McConnell Plans Tighter Timeline in Trump Impeachment Trial

Steven T. Dennis, Laura Litvan and Daniel Flatley

(Bloomberg) -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to give House impeachment managers just two days to prosecute their case against President Donald Trump -- a move that accelerates the timetable for a trial Republicans intend to end in a quick acquittal.

The resolution, which was released Monday, gives House managers and Trump’s defense 24 hours of floor time each to make their arguments, but limits them to just two days each, instead of the three allowed in Bill Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial. The rules would also allow the president’s team to seek a quick dismissal of the charges, though many Republican senators have said they should at least hear the case.

The White House immediately backed McConnell’s rules but didn’t indicate whether it would press for a quick vote on a motion to dismiss.

“Protecting the president’s rights to offer pretrial motions was critical for us to support the package, and we’re very gratified with the resolution,” said Eric Ueland, the White House’s liaison to Congress. “I’m not going to talk about trial strategy publicly.”

“It makes sense” to file a motion to dismiss because in every criminal case where there is no wrongdoing, you should try and get a dismissal, Alan Dershowitz, a member of Trump’s defense team, said in an interview Monday evening.

Neither side will be allowed to call witnesses or seek documents under the proposed rules unless a majority of the Senate votes to allow such motions after the opening phase of the trial, including up to 16 hours of senators’ questions. The trial is set to begin Tuesday and the rules need to be approved by a majority of the Senate.

Trial Briefs

Earlier Monday, the White House and impeachment managers from the House of Representatives released filings in which both sides argued that constitutional separation of powers is at stake in the trial.

The president’s 171-page filing contends that the House failed to prove that the president explicitly linked aid for Ukraine to an investigation Trump sought into political rival and former Vice President Joe Biden, who is seeking to challenge Trump in the November election. And the president’s lawyers argued that the Senate should swiftly reject the impeachment articles.

The White House also announced that eight House Republicans who’ve been among the president’s most vocal defenders would serve as part of his team “working to combat this hyper-partisan and baseless impeachment.”

They include Representatives Doug Collins, Jim Jordan, Mark Meadows and Elise Stefanik, all of whom were prominent during the House’s impeachment investigation and have made frequent media appearances on behalf of the president. The administration statement didn’t say exactly what their roles will be during the trial.

Calling Witnesses

In the rules resolution, McConnell bowed to the demands of four Republican senators who insisted that there at least be a vote on whether to call witnesses. Those senators are Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

In a statement Monday, Romney said he had “made clear to my colleagues and the public that the Senate should have the opportunity to decide on witnesses following the opening arguments, as occurred in the Clinton trial.” But he said he would oppose any attempt to vote on witnesses sooner.

Alexander backed the resolution and said he supported a vote on whether to hear witnesses or view additional evidence “at the appropriate time.” But he said in a statement that the Senate could decide that no other evidence is necessary.

Democratic Senator Chris Coons, who successfully pushed a small group of Republicans to back a limited reopening of the FBI background check into Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, appealed to them Monday night to reject McConnell’s resolution.

“The proposal that Majority Leader McConnell just released looks more like a cover up than a fair trial,” Coons said. “His proposed rules would rush the presentation of the case, erect barriers to witnesses, and even delay admission of evidence already in the record.”

Even if there are enough votes to seek testimony, it’s not yet clear whether a majority of 51 senators will agree on a particular package of witnesses.

If they do, the trial could extend past the Feb. 3 Iowa caucus and the Feb. 4 State of the Union address.

Either way, McConnell’s resolution lays the ground work for a trial that would likely last far fewer than the 37 calendar days of the Clinton trial.

‘Rushing the Trial’

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer accused McConnell of casting aside public statements that he would use the same rules as under the Clinton trial, adding that the majority leader is clearly “hell-bent on making it much more difficult to get witnesses and documents and intent on rushing the trial through.”

He said in a statement Monday evening that he will offer amendments to alter “the many flaws” in a “deeply unfair proposal,” as well as to subpoena further witnesses and documents.

Republicans are expected to vote against those motions, at least until later in the trial. At that point, Schumer will either succeed in splitting the GOP and getting potentially damaging testimony and documents or a ready-made campaign issue about Republicans doing Trump’s bidding.

Under the process outlined by McConnell and expected to be backed by his majority, the leader will move swiftly Tuesday to adopt rules he adapted from Clinton’s trial.

‘Ready to Go’

“We’ll be ready to go,” McConnell told reporters late Monday.

During the Clinton trial, a motion to dismiss was offered by a Democratic senator, Robert Byrd. The motion, which failed, was offered only after the impeachment managers and defense presented their cases and after senators asked questions of both sides.

McConnell’s proposed rules also don’t automatically accept the record of evidence compiled by the House in its impeachment inquiry, though that record will still be printed and distributed. A senior GOP leadership aide said the Senate won’t simply accept the House record because of what Republicans said was a lack of due process for the president in the other chamber’s proceedings.

McConnell’s resolution will be debated and voted on Tuesday afternoon along with proposed amendments -- a process that will chew up much of the day. Both sides have until Wednesday morning to make pretrial motions, which will be debated Wednesday afternoon.

At the conclusion of the pretrial motions, the House impeachment managers would start their two days of arguments.

House legal aides working with the impeachment managers complained earlier in the day about the lack of advance information from McConnell on the rules and structure of the trial, less than 24 hours before it was to begin.

The aides said the managers would oppose McConnell’s efforts to accelerate the trial.

(Updates with House Republicans on defense team, beginning in the ninth paragraph.)

--With assistance from Billy House, Justin Sink, Josh Wingrove and Jordan Fabian.

To contact the reporters on this story: Steven T. Dennis in Washington at sdennis17@bloomberg.net;Laura Litvan in Washington at llitvan@bloomberg.net;Daniel Flatley in Washington at dflatley1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kevin Whitelaw at kwhitelaw@bloomberg.net, Joe Sobczyk, Anna Edgerton

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