McConnell and Schumer spar over question of witnesses in Senate impeachment trial

Jon Ward
Senior Political Correspondent

WASHINGTON — As Democrats began the final procedural committee hearing Tuesday, which will pave the way for them to bring articles of impeachment against President Trump on Wednesday, partisan wrangling heated up in the Senate over whether it will hear from witnesses during a trial.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the House hearings had “failed to come anywhere near — anywhere near — the bar for impeaching a duly elected president, let alone removing him for the first time in American history.”

McConnell rejected a request by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to immediately decide the question of whether the Senate will hear from witnesses. Schumer said in a letter to McConnell Sunday that the question of witness and document subpoenas “should be decided before we move forward with any part of the trial.”

McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday morning that he thinks the question of witnesses should “come later,” as it did in the 1999 impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, a Democrat. In that trial, the Senate approved rules for the trial at the beginning and then voted on witnesses three weeks into the trial. It ultimately negotiated an agreement on hearing from three witnesses, but only in videotaped testimony that was shown in the Senate chamber.

Schumer said Democrats believe the Senate should call four witnesses: acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, former national security adviser John Bolton, Office of Management and Budget associate director for national security Michael Duffey and senior adviser to the acting White House chief of staff Robert Blair.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, Sen. Chuck Schumer. (Photos: J. Scott Applewhite/AP, Michael Brochstein/Echoes Wire/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

McConnell, while not rejecting the idea of fact witnesses, made an argument that can be used to try to dismiss the need for them. He called the House process the “most rushed, least thorough and most unfair impeachment inquiry in modern history.”

“If the House Democrats' case is this deficient, this thin, the answer is not for the judge and jury to cure it over here in the Senate,” McConnell said.

Schumer fired back in his own speech on the Senate floor. “The House has built a very strong case against the president. Maybe that’s why Leader McConnell doesn’t seem to want witnesses, at least not agree to them now,” Schumer said.

“Senators who oppose this plan will have to explain why less evidence is better than more evidence,” he said. “Who is for an open and fair trial? Who is for hiding facts, relevant facts? … Who is for covering up?”

“Leader McConnell, are you — in Alexander Hamilton’s words — ‘unawed and uninfluenced’ to produce the ‘necessary impartiality,’ or will you participate in a cover-up?” Schumer said.

If the Senate does not hear from witnesses, Schumer said, it will be “a rush to judgment, a sham trial.”

Meanwhile, in the House, a nearly three-month inquiry ground to a close, as the two articles of impeachment against Trump — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — were debated in the House Rules Committee.

The hearing began at 11 a.m. and was expected to last all day. The committee was set to hear from two members of the House Judiciary Committee and to set rules for the debate and passage of these articles on the full House floor on Wednesday.

Among other things, the Rules Committee will determine how long the House will debate the impeachment charges against the president, in what will be a historic and highly charged affair. Democratic sources told Yahoo News Tuesday morning they expected the House debate to last five to six hours.

Democrats hold a 233-to-197 majority in the House and expect only two or three of their members, at the most, to vote against impeachment, ensuring its easy passage.

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