Democrats say Americans want witnesses at Trump impeachment trial
Stephen Loiaconi, WSYX (Online)
As senators inched closer Wednesday to a pivotal vote on whether to hear from new witnesses in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, House Democrats argued allowing additional testimony is the only way to ensure the public considers the proceedings fair.
“The American people understand a trial means witnesses and the admission of documentary evidence,” said Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I. “You can’t have a trial without witnesses. If you have no evidence and no witnesses, you don’t have a trial. You have a cover-up for the president.”
Democrats are especially eager to hear from former National Security Adviser John Bolton, who refused to testify before the House but has said he would comply would a subpoena from the Senate. News reports this week revealed a draft of Bolton’s upcoming book supports Democrats’ contention that President Trump withheld military aid from Ukraine because he wanted the country to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.
“It’s a search for the truth and that will require the presentation of witnesses, particularly the presentation of John Bolton,” Cicilline said.
Trump has denied Bolton’s claims, accusing him of lying to sell more books. House Democrats impeached the president in December alleging he abused the power of his office to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations that would benefit his reelection campaign and obstructed a congressional inquiry into his actions.
“It’s all about, are we going to get a fair trial,” said Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md. “We’re waiting to see whether the Senate, whether [Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell will allow witnesses and documents to be brought forward, which is what we very much think is critical to there being a fair trial.”
Many Republicans say additional witnesses are unnecessary at this point because new testimony would not change the expected outcome of the trial, which is Trump’s acquittal, and some have argued that, even if Bolton is telling the truth, the president’s actions still would not amount to an impeachable offense. They have also warned the White House would try to block Bolton’s testimony, triggering a court battle that could drag the trial out for weeks or months.
Some have maintained it is not the Senate’s job to engage in fact-finding during an impeachment inquiry, and the House should have called these witnesses if they were so important. Republicans also question how strong Democrats’ case against the president is if they need more testimony so badly.
“The Senate’s going to do what the Senate’s going to do, but at the end of the day, I think there was a weak case made by the House Democrats as they went forward with impeachment and I think we’re seeing that play out in the Senate,” said Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich.
After several days of opening arguments by both sides, the trial continued Wednesday with senators submitting written questions to President Trump’s attorneys and the House impeachment managers. The Senate has allotted 16 hours for questions across two days before moving on to consider whether to subpoena new witnesses and documents Friday.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told Republicans Tuesday he does not yet have 50 votes to shut the door to witnesses entirely, with some of the 53 GOP senators still undecided and a few publicly leaning toward supporting a subpoena for Bolton. GOP leaders still hope to lock down the votes to quash any motion to hear new testimony by Friday, though.
If witnesses are allowed, Republicans are threatening to seek subpoenas for former Vice President Biden, his son Hunter, and others whose testimony could be politically damaging to Democrats. They insist President Trump had a legitimate interest in investigating why a Ukrainian energy company paid Hunter Biden to sit on its board while his father was overseeing U.S. policy for the region.
Cicilline agreed the defense should be allowed to call any relevant witnesses they want, but he dismissed names Republicans have floated as not pertinent to the determination of the president’s guilt or innocence.
“It’s always the case that witnesses who have relevant information should be permitted to testify,” he said. “Hunter Biden is not relevant to the question of whether the president of the United States abused the power of his office by attempting to coerce a foreign leader to corrupt an American presidential election by announcing a bogus investigation of his chief political rival and then engaging in an elaborate cover-up.”
To bolster their argument that allowing Bolton and others to testify is the will of the American people, Democrats point to a Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday that found 75% of registered voters support witness testimony at the Senate trial.
“75% of the country is saying there ought to be witnesses,” Sarbanes said. “That reflects the basic understanding Americans have of what it means to conduct a fair trial.”
However, some Republicans say the impeachment process has been irreparably flawed from the start, beginning with Democrats’ secretive depositions in the Capitol basement last fall.
“The process left the House in a very unfair manner,” said Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill. “It’s the most partisan impeachment process we’ve seen in our nation’s history. Witnesses were called at the whim and wish of our Democratic leadership.”
President Trump had hoped to wrap up the trial before his State of the Union address next Tuesday. Although that timeline is threatened by the prospect of a parade of new witnesses, Huizenga—who worked as a House staffer during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment in 1998—suggested Washington is ready to move on to other matters.
“It sucks out all the oxygen out of the room, quite honestly, and it’s kind of just below the surface, even here in the House after we’ve gone through this,” he said. “People get a little sharp elbowed out here over that, but we’ve got to keep moving on.”