Washington DC

McConnell Says He Has Votes to Start Impeachment Trial Without Witnesses

Although Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi continues to withhold the articles of impeachment from the Senate with no indication of when she plans to transfer them to the Republican-controlled half of Congress, the outlines of how the trial will proceed are beginning to take shape as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has told Republican colleagues that he has the votes to begin the trial with no guarantee that witnesses will be called. Democrats believe that their case against the president is already ironclad, but that calling additional witnesses like former national security advisor John Bolton and White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney will further bolster their case and convince the American public of the president’s wrongdoing.

Republicans, on the other hand, have not presented a defense of the president’s conduct on the merits of the case but instead have tried to shift attention to the president’s political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter, alleging that the younger Biden’s conduct in Ukraine as a member of the board of an oil company constituted impropriety as his father was Vice President at the time. Accordingly, McConnell and Senate Republicans have announced their intention to work with the White House to ensure that the political damage the trial inflicts on Trump’s presidency is minimized. As such, Republicans are pushing for a rapid trial involving no witnesses and documents, consisting only of a presentation from the impeachment managers selected by the House and a defense from the president’s legal team followed by a vote which is all but certain to result in an acquittal, giving the president ammunition in his claim that he is being unfairly prosecuted by Democrats.

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McConnell has argued that the Senate trial should begin in accordance with the rules that governed the 1999 impeachment trial of Bill Clinton, which did not guarantee the presence of documents or witnesses but allowed senators to vote to call witnesses, who appeared virtually via videotape, as the trial proceeded. As Republicans hold a majority in the Senate and are fairly united in their opposition to the impeachment of Donald Trump, it is unlikely that they will decide during the trial to call witnesses like Bolton and Mulvaney who have firsthand knowledge of the scandal that led to the president’s impeachment, though they may push to call witnesses like Joe and Hunter Biden to testify about the unrelated, manufactured conspiracy theory that alleges without evidence misconduct on the part of Democrats.

If history is any indication, it’s only a matter of time before the full details of the administration’s conduct in connection with the scandal about Ukraine are revealed to all

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has accused McConnell and the Republicans of engaging in a cover-up by refusing to hear from Bolton and Mulvaney, among others, particularly given the magnitude of the evidence that has already been uncovered by House investigators despite the White House’s near-total obstruction, which has understandably raised additional questions about the administration’s response to the president’s request of Ukrainian President Zelensky for assistance in his domestic political campaign.

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Though the likelihood of the presence of witnesses at the president’s trial decreases by the day, John Bolton has complicated the process by saying he’d be willing to testify if he receives a subpoena from the Senate, despite his prior refusal to comply with a House subpoena on the basis of his claim that that his conflicting orders from Congress and the executive branch constituted a critical separation-of-powers issue that had to be resolved by the courts.

Political observers believe that Bolton’s announcement is not sincere, but instead strategic, as the former White House national security advisor is well within his rights to discuss what he knows about the president’s conduct in a public forum, and in fact may do so in a book that he is planning to sell. That being said, pundits disagree over the end-game of Bolton’s political strategy, which remains unclear to everyone except him and his legal team. In any event, if history is any indication, it’s only a matter of time before the full details of the administration’s conduct in connection with the scandal about Ukraine are revealed to all, whether or not witnesses are called during the forthcoming trial.