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 outline released Sunday.
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York proposed the structure for a “fair and honest’’ trial in a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, an attempt to launch negotiations ahead of House voting this week that is all but certain to result in the president being impeached.
Trump faces two charges — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — over his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden while withholding military aid to the ally. The president faces likely impeachment in the House, where Democrats have control, but he is expected to be acquitted in a trial in the Senate, where Republicans have the majority. McConnell has signaled his preference for a speedy trial.
Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney (L) and former U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton are pictured in image images. (Photo by Mark Wilson & Win McNamee/Getty Images)
“This trial must be one that is fair, that considers all of the relevant facts, and that exercises the Senate’s ‘sole Power of Impeachment’ under the Constitution with integrity and dignity,” 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 Sunday the two leaders are expected to meet.
“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.”
Schumer and McConnell are are expected to discuss the contours of a Senate trial, much as the Democrats and Republicans did during Bill Clinton’s impeachment two decades ago.
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 was Trump’s national security adviser at the time and 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, the acting chief of staff at the White House, 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.
As House Democrats decide who will prosecute the case in the Senate, a group of freshmen House lawmakers is urging leaders to make an unusual choice by naming Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan as an impeachment manager. Amash left the GOP to become an independent after calling for the president’s impeachment. Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., has been leading the effort and has talked with the congressman and party leaders, his spokesman Bryan Doyle said.
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 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. He warned that calling witnesses could mean that Trump administration officials such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, blocked by the White House previously from appearing before investigators, could be forced to testify.
“I understand the president's frustration, but I think what's best for the country is to get this thing over with," Graham said. “I clearly made up my mind. 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.“
Trump is accused of abusing his presidential power by asking Ukraine to investigate Biden while holding American military aid as leverage, and obstructing Congress by blocking the House’s efforts to investigate his actions.
Trump has lashed out repeatedly against impeachment and has told confidants that even if he is acquitted in the Senate as expected, it will be a stain on his legacy.
“The Impeachment Hoax is just a continuation of the Witch Hunt which has been going on for 3 years. We will win!" Trump tweeted Sunday.
But he also has said he believes impeachment could be a political winner, citing reelection campaign data that shows his fundraising, rally attendance and poll numbers in battleground states have all increased since the inquiry began.
The issue of whether or not to allow more witnesses will be key to the Senate negotiations ahead.
Despite Republican control in the Senate, McConnell faces limits on his ability to steer the impeachment proceedings because the GOP holds a slim 53-47 majority. It takes 51 votes to approve most motions in the proceedings, which means the leader can only afford to lose two Republican senators and still pass his preferred options.
Some Republicans may feel pressure from Democrats to call additional witnesses or expand the proceedings, especially those up for re-election next year in swing states where voters are split in their views of Trump.
At the same time, Democrats face political risks if Republicans decide to lean into Trump’s demands for a showier trial, summoning Biden or his son, Hunter Biden, or others to appear.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said Sunday that Trump should be able to call witnesses, including Hunter Biden and the whistleblower who reported Trump's July telephone conversation with Ukraine's president, which is at the heart of 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 that Joe Biden got a Ukrainian prosecutor fired because the prosecutor was looking into the energy company. In fact, the U.S. and many other Western governments had pushed for the prosecutor's ouster, believing that he was soft on crime.
Other Republican senators have tried to move the White House away from the idea of calling witnesses.
Cruz appeared on ABC's “This Week” while Graham was on CBS' "Face the Nation."