Will There Be a Trial at All?

There is still an open question whether Senate Republicans will hold a real trial after they receive the inevitable articles of impeachment.  Greg Sargent writes, ‘The Post has the latest on McConnell’s scheming: Republican senators are ‘coalescing’ behind a quick impeachment trial that would call no witnesses and result in a quick acquittal vote.”

Basically, the plan is that the Senate would set aside just a few days for the House impeachment managers and Trump’s lawyers to present their arguments, and then the Senate would vote to acquit. No testimony from witnesses would be allowed. Over and done. This is not how impeachment trials have been conducted in the past.

There may be some wrinkles in this plan. One is that Trump himself wants a big spectable with lots of witnesses.

Trump’s desired witness list includes House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter, as well as the anonymous whistleblower whose complaint about the president’s conversations with Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky led to the House impeachment inquiry.

Mitch McConnell doesn’t want to do this, because if Trump is allowed to call witnesses they might have to let Democrats call witnesses also.

At a Senate GOP luncheon this week, McConnell warned his colleagues against calling witnesses. “Mutually assured destruction,” he said, according to a Republican in the room.

McConnell is not sure Republicans have enough votes to only call Trump’s preferred list, the person said. Any agreement to call a witness would require 51 votes, and if Democratic votes were needed to end an impasse among Republicans, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) would demand his own list of witnesses as part of any compromise.

Under McConnell’s thinking, this could possibly mean calling Vice President Pence and top White House aides, such as acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, to testify.

The Constitution says that Chief Justice John Roberts is to preside over the trial, and precedent set in the Andrew Johnson trial, and followed in the Bill Clinton trial, says that Roberts would preside in the fullest sense of the word, as any judge would preside over a criminal trial. It seems to me that Roberts could upend everybody’s plans if he wants to. And he could compel the testimony of people like Mulvaney and Bolton. He may not want to, of course.

But precedent says Roberts is to be sworn in as the judge as soon as articles of impeachment are passed by the full House. Watch to see if that happens.

Back to Greg Sargent:

Obviously, if those witnesses confirmed in some way that Trump personally and explicitly discussed the military aid extortion plot with them, it would be even more devastating than what has already been established.

It’s true that we don’t know what those witnesses would say. But the rub is that Republicans don’t want to find out. And their reasoning has been laid bare for all to see: They are determined to acquit Trump no matter how incredibly damning such testimony might be, so they may as well spare themselves the political hardship that such testimony might inflict on them.

Of course, there’s also the outside risk that such testimony might make it impossible for a handful of GOP senators to vote to acquit Trump. Such a break must also be averted at all costs.

Greg Sargent also says it’s not certain that McConnell has 51 votes for his sham trial plan.

As this analysis by Perry Bacon Jr. shows, senators such as Mitt Romney and Lisa Murkowski want to maintain the appearance of principled independence from Trump. Meanwhile, Susan Collins, Cory Gardner, Martha McSally and Joni Ernst will feel pressure to appear to take evidence seriously to survive reelection.

And a Democratic aide points out to me that, if McConnell doesn’t have 51 votes for procedural gimmickry allowing Trump to skate, that will allow Democrats to try to assemble a majority in the Senate for sounder procedures.

Of course, if there are witnesses who testify that Trump did everything he is accused of doing, the Republicans will just pretend the witnesses said something else, as they’ve been doing with the IG report on the FBI’s probe into Trump’s 2016 campaign. Still, a real trial would be reassuring. If we don’t even get that, the Constitution is broken.