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Trump’s Defense a Work in Progress; Pelosi Sets Wednesday Vote

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 1/14/2020 Jordan Fabian and Josh Wingrove

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(Bloomberg) -- The House will vote Wednesday to send articles of impeachment against Donald Trump to the Senate for a trial that’s expected to begin early next week, but the president has yet to settle on either his defense strategy or the team that will represent him.

Trump has sent conflicting signals about key aspects of the Senate trial, including how long it should last and whether witnesses should testify. He is still considering whether to make additions to his defense team, which will be led by White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and his personal attorney Jay Sekulow, according to people familiar with the matter.

The process is about to begin moving quickly. Speaker Nancy Pelosi told House Democrats Tuesday that a vote to name the lawmakers who’ll present the impeachment case and formally transmit the articles to the Senate will be held on Wednesday. Republicans in the Senate said they expect arguments could be begin as soon as Jan. 21.

On Sunday, Trump suggested in a tweet that he’d prefer a quick dismissal of the two articles rather than a full trial that would lend “credence” to the charges against him.

But several senior GOP senators said there was little chance that the chamber would vote to dismiss the articles of impeachment without going through at least the first phase of the trial.

“My understanding is that most Republicans want to have a full trial,” Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn said. Missouri GOP Senator Roy Blunt said there is “almost no interest” among Republicans in a quick dismissal of the articles.

Democrats accused Trump of abusing his power by pressuring Ukraine to investigate his political rivals last year and obstructing Congress by refusing to comply with demands for witnesses and documents in the House impeachment inquiry.

While Trump is almost certain to be acquitted by the majority Republican Senate, the conduct of the trial will influence how voters render their own verdict in the November election. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has fought to keep a firm grip on the proceedings, and rebuffed Democrats’ demands that he guarantee testimony from White House officials who Trump blocked from appearing in the House proceedings.

Read More: Impeachment Trial Likely Starts Next Week After Opening Rituals

Still, the White House is asking that language allowing for early dismissal be included in the organizing resolution for the trial in order to preserve the president’s options, according to a White House official who declined to be named to discuss internal thinking.

Reflecting his own ambivalence, Trump said in another tweet hours before calling for a quick dismissal that both Pelosi and Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, who led the House investigation into the president’s dealings with Ukraine, should testify in the Senate.

Trial Opening

“Obviously he would want a dismissal of everything, but at the end of the day if it does go to the Senate floor for a trial he just wants it to be fair, which is all he deserves,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Monday on Fox News.

McConnell prefers a short trial with no witnesses, aiming for a swift acquittal of Trump with few surprises so lawmakers can move beyond the impeachment saga with minimum political fallout.

He said Tuesday on the Senate floor that if the existing case is strong “there is no need for the judge and jury to reopen the investigation” by calling new witnesses or demanding new evidence.

The belief among Republicans is that Trump will follow McConnell’s lead on the trial format, according to a person familiar with the matter. But if witnesses are eventually called, Trump is likely to demand they include people such as former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, whom the president wanted the Ukrainian government to investigate.

“Both sides realize what a Pandora’s box it is for everyone -- for both sides,” said Republican Representative Michael Waltz of Florida. While he is interested in hearing testimony from the Bidens and others, he said that on balance, he’d rather the Senate skip witnesses and issue a judgment.

“I’m exhausted with it; I think a lot of people are,” he said.

Some Republicans have said they are either open to witnesses or want both sides to have the opportunity to call them. GOP Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah separately on Monday said they wanted to ensure there will be an opportunity to vote on calling witnesses or other information later in the trial.

Murkowski said she wants to ensure “we can ask for more information, and if that means witnesses or documents, how we can get more information.”

Romney said he would vote against witnesses at the start of the trial but expects to vote to call for former Trump National Security Adviser John Bolton and perhaps others later in the proceedings.

Democrats want to hear from White House officials who complied with Trump’s order not to participate in the House inquiry, especially Bolton, who said last week he would testify if the Senate issues a subpoena. Trump has at times said he thinks Bolton and other officials would exonerate him, but he said Friday in a Fox News interview that he would assert executive privilege to prevent their testimony in order to protect future presidents.

Read More: Impeachment Adds to a Long List of Trump’s Legal Headaches

“I would love everybody to testify,” Trump said in the interview. “But there are things that you can’t do from the standpoint of executive privilege. You have to maintain that.”

McConnell has said he wants the format to closely follow former President Bill Clinton’s Senate trial in 1999.

Under that process, Pelosi’s trial managers will present their arguments and evidence for Trump’s removal, followed by the Trump team’s defense. The two sides would then respond to written questions senators submit to U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts, who will preside over the trial.

After that, senators would debate whether to call additional witnesses. Four Republicans would be needed to join the 47 Democrats to have enough votes to call witnesses or demand documents withheld by Trump.

Tarun Tahiliani wearing a suit and tie standing in front of a building: White House Counsel Pat Cipollone And WH Legislative Affairs Director Eric Ueland Meet With Sen. McConnell On Capitol Hill © Getty Images White House Counsel Pat Cipollone And WH Legislative Affairs Director Eric Ueland Meet With Sen. McConnell On Capitol Hill Trump Defense

The White House has made several key decisions about the president’s trial team against the back-and-forth over process and strategy.

Cipollone is expected to have a speaking role during the trial, but it isn’t clear if Sekulow or anyone else on Trump’s team will speak. Cipollone’s top deputies, Mike Purpura and Pat Philbin, are expected to play a behind-the-scenes role.

Cipollone’s office is preparing a dossier of materials for Trump’s defense team that may also be shared with senators, according to a person familiar with the planning.

House Members

At least three House Republicans have been considered for Trump’s defense team -- John Ratcliffe, a member of the Intelligence Committee who was once Trump’s pick to be director of national intelligence, as well as two close allies, Jim Jordan of Ohio and Mark Meadows of North Carolina.

All of them were vocal Trump defenders during the impeachment inquiry who relentlessly attacked the merits of Democrats’ charges both at public hearings and on cable news programs.

People familiar with the matter say it is unlikely that the House firebrands join the team, but cautioned that the possibility has not been ruled out and that Trump himself remains interested. Many Republican senators have urged Trump to abandon the idea, warning the involvement of the House Republicans would threaten to turn the trial into a spectacle.

“I think some senators were worried that would turn into some type of side show, and I think this does have, being in the Senate, I think it’s going to be a little bit more subdued,” said Senator Mike Braun, an Indiana Republican. He said Trump should decide the makeup of his defense team, and that while he doesn’t oppose the idea of adding a House member, “many senators think it would be neutral to harmful.”

Trump’s tweet in support of a quick dismissal suggests he is continuing to hear advice from influential outsiders who might also land a formal position on his defense team. One possibility is lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who has frequently defended Trump on cable news and visited the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, over the holidays.

“If I were the president’s lawyers, I might make essentially what would be a motion to dismiss, saying ‘You can’t have a trial, you can’t have evidence, when the allegations don’t rise to the level of impeachable offenses,’” he said in an interview.

He would not say whether he is under consideration for the president’s trial team. He said he was at Mar-a-Lago at the invitation of a member of the club and only encountered Trump socially.

--With assistance from Saleha Mohsin, Mario Parker, Billy House, Laura Litvan and Steven T. Dennis.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jordan Fabian in Washington at;Josh Wingrove in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alex Wayne at, Joe Sobczyk, Justin Blum

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