Senators are girding for a lengthy impeachment trial that could leave a cloud over President Donald Trump’s Feb. 4 State of the Union address and disrupt Democratic campaigns for the Iowa caucuses and beyond.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi will name impeachment prosecutors Wednesday morning, the House will vote on them and will formally transmit the two articles to the Senate, delivering them in a ceremonial procession across the Capitol.
Meanwhile, Republican senators have been hashing out the procedures that will govern the trial. Those include the mundane logistics of an event that could have them sitting in trial six days a week, possibly starting Tuesday, as well as more consequential matters such as the timing of votes on witnesses.
Republican leaders have already shot down Trump’s suggestion of a quick dismissal of the case, and they sound increasingly resigned to the potential for a longer trial that includes witnesses.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has sought to engineer a swift trial that would quickly acquit the president, and he ridiculed Democratic requests that the Senate seek witnesses and documents blocked by Trump. But at least four Republican senators are insisting they want a chance to consider calling witnesses or viewing new evidence.
If they ultimately agree to vote for at least some of the Democratic requests -- a prospect that has appeared more likely in recent days -- that could extend the trial for weeks beyond the State of the Union and deeper into the presidential nominating contest, which begins with the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses and continues weekly through the month.
McConnell said Tuesday if the Senate agrees to let the House call witnesses, Trump should also be allowed to call witnesses in his defense, which would only add to the time spent on the trial.
“I can’t imagine that only the witnesses that our Democratic colleagues would want to call would be called,” he told reporters.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wants to hear from four witnesses who were blocked by Trump during the House impeachment inquiry. They are former National Security Adviser John Bolton, acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and two others with knowledge of the president’s freeze on military aid for Ukraine while he pressured that country’s new president to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.
Schumer also wants a trove of Ukraine-related documents to be turned over. The House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday released phone records, texts and notes that Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudy Giuliani, gave to the Judiciary Committee as potential additional material in the Senate impeachment trial.
The documents include a May 2019 letter from Giuliani in his “capacity as personal counsel to President Trump” to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy requesting a meeting.
There also is a series of text messages between Parnas and Robert Hyde, a Republican congressional candidate, about Marie Yovanovitch, then the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. At the time in March 2019, Giuliani was trying to get her removed from her post.
Parnas had been working with Giuliani to dig up political dirt in Ukraine on Hunter Biden and the former vice president, now Trump’s top Democratic rival in the presidential election.
Trump and his allies have suggested they would seek testimony from the Bidens, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff and the whistle-blower who set off the impeachment drama last year.
McConnell has said the procedures would hew closely to the initial rules set by the Senate in the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in 1999. That would allow votes on witnesses and documents only after both sides have presented their cases and senators have asked questions.
That process alone is expected to take about two weeks, running right up against the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses. The four Democratic senators running for president -- Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bennet -- will be largely off the campaign trail and sitting in the trial, potentially prohibited from even using their cell phones during trial proceedings.
Trump is scheduled to deliver the State of the Union the following night.
Senator Jim Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican, said the trial could be lengthy if witnesses are called. He said that’s in part because any witnesses have not been deposed already -- as the three witnesses in the Clinton trial had been -- and there could be lengthy court battles if Trump tries to exercise executive privilege to block testimony.
“I guess what they’re trying to do is set up to make the Senate impeachment trial months and months long,” Lankford said of Democrats. “They want to send it over here and lock the Senate up.”
Clinton’s trial took a total of 37 calendar days. The time spent on witnesses -- including voting to consider three of them, issuing subpoenas, conducting and submitting videotaped depositions, voting only to view the videotapes and then finally watching them in the Senate chamber -- consumed more than a week of the trial. Clinton was ultimately acquitted.
Ruling Out Dismissal
Despite statements by Trump urging the GOP-majority Senate to throw out the case, McConnell said there’s no appetite to simply the dismiss the articles of impeachment.
“There is little or no sentiment in the Republican conference for a motion to dismiss,” McConnell said. “Our members feel that we have an obligation to listen to the arguments.”
The trial process will get kicked off following the House vote set for 12:30 p.m. Wednesday to name the impeachment “managers,” authorize funding for the trial and send the articles over to the Senate.
Pelosi and House Democrats will hold a ceremonial signing of the articles at 5 p.m. Then, the impeachment managers, likely led by Schiff and Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, will line up to solemnly walk them over to the Senate, through the Capitol. A similar spectacle was performed in 1998 when then-Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde led such a march of the Clinton articles.
This strange entourage will slowly make its way through Statuary Hall and the Capitol Rotunda, then to the Senate -- all along the way protected by tight security. After delivering the articles to the Secretary of the Senate, officials say the managers will turn around, and march back to the House side.
Those same House Democrats serving as impeachment managers will once again cross the Capitol to the Senate on the opening day of the trial.