Senate impeachment trial: Opening arguments begin

On Tuesday and into the early morning hours Wednesday, Republicans repeatedly rejected motions to subpoena witnesses and documents related to the President’s Ukraine scandal. Now
the House Democratic managers will have 24 hours, spread out over three days, to try to convince Senate Republicans that the trial should seek additional materials and testimony.

The lengthy debate that came after Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer offered 11 amendments to the Senate Republican rules resolution did little to convince rank-and-file Republican senators that they should change course. Several Republican senators on Wednesday echoed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in arguing against having witnesses for the trial after each side makes its presentations and the senators have a chance to ask questions.

“Our side has not changed our view on this,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican. “I think where House Democrats failed (Tuesday), and maybe Senate Democrats failed, (and were) trying to use the time in a way that would wear us out … and deny the President’s team any response this week.”

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, told CNN that the record “is pretty complete” when asked if there should be witnesses.

Thune said that House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat, was “especially partisan” last night and that is “not helpful to their cause frankly, because, you know, a lot of our members believe it was a partisan process coming out of the House and I think the tone (Tuesday) in many respects reinforce that. So if they’re trying to win the argument that’s probably not the best way to go about it.”

In particular, GOP senators took aim at Nadler, who accused Republican senators of a “cover-up” in his late-night argument to vote to subpoena former national security adviser John Bolton.

“Chairman Nadler … when he started talking, I mean, people kind of jerked to attention because what he was saying and the way he was conducting himself, I think it was so insulting and outrageous it was a shock to all of us,” said Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican.

After Nadler’s presentation and a heated rebuttal from the President’s lawyers Pat Cipollone and Jay Sekulow, who attacked Nadler, Chief Justice John Roberts
admonished both sides, reminding them to keep their discourse civil.

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Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, said Nadler was “especially partisan” Tuesday night and that is “not helpful to their cause, frankly, because, you know, a lot of our members believe it was a partisan process coming out of the House and I think the tone (Tuesday) in many respects reinforces that. So if they’re trying to win the argument, that’s probably not the best way to go about it.”

Thune told CNN that the record “is pretty complete” when asked if there should be witnesses.

House Intelligence Chairman
Adam Schiff, the lead impeachment manager, declined to answer questions about the criticism of Nadler before the managers went into the chamber for Wednesday’s session.

“The President late last night, depending where you are in the world, the President bragged he had the material,” Schiff said. “Indeed, they do have the material hidden from the American people. That is nothing to brag about. If the senators are serious about wanting to learn all the facts, if the President’s team wants to contest any of the facts, these documents and witnesses will need to be produced.”

Outside of Congress, the case seemed less open and shut. Conservative attorney George Conway said on CNN on Wednesday morning that the charges against Trump outlined in the articles are
“much, much more serious” than what former President Bill Clinton was accused of during his impeachment.

“It didn’t involve withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds to an ally at war just because you want to get — he wanted to get a foreign country to announce a bogus investigation against his leading political rival,” Conway said. “I mean it should be — it should be a no-brainer here.”

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Democrats say they forced the votes on witnesses and documents Tuesday night because
the rules may not give them a chance to do so later in the trial. McConnell’s rules have only teed up a general vote on whether additional witnesses and documents should be subpoenaed, which will end the conversation on witnesses if it fails.

“It was non-negotiable for us that the Senate at least consider the question of evidence witnesses and documents and the rules of a fair trial,” Schumer said. “We would not be doing our job if we didn’t try to make this trial fair. We’re going to continue to do it.”

House impeachment managers will have the next three days to make their case to senators, after McConnell backed away from a proposal for just two days
amid complaints from key Republicans in his conference. After the House’s time is done, the President’s legal team will also get three days to give the President’s defense. When opening arguments are complete, senators will get 16 hours to ask questions by submitting them through the chief justice.
At that point, senators will address the question of whether to have witnesses and documents — a vote that could signal the beginning of the end of the trial. Democrats need
to peel off four Republican senators to back additional witnesses and documents.
GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is one potential vote. While McConnell held the Republican conference together to oppose the amendments on subpoenas for witnesses like acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney
and Bolton, Collins did join the Democrats to support
one amendment, which would have given the two sides 24 hours to respond to trial motions on Wednesday. It was moot anyway — neither side submitted any motions.

Collins and other possible Republican crossovers say they want to wait until after the opening arguments before making a decision on witnesses.

This story has been updated with additional developments Wednesday.