McCon­nell: GOP will start im­peach­ment trial, de­lay wit­nesses

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Lisa Mascaro, Mary Clare Jalonick and Alan Fram

WASH­ING­TON >> Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell said Tues­day he has se­cured the Repub­li­can votes needed to start Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s im­peach­ment trial and post­pone a de­ci­sion on wit­nesses or doc­u­ments that Democrats want.

McCon­nell is ex­pected to launch the third im­peach­ment trial in the na­tion’s his­tory as soon as

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sends the ar­ti­cles of im­peach­ment to the Se­nate. She is set to meet late Tues­day with her lead­er­ship team.

“We have the votes,” McCon­nell told re­porters. He said the ques­tion of new wit­nesses will be ad­dressed later “and not be­fore the trial be­gins.”

The GOP leader told sen­a­tors at their closed-door lunch Tues­day that he has sup­port for his plan, which is mod­eled af­ter Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton’s im­peach­ment trial 20 years ago. It would start the trial first and post­pone votes on wit­nesses un­til later in the process.

“He has 51 (votes), for sure,”’ said Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-S.C., a top ally of the pres­i­dent, ex­it­ing the meet­ing. Repub­li­cans hold the ma­jor­ity in the Se­nate, 53-47.

Democrats are ramp­ing up pres­sure on Repub­li­cans to in­sist on hear­ing from for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser John Bolton and other wit­nesses, and not to go along with McCo

nnell’s pro­posal to post­pone vot­ing on new tes­ti­mony. Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Chuck Schumer called it a “trap” and a “cover-up.”

“Who­ever heard of a trial with­out wit­nesses and doc­u­ments?” the New York Demo­crat said. He asked Trump what he has to hide. “Wit­nesses and doc­u­ments: fair trial. No wit­nesses and doc­u­ments: cover- up.”

Just four GOP sen­a­tors would be needed to deny McCon­nell his ma­jor­ity, but he ap­pears to have locked up the votes. GOP lead­ers were con­duct­ing a whip count Tues­day to gauge sup­port. Sev­eral GOP sen­a­tors have in­di­cated they want to hear from Bolton and other wit­nesses, but they are nev­er­the­less stand­ing with McCon­nell’s plan for start­ing the trial.

Sen. Mitt Rom­ney, RU­tah, said Tues­day that the Clin­ton process “pro­vided a path­way” to start the trial and con­sider wit­nesses “down the road.” He said he sup­ports it.

“I’m com­fort­able with that process,” Rom­ney said. “And at this stage, I’d like to hear from John Bolton and other wit­nesses with the right in­for­ma­tion, but that process will ac­com­mo­date that.”

Sen. Su­san Collins, RMaine, has also said she sup­ports McCon­nell’s ap­proach. Oth­ers say they are not sure they even need to hear from Bolton or other wit­nesses, blam­ing the House for not forc­ing them to tes­tify. Trump had in­structed White House of­fi­cials not to com­ply with the House in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“It’s not that I don’t want to hear from him,” said Sen. Thom Til­lis, R-N.C. “I want to hear from him when the House is will­ing to do their work and have the same agree­ment with the am­bas­sador on their side of the Hill.”

Trump faces charges that he abused the power of the pres­i­dency by pres­sur­ing Ukraine’s new leader to in­ves­ti­gate Democrats, us­ing as lever­age $400 mil­lion in mil­i­tary as­sis­tance that is crit­i­cal for the ally as it coun­ters Rus­sia at its bor­der.

The fund­ing for Ukraine was even­tu­ally re­leased but only af­ter Congress in­ter­vened.

From the Oval Of­fice, where Trump was meet­ing with the prime min­is­ter of Greece, he railed against the im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings, as he of­ten does, as “a to­tally par­ti­san hoax witch hunt.”

Trump in­sisted “there was ab­so­lutely noth­ing done wrong” in his in­ter­ac­tions with Ukraine.

Repub­li­cans are ex­pected to swiftly ac­quit Trump of the charges, but Democrats say fresh ev­i­dence, in­clud­ing Bolton’s will­ing­ness to tes­tify, only in­creases pres­sure for new wit­nesses and doc­u­ments.

Bolton ap­par­ently com­pared the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ac­tions to­ward Ukraine to a “drug deal” he wanted no part of, a shadow di­plo­macy be­ing con­cocted by the act­ing White House chief of staff Mick Mul­vaney and Am­bas­sador Gor­don Sond­land, ac­cord­ing to House tes­ti­mony. Bolton left the ad­min­is­tra­tion in Septem­ber.

Democrats also want doc­u­ments about the with­held aid to Ukraine that the White House re­fused to turn over to House in­ves­ti­ga­tors, de­fy­ing con­gres­sional sub­poe­nas.

With a 53-seat ma­jor­ity, McCon­nell has only loose con­trol over the im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings, where de­ci­sions on wit­nesses or doc­u­ments can be made with a 51-vote ma­jor­ity.

Pres­sure will mount on sen­a­tors up for re­elec­tion from swing states in 2020, in­clud­ing Collins, Til­lis, Iowa GOP Sen. Joni Ernst and Colorado GOP Sen. Cory Gard­ner, who are be­ing closely watched for their votes by a deeply di­vided coun­try. Pro­test­ers are show­ing up at the Capi­tol.

McCon­nell de­flected a ques­tion Tues­day on whether Trump acted ap­pro­pri­ately with Ukraine, say­ing he had noth­ing more to add on that is­sue. He ac­knowl­edged the votes on wit­nesses and doc­u­ments will be “the most con­tentious” part of the pro­ceed­ings. “There will be, I’m sure, in­tense dis­cus­sion,” he said.

The GOP leader has come un­der crit­i­cism for say­ing he was not an im­par­tial ju­ror but rather was work­ing in to­tal co­or­di­na­tion with the White House on the trial strat­egy.

Dur­ing the closed-door lunch, McCon­nell walked through de­tails of the trial pro­ceed­ings, and sen­a­tors in­di­cated they were plan­ning on pos­si­ble Satur­day ses­sions.

J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, R-Ky., ar­rives for a closed meet­ing Tues­day with fel­low Repub­li­cans as he strate­gizes about the loom­ing im­peach­ment trial of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, at the Capi­tol in Wash­ing­ton.

J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Sen. Su­san Collins, R-Maine, ar­rives for a closed meet­ing with fel­low Repub­li­cans about the loom­ing im­peach­ment trial of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, at the Capi­tol in Wash­ing­ton on Tues­day.

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