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Senate impeachment trial is expected. How it will work is very uncertain

Los Angeles Times logo Los Angeles Times 12/15/2019 By Laura King, Los Angeles Times
Matt Gaetz, Mike Johnson sitting at a table: House Judiciary Committee member Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), center,  speaks during a committee markup hearing on the articles of impeachment against U.S. President Donald Trump in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill Dec. 12, 2019 in Washington, D.C. © Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images North America/TNS House Judiciary Committee member Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), center, speaks during a committee markup hearing on the articles of impeachment against U.S. President Donald Trump in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill Dec. 12, 2019 in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans on Sunday publicly diverged over how to conduct the expected impeachment trial of President Trump, with some calling for allegations against him to be summarily quashed and others advocating a lengthier process that would include summoning witnesses for fresh testimony.

Key Democrats in the House of Representatives, meanwhile, insisted that Trump’s all-but-certain acquittal in the Senate would not brand as a failure the House proceedings against the president. The House is expected to vote Wednesday to impeach Trump, with the resolution likely to pass on an almost entirely party-line vote.

Greg Stanton, Eric Swalwell, Hakeem Jeffries looking at each other: Chair of the Democratic Caucus Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) speaks during a House Judiciary Committee markup hearing on the articles of impeachment against U.S. President Donald Trump in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill Dec. 12, 2019 in Washington, D.C. The articles of impeachment charge Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. © Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images North America/TNS Chair of the Democratic Caucus Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) speaks during a House Judiciary Committee markup hearing on the articles of impeachment against U.S. President Donald Trump in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill Dec. 12, 2019 in Washington, D.C. The articles of impeachment charge Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

The House Judiciary Committee last week approved two articles of impeachment against Trump, for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. A full House vote to adopt those articles would make Trump only the third U.S. president to be impeached.

In a round of appearances on Sunday’s news-talk shows, senior Republicans dealt with continuing fallout over Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s assertion last week that there was “no chance” that Trump would be removed from office.

The Kentucky Republican said in a Fox News interview that he was coordinating with — and taking cues from — the president’s lawyers on ground rules for the Senate showdown. Democrats protested that his statement disqualified him from being an impartial juror in an impeachment trial.

Damian Hopley, Ken Buck sitting at a table: House Judiciary Committee member Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), left, pauses as Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), center, talks with Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) during a committee markup hearing on the articles of impeachment against U.S. President Donald Trump in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill Dec. 12, 2019 in Washington, D.C.  The articles of impeachment charge Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. © Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images North America/TNS House Judiciary Committee member Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), left, pauses as Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), center, talks with Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) during a committee markup hearing on the articles of impeachment against U.S. President Donald Trump in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill Dec. 12, 2019 in Washington, D.C. The articles of impeachment charge Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of Trump’s most strident defenders, declared Sunday he had already made up his mind, so there was no need for a drawn-out trial on whether Trump improperly pressured Ukraine’s president to dig up dirt on Joe Biden, the former vice president and a potential 2020 rival.

a group of people performing on a counter: A House Judiciary Committee Republican staff member sets up signs before a markup hearing on the articles of impeachment against U.S. President Donald Trump in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill Dec. 12, 2019 in Washington, D.C. The articles of impeachment charge Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. © Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images North America/TNS A House Judiciary Committee Republican staff member sets up signs before a markup hearing on the articles of impeachment against U.S. President Donald Trump in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill Dec. 12, 2019 in Washington, D.C. The articles of impeachment charge Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

“I’m not trying to hide the fact that I have disdain for the accusations in the process, so I don’t need any witnesses,” the South Carolina Republican said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Other Republicans, though, suggested the underlying facts needed airing, even while suggesting Trump would prevail.

“I think it would be extremely inappropriate to put a bullet in this thing immediately when it comes over,” Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Toomey signaled an emerging strategy for some GOP senators of broadly accepting Democratic assertions about the president’s actions while disagreeing on their gravity.

“There might be a lot of agreements” on facts, he said, but “I think there’s a big disagreement about what rises to a level of impeachment.”

Trump opposes that line of argument because it concedes that at least some of his actions toward Ukraine were inappropriate. He continues to insist that his conduct was “perfect” and wants an extended trial in which his lawyers could demand testimony from Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, and other Democrats he has accused of misdeeds. He continued that strategy Sunday in a blizzard of tweets.

a man wearing a suit and tie: Democratic Chairman Jerry Nadler, left, and Republican Ranking Member Doug Collins attend the House Judiciary Committee's markup of House Resolution 755, Articles of Impeachment Against President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill on Dec. 12, 1029 in Washington, D.C. © Andrew Harrer/AFP/Getty Images North America/TNS Democratic Chairman Jerry Nadler, left, and Republican Ranking Member Doug Collins attend the House Judiciary Committee's markup of House Resolution 755, Articles of Impeachment Against President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill on Dec. 12, 1029 in Washington, D.C.

Some Republican senators have signed onto the idea of an extensive trial with the apparent aim of impugning the fairness of the House impeachment proceedings and attempting to tar the Bidens. Others, like Toomey, have said they aren’t prepared to say yet whether the Senate trial should include any live testimony.

On Sunday, that division among Republican senators remained apparent.

“If the president wants to call Hunter Biden, or wants to call the whistleblower, the Senate should allow [him] to do so,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said on ABC’s “This Week.” A whistleblower’s complaint in August raised serious concerns about a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, setting the impeachment process in motion.

During House hearings, public testimony by a dozen witnesses, including diplomats and current and former administration officials, portrayed an irregular foreign-policy back channel steered by the president’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, with the alleged knowledge of several of Trump’s most high-level aides.

But the White House has blocked demands for documents and testimony from senior administration figures including Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s acting chief of staff, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and former national security advisor John Bolton.

Many Democrats, in both the House and Senate, have said that if Trump’s team had had any witnesses whose testimony would help clear him, they would have been allowed to appear already.

Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois said on “Face the Nation” that witnesses should be called in the Senate trial, but “it appears to me there are no witnesses the president would want to call to exonerate himself.”

Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, interviewed on “Meet the Press,” decried what he called Republicans’ refusal to consider the facts of the case.

“It’s why I’m so disappointed in my colleagues,” he said, “this ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ attitude that they don’t want to look at anything … that might disagree with their worldview of Republicanism and this president.”

Prospects for a near-party-line vote in the House appeared unchanged, although with the twist that one anti-impeachment Democrat, Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, is now reportedly getting ready to switch his party affiliation — a step Trump tweeted Sunday would be “very smart.”

Van Drew, a conservative Democrat in his first term, faced polls in his southern New Jersey district that showed he likely would lose a Democratic primary if he voted against impeachment. He hopes Trump’s backing will enable him to win the Republican nomination for a second term.

Only one other Democrat, Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, is considered a likely vote against impeachment, although a couple of others who represent districts Trump carried in 2016 are still undeclared.

Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, who quit the Republican Party to become an independent after he announced his support for impeachment, is the only non-Democrat expected to vote for impeachment. Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, a Republican who is retiring and had initially seemed open to the idea that Trump’s actions were cause for concern, signaled he would likely stay in the Republican fold.

“You can vote against impeachment but still disagree with some of the policies and some of the behavior,” the former CIA officer said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

With an end to the House proceedings in sight, the two principal committee chairmen handling the issue — Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) — said the prospect of Trump winning acquittal in the Senate did nothing to diminish the effort.

“It isn’t a failure — at least it’s not a failure in the sense of our constitutional duty,” Schiff, the head of the Intelligence Committee, said on “This Week.” On the same program, Nadler, who heads the Judiciary Committee, said Trump’s pattern of behavior amounted to a continuing menace.

“He poses a continuing threat to our national security and to the integrity of our elections, to our democratic system itself,” Nadler said. “We cannot permit that to continue.”

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©2019 Los Angeles Times

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