WASHINGTON (CN) — Senate Democrats are denying that a trade is in the works for Hunter Biden to testify at President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in exchange for a crack at former national security adviser John Bolton.
“The bottom line is that the witnesses should have something to do with direct knowledge of the charges against the President,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said at a press conference Wednesday morning. “We don't need to have witnesses that have nothing to do with this that are trying to distract Americans.”
For Democrats, Schumer stressed, the focus is setting up a fair trial when motions to subpoena witnesses and documents are introduced next week.
Reports that lawmakers, including Republican Senator Rand Paul, were open to the Bolton-Biden swap surfaced Tuesday as debate on the trial rules dragged past midnight.
Senator Chris Murphy quickly denied that any such bargaining is underway, however, as he made his way through the Senate halls Wednesday morning. “That’s your story,” the Connecticut Democrat said.
“That’s not a conversation that’s happening between Republican and Democrats,” he added. “We’re not in the business of trading away relevant witnesses for re-election gambits from the president.”
Republicans voted down a series of Democrat amendments Tuesday to guarantee the senators, acting as jurors, hear witness testimony and see documents blocked by the White House. Under the resolution passed with a 53-47 vote, the Senate will again take up the issue of whether to subpoena witnesses and documents after both sides give openings arguments and senators have 16 hours to present questions.
Senate Republicans spent their pretrial lunch Wednesday hearing from former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who dug into issues surrounding potential witnesses testimony. Republican Senator John Kennedy called Mukasey’s presentation "very informative,” saying he answered questions from senators about testimonial immunity and executive privilege.
Republicans still believe the proper time to answer the question of whether any witnesses and additional evidence will come into trial is after each side has a chance to present its case, said Kennedy, who represents Louisiana.
"After we hear the prosecution and defense case we'll be able to make a rational decision about what, if any additional evidence we need," Kennedy told reporters outside the Senate chamber Wednesday.
Schumer said the party-line votes of the GOP members “belie” their interest in fairness. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who participated in the same press conference, likewise said McConnell’s resolution was designed to speed through the trial.
With little control left in the hands of House managers bringing the case against Trump, Schumer did not rule out that he would cut a deal with McConnell trading a Republican witness for Bolton, who has stated he will testify if subpoenaed.
“Right now we haven't heard them wanting any witnesses at all,” Schumer said. “So our first quest is to continue to focus our efforts and focus the American people on the need for a fair trial which means witnesses and documents.”
But hours later, asked by reporters during a brief trial recess if Democrats would be open to Republicans calling Biden, Schumer said, “No, that’s off the table.”
Praising the House Mangers for presenting a compelling case, Schumer said Trump’s legal team made demonstrable factual errors and inflammatory statements in Tuesday’s proceedings.
“Yesterday we put the spotlight on the No. 1 issue,” Schumer said. “Having a fair trial with witnesses and documents. ... And I predict that as a result that spotlight will continue to focus on witnesses and documents and the pressure will continue to build on Republican senators.”
The minority leader also noted, as he did from the Senate floor Tuesday, that the documents, including records from Trump’s State Department and the Office of Budget and Management, and witnesses may not prove the Democrats’ case and could turn out to be exculpatory for Trump
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