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Sen. Mitch McConnell: Impeachment trial could start next Tuesday

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), accompanied by

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), accompanied by other senators, speaks on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020. Credit: AP/Jose Luis Magana

WASHINGTON — The Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump could start next Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the House would finally send the Senate the impeachment articles as soon as Wednesday.

Pelosi told members of the Democratic caucus of her plans to end her delay in sending over the articles Tuesday morning in a closed-door meeting. She later issued a statement saying she will take that step, which would initiate the third Senate impeachment trial of a U.S. president.

“The American people deserve the truth, and the Constitution demands a trial,” Pelosi said. “The House will now proceed with a vote on transmitting the articles of impeachment and naming impeachment managers on Wednesday, January 15.”

McConnell, speaking after the weekly caucus luncheons, sketched steps he intends to take in response to Pelosi’s announcement of the vote and delivery of the charges the House Democrats approved against Trump.

“We’ll be able to — we believe if that happens — in all likelihood go through some preliminary steps here this week, which could well include the chief justice coming over and swearing in the members of the Senate and some other kind of housekeeping measure,” he said.

“We hope to achieve that by consent, which would set us up to begin the actual trial next Tuesday,” McConnell said.

But Democrats could create some bumps along that road that could push back the date. They also could pick up support of some GOP senators in their push for the trial to include new witnesses.

Pelosi could wait until Thursday to have the House managers carry the impeachment articles to the Senate and read them aloud to senators. And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Democrats would mount a challenge on the trial’s procedures.

Schumer argued that McConnell should commit to calling four witnesses who haven't been heard from, and obtaining three sets of unseen documents. McConnell has rejected the demand, saying last week he had the 51 votes needed to adopt his preferred process.

The House vote to transmit the charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress and the names of House managers to the Senate will come nearly a month after House majority Democrats approved the two articles on Dec. 18.

Pelosi delayed delivery of the articles to try to sway McConnell to include the new witnesses, including former national security adviser John Bolton, and documents demanded by Schumer.

Pelosi accused McConnell and Trump, who both called for a quick dismissal of the impeachment charges, of “a pure political cover-up,” saying they were “afraid of more facts coming out.”

But in his statement Tuesday morning, McConnell sharply criticized Pelosi for sending over a “half-baked censure resolution” and insisting “that the Senate fill in the blanks.”

McConnell continued, “If the existing case is strong, there’s no need for the judge and jury to reopen the investigation. If the existing case is weak, House Democrats should not have impeached in the first place.”

Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts could come to the Senate as early as Friday1/17 to swear in the senators as jurors and judges and to preside over the trial.

Then Republicans and Democrats will debate before voting on a process — including whether, when and how to include witnesses and new evidence for the trial.

McConnell has a 53 seat majority and needs just 51 votes for process and other issues. It takes 67 votes to convict the president.

As they prepared to send articles of impeachment to the Senate, House Democrats last night released a trove of documents they obtained from Lev Parnas, a close associate of President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, The Associated Press reported.

The documents add new context to the Democrats’ charges that Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate Democrats as he withheld military aid to the country. The materials show that Parnas was in constant communication with Giuliani and also Ukrainian officials as he worked as an intermediary.

Among the documents is a screenshot of a previously undisclosed letter from Giuliani to Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky before he took office.

In the letter, Giuliani announces himself as Trump’s personal lawyer and requests a meeting with Zelensky “as personal counsel to President Trump and with his knowledge and consent.”

The documents — including phone records, texts and flash drives turned over by Parnas — were sent to the House Judiciary Committee by three other House committees “to be included as part of the official record that will be transmitted to the Senate along with the Articles of Impeachment,” according to a statement.

Among the documents is a handwritten note on stationery from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Vienna that says “get Zalensky to Annonce that the Biden case will be Investigated." Trump asked Zelensky in a July call to investigate his political rival, Democrat Joe Biden, and his son Hunter. Hunter Biden served on the board of a gas company based in Ukraine.

In a letter outlining the evidence, the Democrats said that Parnas’ attorney confirmed that Parnas had written the notes.

Parnas and his business partner, Igor Fruman, both U.S. citizens, are under indictment on charges of conspiracy, making false statements and falsification of records. Prosecutors allege they made outsize campaign donations to Republican causes after receiving millions of dollars originating from Russia.

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