Senate Trump impeachment trial in focus ahead of House vote

FILE - In this Monday, Dec. 9, 2019, file photo, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington. Senate Democrats are proposing a weekslong Senate impeachment trial seeking testimony from four new witnesses including John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney over President Donald Trump's actions toward Ukraine, according to a detailed outlined released Sunday, Dec. 15. Schumer proposed the structure for a “fair and honest’’ trial in a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
The U.S. Capitol in Washington is shrouded in mist, Friday night, Dec. 13, 2019. This coming week’s virtually certain House impeachment of President Donald Trump will underscore how Democrats and Republicans have morphed into fiercely divided camps since lawmakers impeached President Bill Clinton.(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats are pushing for testimony from top White House officials in the rare impeachment trial that is fast becoming the next battleground ahead of House voting that is all but certain to result in President Donald Trump's impeachment.

Trump faces two articles of impeachment by House Democrats: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. They point to Trump pressuring Ukraine to investigate 2020 political rival Joe Biden while withholding as leverage military aid the country relies to counter Russia as well as his efforts to block the House investigation.

Only the fourth U.S. president to be charged in impeachment proceedings, Trump has insisted he has done nothing wrong. Votes are set for Wednesday in the House. But already attention is turning to the Senate trial, where the Republicans are expected to acquit Trump in January.

“There ought to be a fair trial where the whole truth comes out,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters Sunday in New York. “And I’m going to work to get that done.”

The top Senate Democrat called for new evidence and testimony from former national security adviser John Bolton, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and two others as part of a detailed proposal outlined in a letter Sunday to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to spur negotiations with the GOP.

“This trial must be one that is fair, that considers all of the relevant facts,” Schumer wrote. “The trial must be one that not only hears all of the evidence and adjudicates the case fairly; it must also pass the fairness test with the American people.”

Trump has expressed interest in a robust trial that would not only clear him of the charges in the Senate but also vindicate him, but his desire for a lengthy proceeding is something Senate Republicans are hoping to avoid.

A spokesman for McConnell said the two Senate leaders are expected to meet. They are expected to discuss how to conduct the trial, much as the Democrats and Republicans did during Bill Clinton’s impeachment two decades ago.

“Leader McConnell has made it clear he plans to meet with Leader Schumer to discuss the contours of a trial soon," McConnell spokesman Doug Andres said. "That timeline has not changed.”

The witness list will be key to the proceedings.

Despite Republican control in the Senate, McConnell's slim 53-47 majority limits his ability to steer the impeachment trial. It takes 51 votes to approve most motions in the proceedings, even to set the rules, which means the leader can only afford to lose two Republican senators and still pass his preferred options.

Some Republican senators may feel pressure from Democrats to call additional witnesses or expand the proceedings, especially those up for reelection next year in swing states where voters are split in their views of Trump.

At the same time, Democrats face political risks if Republicans lean into Trump’s demands for a showier trial, summoning Biden or his son, Hunter Biden, or others to appear. Republicans claim without evidence that Hunter Biden's work for a gas company in Ukraine merited the investigation Trump sought from that country's officials.

As House Democrats prepare to prosecute the case in the Senate, a group of freshmen lawmakers is urging leaders to make an unusual choice by naming Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan as an impeachment manager. A libertarian-leaning conservative, Amash left the GOP and is now an independent after becoming the rare Republican to call for the president’s impeachment. Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., has been leading the effort, and talked with both the congressman and party leaders, his spokesman Bryan Doyle said.

The attention on the Senate comes as the vote is all but certain Wednesday in the House. After months of debate it appears Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who once resisted the undertaking unless it had support from Republicans, now has the votes needed from Democrats alone to impeach Trump.

Trump lashed out at the speaker, tweeting at one point Sunday that “Nancy’s teeth were falling out of her mouth," suggesting she was unable "to think!”

Pelosi, who spent the weekend leading a bipartisan congressional delegation in Europe to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, did not directly respond.

Democrats expect support for impeachment from all but a few of their members; no Republicans are expected to join them. Trump says impeachment is nothing but an effort to overturn the results of the 2016 election. Democrats counter that left unchecked Trump will try again to seek foreign interference in the 2020 race.

``This is the defense of our democracy," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

In the letter, Schumer proposes a detailed structure and timeline for a trial to begin Jan. 7, with the swearing-in of Chief Justice John Roberts to oversee the proceedings and stretch for several weeks as Democrats subpoena witnesses and testimony, specifically around Trump’s decision to withhold military aid from Ukraine. A day of what Schumer calls “pretrial housekeeping measures” would take place Jan. 6.

Democrats want to hear from Bolton, who labeled the alternative foreign policy being run by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and others as a “drug deal’’ he wanted no part of. He left the White House in September.

They also want testimony from Mulvaney, who has acknowledged the military aid to Ukraine was being held up, as well as two other White House officials: Robert Blair, a top Mulvaney aide, and Michael Duffey, a budget official who was tasked with handling the Ukraine issue. Those officials defied House Democrats' subpoenas to appear before the inquiry.

Schumer additionally sets out a specific schedule that would allow for 24 hours of opening arguments by the House Democrats' impeachment managers and then 24 hours for the White House lawyers to present their arguments, followed by days of witness testimony. He also sets time for questioning of House managers and Trump’s counsel by senators; final arguments by House managers and Trump’s counsel; and as many as 24 hours for deliberations by senators. All told, Schumer suggests as many as 126 hours of proceedings.

McConnell has indicated in recent days his preference for a swift trial without calling witnesses in what Republicans fear could become a spectacle. At the same time, the GOP leader has said he’s taking his “cues” from the White House and will conduct the proceedings as Trump wants them.

One top Trump ally, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said Sunday he too prefers a quick end to impeachment proceedings.

“I'd tell the president, if somebody is ready to acquit you, I'd sort of get out of the way," Graham said. “I clearly made up my mind."

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said Sunday that Trump should be able to call witnesses, including Hunter Biden and the whistleblower whose complaint about Trump's July telephone conversation with Ukraine's president sparked the impeachment investigation.

Hunter Biden was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company while his father was vice president, and Trump has alleged without evidence a conflict. Joe Biden says they did nothing wrong.

Cruz appeared on ABC's ``This Week'' while Graham was on CBS' ``Face the Nation.''

___

Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman in Washington and Julie Walker in New York contributed to this report.

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