Schumer calls McConnell proposal on witnesses a 'trap'

As the standoff over rules for an impeachment trial continues, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell repeated Friday that he would consider a proposal to call for witness testimony — a stance that his Democratic counterpart, Sen. Chuck Schumer, calls a “trap.”

McConnell has said he intends to start the trial without a decision on calling witnesses, the precedent set in the 1999 impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton.

President Trump “should get the same treatment every senator thought was fair for President Clinton,” McConnell said Friday during a midday speech on the Senate floor. “Fair is fair.”

But Schumer cast doubt on McConnell’s sincerity, calling the idea “a poorly disguised trap.”

“It is a ruse to suggest that the Senate wait until the end of the trial to settle the hardest question,” Schumer said on the floor in response to McConnell. He predicted that before the witnesses could be called, the majority leader would “argue that the Senate’s heard enough; we shouldn’t prolong the trial any longer.”

“There is only one precedent that matters here: that never, never in the history of our country has there been an impeachment trial of the president where the Senate was denied the ability to hear from witnesses,” Schumer said. “That is the salient fact.”

“You want the precedent of 1999? There were witnesses. As there were with every single impeachment trial in history,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks on the Senate floor on Jan. 3, 2020. (Screegrab via Yahoo News Video)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaking on the Senate floor on Friday. (Screengrab via Yahoo News Video)

Schumer said that McConnell should at a minimum commit in principle to calling witnesses, even if he postpones the question of who and how many to call.

Schumer told McConnell last month that he would like the Senate to call four witnesses who have been blocked by Trump from testifying so far: Mick Mulvaney, acting White House chief of staff; John Bolton, former national security adviser; Michael Duffey, Office of Management and Budget associate director for national security; and Robert Blair, senior adviser to the acting White House chief of staff.

Witnesses and documents in the House impeachment inquiry suggested that these four were central to Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, the basis of the two articles of impeachment approved last month.

“We are not asking for critics of the president to serve as witnesses,” Schumer said Friday. “We are asking only that the president’s men, his top advisers, tell their side of the story.”

McConnell referred to witnesses as a “mid-trial question.”

Although he hasn’t ruled out calling witnesses, he is pushing for a sped-up process that would make it much less likely. In a trial that wraps up in two or three weeks, passing up witnesses at the beginning would greatly increase the chances that any momentum behind having them would dissipate.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s surprise gambit to hold back the articles — announced moments after the House of Representatives impeached the president on Dec. 18 — was intended to turn Trump’s stated desire for exoneration against the Republicans by highlighting the refusal of the White House to cooperate with any aspect of the impeachment process, including by producing documents.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks on the Senate floor on Jan. 3, 2020. (Screegrab via Yahoo News Video)
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks about the leaked emails on the Senate floor on Friday. (Screengrab via Yahoo News Video)

Democrats believe a few things that happened over the very quiet two-week holiday break have given them a bit more leverage.

Emails obtained by the Center for Public Integrity through an open records request showed new details of the White House order to block military aid to Ukraine as Trump was demanding that the Ukrainian government investigate a potential political rival, Joe Biden.

A New York Times report on Dec. 29 revealed more about Mulvaney’s involvement in the scheme to put pressure on Ukraine by withholding military aid, which met with urgent opposition from the Pentagon and the national security bureaucracy. More details about White House communications with the Pentagon came out on Thursday. The articles of impeachment were drafted without this evidence, which Democrats say is crucial to the case against Trump.

Schumer called the holiday developments “a devastating blow” to what he described as McConnell’s “push to have a trial without the documents and witnesses we’ve requested.”

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