WASHINGTON (CN) – As the Senate debated the rules for President Donald Trump’s historic impeachment trial Tuesday, Senate Republicans beat back several amendments that would have added more documents and witnesses into the record.
Senate Republicans proposed a revised resolution Tuesday afternoon after their initial effort had Democrats blasting the rules as a cover-up, but the new procedures again fall short of what Democrats demand.
McConnell defended his initial proposal this morning as a workable path forward.
“Can we put fairness, evenhandedness ahead of the partisan passion of today?” McConnell asked in his opening remarks. “The resolution puts forward the support of the majority of the Senate because it sets up a structure that is fair, evenhanded and tracks closely with past precedents established unanimously.”
As originally conceived, those rules would have left unclear whether any witnesses would be called, any new evidence would be gathered, or even whether the Senate would recognize the fact record amassed for months by their colleagues in the House of Representatives. The amended version automatically transmits the House’s evidence to the Senate.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called it telling that Trump’s allies did not want anyone in his administration to testify under oath.
“If the president’s case is so weak and none of the president’s men can defend him under oath, shame on him and those that allow it to happen,” the New York Democrat said on the floor Tuesday as the trial began.
Originally allowing for 24 hours of arguments within two Senate session days, the McConnell resolution initially paved the way for a possibility of proceedings that could stretch “into the dead of night,” Schumer said.
“If the president is so confident in his case… why don’t they want the case to be presenting in broad daylight?” Schumer pondered from the floor before the resolution was finally revised.
Indiana Republican Mike Braun told reporters amendments to McConnell’s original resolution happened during a lunch break since most lawmakers didn’t have time to review the resolution in full.
Once they did though, Braun said they thought it was prudent that submitting evidence from the House proceedings would be a good thing. The initial discussions took place when McConnell was absent, but the message was relayed by another senator.
“I think we arrived at a good, common-sense decision … All of us are going to be interested in hearing the case made. I think the big dynamic difference now is we have not heard the defense. We’re going to get that part; we’ll see if we glean anything new from it and we will arrive at all those big questions after phase one,” Braun said.
Later, when he stopped to speak with reporters outside the Senate chamber during a brief recess, Schumer said Democrats hoping to call witnesses found promise in McConnell’s changes.
“In other words, this idea that Mitch McConnell, whatever he does, every one of them will go along with doesn’t seem to be happening on two important issues,” Schumer said.
As to witness and document requests, even though the U.S. Constitution vests the Senate with the “sole power to try all impeachments,” Republicans hammered away on a single point Tuesday: it is the House that is the place to conduct evidence-gathering, not the Senate.
Trump’s attorney Pat Cipollone likened the Democrats’ demand to a prosecutor unprepared for trial.
“Let me tell you something: If I showed up in any court in this country and I said, ‘Judge, my case is overwhelming, but I’m not ready to go yet. I need more evidence before I can make my case,’ I would get thrown out in two seconds, and that’s exactly what should happen here,” Cipollone said.
Turning the analogy on its head, Representative Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and an impeachment manager, offered a separate comparison of a judge conspiring with a criminal defendant on a plan to sideline any witnesses or evidence. “The judge would be taken out in handcuffs,” Schiff said.
Earlier in the day, House impeachment managers sent Cipollone a letter calling him a material witness to both articles against Trump: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
“In light of your extensive knowledge of these key events, your personal representation of President Trump threatens to undermine the integrity of the pending trial,” the 5-page letter, signed by all seven impeachment managers, states.
Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican believed to be a key swing vote for Democrats, breezed right past reporters who were tightly gathered in one of the few areas where their access was not restricted during the trial.
She declined to answer questions about whether she would vote in favor of the resolution. Under the Senate’s press access rules, reporters could not follow her to a location where they could ask follow-up queries.
Hours later when the Senate voted 53-47 to table an amendment by Schumer prompting Chief Justice Roberts to subpoena documents involving Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky and other Ukraine-related documents tied to meetings ranging from Jan. 1, 2019, until now, Collins released a statement broadcasting her plans for the future: she will vote to table any amendment that seeks records until after arguments are presented from both sides.
Another amendment from Schumer was also defeated 53-47. That amendment would have subpoenaed a year of documents tied to Ukraine from the State Department. Among them would have been records related to preparations for Trump’s call with Zelensky, discussions about the $391 million aid freeze to Ukraine and other documents which show efforts from key State Department officials pressuring Ukraine to announce investigations.
A third amendment proposing a subpoena for documents from the Office of Management and Budget including records about agency meetings with Ukrainian government spanning 2019 to present was also voted down along party lines on Tuesday night.
From a perch where reporters are penned in, Collins could be seen intensely taking notes during the afternoon’s proceedings. Collins is seated at trial next to Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, another in the group of four Republican lawmakers Democrats have been urging to break ranks on the issue of witness testimony.
Both Collins and Murkowski, who took furtive notes of her own Tuesday, kept their eyes squarely on Schiff — their hands unmoving —during the California Democrat’s address.
As the body debated McConnell’s resolution, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina appeared restless in his chair, frequently fidgeting and darting his gaze from the adjacent visitor’s gallery to points inside the room.
Graham took infrequent notes only during the first half of Tuesday’s hearing. McConnell appeared generally attentive in the proceedings but could be seen slouching in his chair at one point, perking up after White House attorney Pat Cipollone concluded his remarks.
Also seen spectating from inside the chamber Tuesday was Megan Barbero, the deputy general counsel for the House of Representatives who argued that former White House counsel Don McGahn should be forced to testify.
Former Arizona Senator Jeff Flake could be seen in the visitors’ gallery on Tuesday too, observing two screens used to display evidence from the House managers of the president’s statements and documents. Texas Representative Louie Gohmert got comfortable for the presentations Tuesday by sitting on a cushion on the Senate floor.
Representatives Mark Meadows and Lee Zeldin took in the proceedings on Tuesday as part of the eight-member team of House Republicans who are working on Trump’s defense team.
Meadows told reporters as he was leaving the Senate chamber that he was at the White House earlier in the day working on trial preparation, including getting ready for motions that could be filed. He said other members of the White House team, including Representatives Jim Jordan and John Ratcliffe, would take in the proceedings later in the week.
During a break in arguments Tuesday, House impeachment managers skewered President Trump’s legal brief for relying upon a blanket claim of immunity to the two charges, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
“His across-the-board refusal to provide Congress with information and his assertion that his own lawyers are the sole judges of presidential privilege undermines the constitutional authority of the people’s representatives and shifts power to an imperial president,” the 34-page brief from House impeachment managers states.
Those impeachment managers are Schiff, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, and Representatives Zoe Lofgren, Hakeem Jeffries, Val Demings, Jason Crow and Sylvia Garcia.
Throughout the day, Democrats repeated the line that, rather than allowing for a fair trial, the McConnell resolution hardly envisions a trial at all.
“It’s a mockery of a trial,” Schiff thundered from the dais of the Senate. “This is not an appeal from a trial.”
“You are not appellate court judges,” the California congressman continued, addressing the senators.
Schiff then turned to Chief Justice John Roberts of the Supreme Court behind him – “Well, one of you is,” he quipped.
“The charges here represent a threat to our own national security as well as our security abroad,” Schiff said, denying that should be considered partisan political attacks.
Schiff warned that passing McConnell’s resolution intact will greatly harm democracy.
“We will never learn how deep the corruption of this administration goes and what threats to our national security and elections remain hidden,” Schiff said.
There are at least 10 administration officials the president has directed not to testify. They include ambassador John Bolton; Energy Secretary Rick Perry; deputy counsel to the president for national security affairs John Eisenberg; Eisenberg’s deputy, Michael Ellis; White House adviser on energy Preston Wells Griffith; former U.S. deputy national security adviser Charles Kupperman; acting director at the Office of Management and Budget Russell Vought; Brian McCormack, former senior aide to Energy Secretary Perry; and State Department counselor T. Ulrich Brechbuhl.
Schiff, during an impassioned speech from the floor exceeding 15 minutes, said the White House would go a long way toward proving its case in the Senate by calling some of the witnesses directed to ignore congressional subpoenas.
In addition to Bolton, impeachment managers want testimony from Michael Duffey, the senior Office of Management and Budget official who requested the hold on military assistance to Ukraine just 90 minutes after Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s President Volodomyr Zelensky according to emails first obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.
Acting OMB head Mick Mulvaney and his aide Robert Blair should also testify, the managers said.
Reflecting on the opening statements from Trump’s team, Schumer told reporters Republicans did nothing to rebut Democrats’ calls to bring new witnesses and documents into the trial on Tuesday.
“I thought their case was extremely weak,” Schumer said. “You know, name-calling, pounding the table, doesn’t suffice for making arguments on the merits, and I have faith that the American people can see that.”