McConnell says Trump impeachment trial rules will be passed without Democrats

Key Points
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., says Senate Republicans are ready to move forward on an impeachment trial of President Donald Trump without any Democratic support.
  • McConnell effectively rejects demands by House and Senate Democrats that rules for a trial be agreed upon.
  • Trial rules will be modeled on the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton.
McConnell: Impeachment trial would start without witness testimony decision
McConnell: Impeachment trial would start without witness testimony decision

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Tuesday said Senate Republicans are prepared to move forward on an impeachment trial of President Donald Trump without agreeing first to rules about witnesses and without any Democratic votes.

"We have the votes once the impeachment trial has begun to pass a resolution, essentially the same, very similar to the 100-to-nothing vote" in the impeachment trial of former President Bill Clinton, McConnell told reporters in the Capitol.

By relying only on votes from his 53-member caucus, McConnell effectively rejected the demands by House and Senate Democrats that any rules for a trial be negotiated and agreed upon before a trial began.

Democrats want procedures for a trial that would allow witnesses to be called, a prospect Republicans have so far shown little interest in.

Instead, McConnell said the rules would be modeled upon Clinton's impeachment trial, which allowed the trial to begin with opening arguments without first requiring the question of witnesses and documents to be settled. "What's good for President Clinton is good for President Trump."

McConnell described the first part of a trial as a "phase one," which he said would include "arguments from the prosecution, arguments from the defense, and then a period of written questions" from senators.

He did not, however, suggest what a timeline for a trial might look like.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has so far refused to formally send the articles of impeachment passed by the House late last year over to the Senate, a crucial next step before the upper chamber can begin proceedings.

On Tuesday, McConnell acknowledged that, until Pelosi acts, the Senate is effectively frozen. "It's the rule of impeachment in the Senate that we must receive the papers [from the House]," he said, "and it continues to be my hope that the Speaker will send them on over."

The question of witnesses grew more pressing on Monday, when former National Security Advisor John Bolton said he would be willing to testify before the Senate if he were subpoenaed to do so.

Asked about Bolton's willingness to testify, Trump on Tuesday told reporters in the Oval Office that "it'll be up to the Senate" whether Bolton testifies. "He would know nothing about what we're talking about," Trump said.

But according to current and former national security officials, Bolton has broad, firsthand knowledge of Trump's interactions with Ukraine.

Fiona Hill, a former top Bolton aide, testified before the House late last year that Bolton was vehemently opposed to the plan to pressure Ukraine to launch investigations that would benefit Trump's reelection campaign.

Trump on impeachment: Shame we have to work on this 'partisan scam'
Trump on impeachment: Shame we have to work on this 'partisan scam'

Trump is expected to be tried on two charges: The first is abuse of power, and the second is obstruction of Congress.

The articles allege that Trump abused the power of the presidency by trying to use a coveted White House meeting and hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid as leverage in order to force Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to announce investigations into Trump's domestic political opponents.

The second charge alleges that Trump obstructed the constitutional rights of Congress by instructing his aides and top administration officials to defy legal subpoenas issued to them by House committees, to testify about Trump's Ukraine dealings.

Pelosi has given no indication, however, that she would be willing to compromise on her demand that witnesses be called and new documents be introduced.

On Monday, Pelosi tweeted that Trump and McConnell "must allow key witnesses to testify, and produce the documents Trump has blocked, so Americans can see the facts for themselves."

The Constitution also provides Pelosi with legal justification for holding on to the articles, said University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias.

"Pelosi has very little to lose by continuing to hold out for witnesses, and there is no guidance or directive in the Constitution governing when she needs to present the articles to the Senate," Tobias told CNBC on Tuesday.

"The framers left it to history and to the good judgment of the Senate. If they'd wanted strict procedures they'd have built them in," he said.