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Clash over timing of Senate impeachment trial

Marc Short, chief of staff to Vice President

Marc Short, chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's decision to delay submitting the articles of impeachment to the Senate. Credit: AP / Patrick Semansky

Congressional Republicans on Sunday ripped House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to delay transmitting President Donald Trump’s articles of impeachment to the Senate, as Democrats defended the move saying she is looking to ensure fair rules are established for an upcoming trial in the Republican-controlled Senate.

As lawmakers appearing on the Sunday political talk show circuit continued to clash over the shape of a Senate trial, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), speaking to reporters in midtown Manhattan, continued to make the case for allowing lawmakers to call witnesses and subpoena documents in the yet to be scheduled trial.

Schumer argued that internal White House and Pentagon emails released Saturday detailing the Trump administration's efforts to withhold military aid from Ukraine demonstrated the need for access to additional documents and witnesses in the trial. So far, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has resisted calls for witness testimony, pushing instead for a swift trial in January.

"What is a trial with no witnesses and no documents?" Schumer said at an unrelated news conference. "It's a sham trial and that's why we feel so strongly that there ought to be witnesses and documents."

Emails released under a public records request and published Saturday by the Center for Public Integrity offered new insight into the behind-the-scenes effort to suspend aid to Ukraine. About 90 minutes after Trump's July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, a senior White House budget official, Michael Duffey, emailed the Pentagon calling for the suspension of aid that had already been approved by Congress. Duffey's order came after Trump, according to a transcript of the call, leaned on Zelensky to investigate his Democratic political rivals, an act that Democrats have said was an illicit solicitation of foreign intervention in the 2020 election, but that Trump has said was a "perfect" request aimed at investigating alleged corruption.

Schumer argued that the emails raised new questions about the withheld aid that should be explored during the Senate trial, but Trump's allies making the Sunday show rounds largely dismissed the calls for new witnesses and documents arguing that the Senate should proceed with a speedy trial, in alignment with the White House's wishes.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), appearing on ABC's "This Week" said the emails “don’t shed any new light."

Marc Short, a former White House aide now serving as Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, appearing on "Fox News Sunday" took aim at Pelosi for holding off on submitting to the Senate the two articles of impeachment against Trump that were approved last Wednesday by the U.S. House of Representatives in a party-line vote.

"She will yield, there's no way she can hold this position,” Short said of Pelosi.

Pelosi said Thursday, before the start of Congress' holiday recess, that she would delay transmitting the articles until there was more clarity about the rules governing the Senate trial. McConnell and Schumer have yet to reach a compromise over the rules. Schumer on Sunday declined to answer questions about the state of negotiations with McConnell.

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), appearing on "Fox News Sunday" after Short, argued there was nothing atypical about Pelosi’s decision, noting that when President Bill Clinton was impeached in December 1998, the House did not proceed with appointing impeachment managers to prosecute the charges in the Senate trial until Jan. 6, after Congress returned from its holiday recess.

Dingell said even if Pelosi had submitted the articles before the break, it would not have changed the Senate’s time frame.

"Did you really think the United States Senate was going to start this trial before January 6?" Dingell said.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” said Pelosi was “focusing a spotlight on the need to have a fair trial on the United States Senate,” in light of McConnell’s recent assertions that he is working in a “total coordination” with the White House and is “not impartial” heading into the trial.

Van Hollen, defending Pelosi’s move, said, “It's especially necessary when you have [McConnell], who you quoted earlier, saying publicly that he is not going to be an impartial juror, even though that's what the oath will require, that he's going to work in lockstep with the president, who is the defendant in this case, and that he’s already said no to calling fact witnesses that have direct knowledge of what's at stake in this impeachment.”

Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), in an interview with ABC’s “This Week” said it was fair for Pelosi to hold off on submitting the articles of impeachment to ask, “What are the rules that we're playing by, when we go and we get this over here?”

Jones argued that McConnell should allow both sides to call witnesses at the Senate trial to provide a “full, fair and complete trial.” Jones also took aim at McConnell’s claims last week that House Democrats were looking to call witnesses in the Senate trial because of what the GOP leader described as a “deficient” and “thin” case.

“If he really believes it's thin, it's thin because the president of the United States ordered his top people who were in the room who ... have firsthand knowledge not to testify,” Jones said. “He ordered documents not to be turned over.”

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), appearing on CNN’s "State of the Union," described the difficulty of maintaining a purely impartial trial in the Senate, noting that "five of the so-called jurors are running for president,” referring to the chamber’s Democratic presidential hopefuls.

"This is called a trial because there was really in the Constitution, I think, no better thing to call it," Blunt said. "It’s not a trial in any classic sense. It is a political decision to do it."

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