WASHINGTON (CN) — When articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump finally reach the Senate, the trial on those charges should be conducted the same way as Bill Clinton’s impeachment proceedings, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Friday.
“Just like 20 years ago, we should address mid-trial questions such as witnesses after briefs, opening arguments, senator questions and other relevant motions. Fair is fair,” McConnell, R-Ky., said from the Senate floor.
Last month, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives approved two articles of impeachment against Trump – abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The inquiry centered on the president’s attempt to condition military aid for Ukraine on investigations into the 2016 election and former Vice President Joe Biden, seen by many as Trump’s likely opponent in the 2020 election.
Whether Trump’s Senate impeachment trial will include witnesses has been a sticking point between Republicans and Democrats since the House approved the articles of impeachment.
McConnell said last month that he would be coordinating with the White House to set the trial’s parameters, such as additional witnesses, senator questions and legal briefs.
His comment drew harsh condemnation from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who sent his own suggestions for trial rules in a letter along with a list of requested witnesses.
Returning from holiday break Friday, senators continued to spar over the issue from the Senate floor.
McConnell said the impeachment proceedings that took place in the House were a “sprint” and a “slapdash investigation,” and called the investigation the “least fair and least thorough impeachment inquiry in American history.”
The next steps, according to McConnell are to pass a unanimous and bipartisan resolution to set up initial logistics of the trial.
McConnell said senators do not need to be impartial when an impeachment trial lands on the Senate floor. He said the oath lawmakers take in such trials – promising to “do impartial justice according to the Constitution and law” – does not mean they should abandon their views.
“The oath has never meant that senators check all of their political judgment at the door and strip away all of their independent judgment about what is best for the nation,” McConnell said. “It has never meant that and never could. … Senators do not cease to be senators just because the House sends us articles of impeachment.”
Schumer, speaking from the Senate floor after McConnell on Friday, said Republicans have not made a valid argument against allowing witnesses since Democrats proposed the idea last month.
The question now is whether senators will conduct a fair impeachment trial— which McConnell has already answered in the negative, Schumer said, referring to his comments about cooperating with the White House.
Schumer also addressed McConnell’s comments that the Senate should stick to precedent set by the Clinton impeachment trial. If that includes withholding witness testimony, Schumer said, it would be the first impeachment trial in U.S. history to do so completely.
Schumer said Democrats have requested witnesses in a timely fashion so they can prepare testimony and provide documents. He argued that without assurances they will be heard, McConnell will undoubtedly say the trial has gone on long enough and push past calling those witnesses.
“McConnell’s proposal is nothing more than a poorly disguised trap,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “So if we don’t get a commitment up front that the House managers will be able to call witnesses as part of their case, the Senate will act as little more than a nationally televised meeting of the mock trial club.”
He also said that newly unredacted emails between a Pentagon official and Michael Duffey, associate director of national security at the Office of Management and Budget, bolstered Democrats’ case to call more witnesses.
In one email, Duffey said there was “clear direction from POTUS to continue to hold” the aid to Ukraine.
“Importantly, that Mr. Duffey said there was ‘clear direction from POTUS to continue to hold’ only further implicates President Trump and underscores the need for the Senate to subpoena the witnesses and documents we’ve requested at the onset of a trial,” Schumer said Friday.