Senate impeachment trial: Democrats want to subpoena four witnesses and approve rules in one motion

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer laid out exactly how Democrats are looking to handle the Senate impeachment trial in a letter on Sunday: They’d like to kick things off on January 6 — and include the testimony of at least four witnesses.

Those witnesses are acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, former National Security Advisor John Bolton, Mulvaney’s senior advisor Robert Blair, and Associate Director for National Security at the Office of Management and Budget Michael Duffey. They’re all current or former members of President Donald Trump’s administration who have direct knowledge of his discussions with Ukraine about political investigations and military aid. All four were called to testify as part of the House inquiry, though they declined to show up.

Schumer’s letter follows recent comments from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who’s said he’s working in “total coordination” with the White House to conduct the trial.

“There will be no difference between the president’s position and our position as to how to handle this to the extent that we can,” McConnell said during a Fox News appearance last week. Senate Republicans have emphasized that they’re interested in an expedited process that doesn’t include witnesses and moves quickly to acquittal. As Schumer’s opening salvo indicates, Democrats, it seems, want something slightly different.

Schumer and McConnell have yet to sit down to discuss their approaches to the trial, though that’s expected to happen shortly. “Leader McConnell has made it clear he plans to meet with Leader Schumer to discuss the contours of a trial soon. That timeline has not changed,” McConnell spokesman Doug Andres said in a statement.

Schumer’s letter is coming at a crossroads: Since the House is expected to impeach the president this Wednesday, an impeachment trial is likely to begin in the Senate at the start of the new year. Before it gets underway, however, the Senate will have to vote on a rules resolution that’s historically been hashed out by the majority and minority leaders regarding the timing of the trial, daily procedure, and possible witnesses. During former President Bill Clinton’s trial, the Senate voted 100-0 on a broad rules motion around procedure, though it split along party lines regarding a later motion to call witnesses.

In his letter to McConnell, Schumer explains what he envisions the rules resolution looking like for the Trump trial, including the schedule of the proceedings, the witnesses he’s interested in subpoenaing, and the documents he’d like to request from the White House. He notes that, unlike in the Clinton trial, Democrats are interested in one resolution that includes provisions governing all three issues.

“We believe all of this should be considered in one resolution,” he writes. “The issue of witnesses and documents, which are the most important issues facing us, should be decided before we move forward with any part of the trial.”

Democrats’ take on resolution would address the following:

Start of the trial

  • Monday, January 6: The Senate approves pre-trial housekeeping measures governing access to the Senate floor and chambers during the trial.
  • Tuesday, January 7: Chief Justice John Roberts is sworn in to preside over the trial and senators are sworn in as jurors. At this point, senators have to take an oath to “do impartial justice” as they decide whether to convict or acquit the president.
  • Thursday, January 9: House managers — representatives from the House who act as prosecutors — have 24 hours to present their arguments. After they finish, White House counsel has 24 hours to present its arguments.

Subpoenas for witnesses and documents

  • Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney: Mulvaney is said to have approved a meeting between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that was conditioned on investigations into Hunter Biden and Burisma, according to testimony from National Security Council member Fiona Hill, The Guardian reports. Democrats hope to question him about that meeting, and his role in the delay in releasing nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine.
  • Former National Security Advisor John Bolton: Bolton had a meeting with Trump about removing the hold on aid to Ukraine, according to testimony from former National Security Council official Tim Morrison, Axios reports. Bolton has hinted he has information about Trump’s attempts to pressure Ukraine that is not yet known to Congress; he refused to testify before the House without a court order, but Democrats hope he can shed light on how much high level officials knew about the pressure campaign — and when they knew what.
  • Associate Director for National Security, Office of Management and Budget Michael Duffey: Duffey, a political appointee at the Office of Management and Budget, sent emails to the White House about the hold the president wanted on aid to Ukraine, according to witness testimony from OMB official Mark Sandy during the House inquiry. Duffey also refused to testify before the House, but may be able to clarify the timeline around the release of the aid.
  • Mulvaney Senior Advisor Robert Blair: As an aide to Mulvaney, Blair was involved in communications between the Office of Management and Budget and the White House, and could provide testimony about the timing of releasing aid to Ukraine, according to Sandy’s sworn statements during the House inquiry.

Schumer also notes that Democrats will welcome additional witness requests from the White House, as long as the people being called have “direct knowledge of the Administration’s decisions regarding the delay in security assistance funds to the government of Ukraine and the requests for certain investigations to be announced by the government of Ukraine.” The letter does not explicitly comment on whether Democrats would oppose other potential witnesses Republicans have pressed to hear from throughout the impeachment process, like former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden.

In addition to witness testimony, Democrats are seeking a trove of documents that “shed additional light on the Administration’s decision-making regarding the delay in security assistance funding to Ukraine and its requests for certain investigations to be announced by the government of Ukraine.” House Democrats sought similar documents during their inquiry into Trump’s relationship with Ukraine; the White House refused to turn these documents over — and it’s not yet clear whether they’d react differently during the Senate trial.

Overall timing

The Democrats propose:

  • Witnesses will testify for no more than four hours in front of House managers and four hours in front of President’s counsel.
  • Equal time will be given for Republican and Democratic senators to question the House managers and the president’s legal team.
  • Equal time will also be given for closing arguments by both the managers and the president’s legal team.
  • Senators will be given 24 hours for final deliberation ahead of a vote on the articles of impeachment.

McConnell and Schumer have both said, at one point, that they’d attempt to find bipartisan agreement on the rules governing the trial, but lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have wondered if that will be possible given how polarized this impeachment process has become.

If Republicans are able to stay united, they could approve a more partisan version of the rules with just 51 votes. This letter is Democrats’ attempt to emphasize their own priorities.

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