McConnell: Trump Trial Will Hear Arguments Before Considering Whether to Call Witnesses

By Susan Jones | January 8, 2020 | 5:37am EST
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) discusses the Trump impeachment trial on Jan. 7, 2020. (Photo: Screen capture)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) discusses the Trump impeachment trial on Jan. 7, 2020. (Photo: Screen capture)

( - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Tuesday that President Trump's impeachment trial will be modeled after that of Bill Clinton, and that means the question of calling witnesses will be addressed as the trial proceeds -- "and not before the trial begins."

McConnell described a "Phase One" of the trial, which would include arguments from both the prosecution and the defense -- "and then a period of written questions" from senators, who are not allowed to speak during the trial.

McConnell said the written questions would be submitted to either the prosecution or the defense through Chief Justice John Roberts, who will preside at Trump's trial.

After Phase One, the Senate will consider what McConnell called "the most contentious part" of the proceedings -- "the appropriateness of calling witnesses." That's how it happened in the Clinton trial, he noted:

The way it works when you are in an impeachment trial, at the risk of being redundant, is that 51 senators determine what we do. And there will be, I'm sure, intense discussion once you get past Phase One about the whole witness issue. Everything--and by the way, the people who will be calling the witnesses will not be necessarily us, it will be the prosecution or the defense.

And that's the way it is done. Admittedly, this is not like a typical trial because every juror would be disqualified. All of us would be disqualified if this were a regular judicial proceeding. But who is called as witnesses, typically you would expect to come from the prosecution and from the defense.

McConnell said the Senate will do exactly what it unanimously agreed to do 20 years ago: "What is good for President Clinton is good for President Trump. We will get around to the discussion of witnesses. We got around to the discussion of witnesses after we got through Phase One 20 years ago."

McConnell also addressed the delay in sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate, telling reporters, "It is a rule of impeachment in the Senate that we must receive the papers," or the articles of impeachment, from the House of Representatives.

"It continues to be my hope that the Speaker will send them on over," he said. "The House argued that this was an emergency, they needed to act quickly, that the president was such a -- apparently from their point of view -- such a danger to the country that they needed to really rush this through, and then they sat on the papers now for three weeks. I hope that will end this week," McConnell said.

"I understand there is considerable discomfort among Senate Democrats, some of them expressing that to some of you, over the continued delay in sending it on over."

Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted on Monday: "The President & Sen. McConnell have run out of excuses. They must allow key witnesses to testify, and produce the documents Trump has blocked, so Americans can see the facts for themselves. The Senate cannot be complicit in the President's cover-up."

A number of Republican senators say it is not their job to call witnesses and compel documents that the House refused to wait for, because they were supposedly in such a hurry to impeach Trump.


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