Republicans are not on the same page about how to handle the proceedings, The Washington Times has learned.
Senate Republicans want to maintain the fast pace set in the House by forgoing witness testimony and quickly holding a vote for acquittal.
President Trump, however, is pushing to subpoena witnesses to expose what he calls a “sham” impeachment. Among the witnesses he wants the Senate to call are former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, his son Hunter, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff and the whistleblower who kicked off the impeachment push.
“If you are going to impeach me, do it now, fast, so we can have a fair trial in the Senate, and so that our country can get back to business,” Mr. Trump recently tweeted. “We will have Schiff, the Bidens, Pelosi and many more testify, and will reveal, for the first time, how corrupt our system really is. I was elected to ‘Clean the Swamp,’ and that’s what I am doing!”
Mr. Trump has not backed down from his calls for a full trial, though Republicans such as Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have proposed a proceeding without witnesses and a vote to acquit the president in a matter of days.
“Trump wants to see the perpetrators of this second hoax to be exposed to the American people. They want to get even for this. That’s where he’s at in his head right now,” said a Republican source close to the president.
Still, the Senate will have to agree to trial procedures if the House impeaches Mr. Trump as expected next week. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said he would meet with Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, in the coming weeks to work out details.
During President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial, the Senate unanimously agreed to rules and procedures for its hearing but put off a decision on the parameters of calling witnesses. Witnesses eventually gave depositions behind closed doors, but the recordings were played during the trial.
Under the chamber’s existing impeachment rules, at least 51 senators would have to agree to call any witness. The Senate has 53 Republicans and 47 members who caucus with the Democrats.
The impeachment trial subpoenas are considered congressional subpoenas, which are easier to defy than those issued by a court of law. However, they would carry the weight of the signature of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who would preside over the trial.
“The difference is that time is more of the essence, so a court is more likely [to expedite] any compulsion order,” said George Washington University Law School professor Jonathan Turley.
Claire Finkelstein, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said it would be difficult for a witness who is subpoenaed to be a no-show.
“It would be difficult for resistant witnesses to ignore such subpoenas and, as a practical matter, courts would be more likely to enforce them,” she said.
For now, the White House is waiting for the House to vote on impeachment and the Senate to set a trial date. But the president’s team is already creating a defense strategy.
Mr. McConnell is publicly keeping his cards close to the vest, though sources behind the scenes say he is pleased with chamber’s setup. Republicans are united behind the president, and one Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, has said he is “torn” on impeachment.
“No decisions have been made yet. They will be made later,” Mr. McConnell told reporters this week.
Mr. Graham said no witnesses need to be called because the case should be dismissed.
“My goal is to end this as soon as possible for the good of the country because I think it is a danger to the presidency to legitimize this,” Mr. Graham told Fox News. “I don’t need any witnesses at all. I am ready to go.”
He said lawmakers don’t need an impeachment trial to investigate corruption involving Mr. Biden and his son Hunter, who landed a $50,000-a-month position on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings while his father led Obama White House policy in that graft-riddled country.
The Biden scandal is at the heart of the Democrats’ impeachment case. The first article of impeachment charges Mr. Trump with abuse of power for pressuring Ukraine to investigate the Bidens’ dealings with Burisma.
The second article charges Mr. Trump with obstructing Congress’ impeachment investigation by refusing to comply with House subpoenas for witnesses and documents.
Mr. Manchin has said he has no problem with subpoenaing Hunter Biden.
The impeachment case stems from a July 25 phone call in which Mr. Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for a “favor” by investigating the former vice president and Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.
A whistleblower, who is believed to be a CIA official assigned to the White House, accused the president of abusing his power for personal gain on the call, including withholding $391 million of U.S. military aid from Ukraine as leverage.
The whistleblower also is believed to have ties to the Democratic Party and the former vice president, and the whistleblower is known to have met with Mr. Schiff’s staff for guidance before making the complaint.
A rough transcript of the call that the White House released in late September did not show the president presenting a quid pro quo deal for the investigations, but Democrats argue that the threat was understood and was part of an ongoing pressure campaign of “shadow” foreign policy conducted by Mr. Trump’s private attorney, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.
The quid pro quo, a Latin term meaning a transaction of “this for that,” was the crux of the Democrats’ case that Mr. Trump engaged in a bribery or extortion scheme that warrants impeachment.
However, the articles of impeachment do not include charges of bribery and extortion or any mention of a quid pro quo.
The articles rely heavily on testimony from Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, who said he offered a prized White House visit for the newly elected Mr. Zelensky in exchange for his announcement of the investigations. But Mr. Sondland said he “presumed” that was what Mr. Trump wanted.
In his only conversation with the president about the matter, Mr. Trump told him that there was “no quid pro quo,” he testified.
None of the witnesses in the impeachment inquiry linked the holdup of military assistance to the investigations or provided a reason for the delay. The aid was held back for about two months and started to flow to Ukraine on Sept. 11, two days after the intelligence community’s inspector general informed Congress of the whistleblower complaint.
Mr. Trump has acknowledged that he wanted an investigation into alleged corruption involving the Bidens and any Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.
Interest increased in the elder Biden’s actions in Ukraine after he boasted of forcing Ukraine to fire the country’s chief prosecutor in spring 2016. He said he threatened to block a $1 billion U.S. loan guarantee. The prosecutor was widely viewed as not doing enough to combat corruption. But the prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, had looked into corruption allegations against Burisma and Mykola Zlochevsky, the Ukrainian oligarch running the company.
Mr. Trump also wanted Ukraine to look into a missing Democratic National Committee server that Russia hacked during the 2016 presidential campaigns. An American cybersecurity company called CrowdStrike examined the server, but it disappeared before reaching the FBI.
Mr. Trump subscribes to an unsubstantiated theory that the server ended up in Ukraine.