For Trump, ac­quit­tal in Se­nate trial not enough

Orlando Sentinel - - NATION & WORLD - By Zeke Miller and Lisa Mas­caro

WASHINGTON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump wants more than ac­quit­tal. He wants vin­di­ca­tion.

With im­peach­ment by the House ap­pear­ing cer­tain, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has made clear that he views the next step, a trial in the GOP-con­trolled Se­nate, as his fo­cus. The pres­i­dent sees the sen­a­tors not just as a jury de­cid­ing his fate, but as part­ners in a cam­paign to dis­credit and pun­ish his Demo­cratic op­po­nents.

His Se­nate al­lies aren’t so sure that’s a good idea.

In re­cent weeks, Trump has de­vised a wish list of wit­nesses for the Se­nate trial, rel­ish­ing the op­por­tu­nity for his lawyers to fi­nally cross-ex­am­ine his ac­cusers and ar­gue the case that his ac­tions to­ward Ukraine, in­clud­ing the July 25 call when he asked for a fa­vor, were “per­fect.”

Trump and his al­lies have been build­ing up the likely Se­nate trial, an ef­fort to dele­git­imize the Demo­cratic-con­trolled House’s im­peach­ment process by con­trast. In the Se­nate, the

Trump team has ar­gued, the pres­i­dent would get the op­por­tu­nity to chal­lenge wit­nesses and call some of his own, such as House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee Chair­man Adam Schiff, the still-anony­mous in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity whistle­blower, or even Joe Bi­den and Hunter Bi­den.

He sees that as a chance to em­bar­rass Democrats, in­clud­ing the for­mer vice pres­i­dent and 2020 Demo­cratic ri­val, and use the friend­lier ground to por­tray him­self as the vic­tim of a par­ti­san cru­sade.

“It is pretty clear the pres­i­dent wants a trial,” says Ho­gan Gi­d­ley, the prin­ci­pal deputy White House press sec­re­tary. “The pres­i­dent is ea­ger to get his story out.”

But it is in­creas­ingly clear that Se­nate Repub­li­cans, led by Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, have other ideas. McCon­nell, who is fiercely pro­tec­tive of his 53-47 Se­nate ma­jor­ity, has sig­naled that he wants none of the spec­ta­cle Trump de­sires. In­stead he wants a swift trial, po­ten­tially with no new wit­nesses called.

“Here’s what I would an­tic­i­pate: The House man­agers would come over, make their ar­gu­ments, the pres­i­dent’s lawyers would then re­spond. And at that point the Se­nate has two choices,” McCon­nell told re­porters this week. “It could go down the path of call­ing wit­nesses and ba­si­cally hav­ing an­other trial. Or it could de­cide — and again 51 mem­bers could make that de­ci­sion — that they’ve heard enough.”

In other words, the pres­i­dent, who is al­most cer­tain to be found not guilty by the Repub­li­can-con­trolled Se­nate, can win the hard way or the easy way.

Se­nate Trump al­lies and ad­vis­ers in­side the White House have in re­cent days urged the pres­i­dent to tem­per his ex­pec­ta­tions and choose the path of least re­sis­tance. But Trump, ac­cord­ing to three peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the con­ver­sa­tions, has re­sponded by re­peat­ing his de­sire for a po­lit­i­cally charged trial that drags the Bi­dens and oth­ers into the im­peach­ment spot­light.

Trump’s so­lic­i­ta­tion of Ukraine for in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the Bi­dens — while with­hold­ing mil­i­tary aide from the ally na­tion fac­ing Rus­sian ag­gres­sion — forms the core of one ar­ti­cle of im­peach­ment against the pres­i­dent. His ef­forts to block the House in­ves­ti­ga­tion forms the sec­ond.

On Capi­tol Hill, the emerg­ing GOP con­sen­sus is that do­ing Trump’s de­fense his way would jeop­ar­dize a pre­dictable out­come, test GOP’s frag­ile loy­al­ties to him and open a Pan­dora’s box of unan­tic­i­pated con­se­quences.

“Peo­ple are be­gin­ning to re­al­ize that could be a pretty messy and un­pro­duc­tive process,” Sen. Ron John­son, R-Wis., said Wed­nes­day. “If you start open­ing up to wit­nesses, you start open­ing up to all wit­nesses. And so I think the pres­i­dent’s got to re­ally de­cide, to what ex­tent does he want to start go­ing down that road ver­sus just mak­ing a strong case.”

Democrats would be ex­pected to re­tal­i­ate by try­ing to call the pres­i­dent’s most-se­nior ad­vis­ers, in­clud­ing act­ing chief of staff Mick Mul­vaney and Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo, and his per­sonal at­tor­ney, Rudy Gi­u­liani.

Un­der Se­nate rules, McCon­nell’s abil­ity to con­trol the pro­ceed­ings are lim­ited. The Chief Jus­tice of the United States, John Roberts, pre­sides over the trial and any sen­a­tor may be able to put a mo­tion on wit­nesses up for a vote. That means de­fec­tions by just a few GOP sen­a­tors could thwart McCon­nell’s plans.

With the Repub­li­cans slim ma­jor­ity, it’s not at all clear they want to start down the path of a full­blown trial. Should they try to call the whistle­blower or the Bi­dens to tes­tify, they may not find enough votes of sup­port from their ranks. At the same time, they would have to con­sider whether to ac­cept or fend off wit­ness re­quests from Democrats.

But Repub­li­cans also ac­knowl­edge they are un­likely to find the 51 votes needed to dis­miss the charges against the pres­i­dent out­right. Some vul­ner­a­ble law­mak­ers and Trump skep­tics will in­sist on some sem­blance of trial.

JACQUELYN MARTIN/AP

Paper­work sits on a desk Wed­nes­day be­fore a House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee markup of the ar­ti­cles of im­peach­ment against Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Capi­tol Hill in Washington.

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