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McConnell Has Votes to Begin Trump Impeachment Trial Under Clinton Rules

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday said Republicans in the chamber have the votes to begin President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial without agreeing to Democrats’ demands that the proceedings include witness testimony of John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney, and Office of Management and Budget officials.

The Kentucky Senator said the rules would essential mirror those governing the impeachment trial of former President Bill Clinton.

“We have the votes once the impeachment trial has begun to pass a resolution essentially the same to the 100-0 vote in the Clinton trial which sets up, as you may recall, what could best be described as a phase-one which would include obviously arguments from the prosecution, arguments from the defense, and then a period of written questions,” McConnell said Tuesday following a closed-door lunch with Senate Republicans.

Based on Tuesday’s announcement, the Senate will not decide whether to hear from witnesses until after the chamber hears opening arguments from House impeachment managers and attorneys representing President Trump.

“McConnell has agreement to get things started while punting on the harder questions of witnesses and documents,” former Intelligence Community attorney Susan Hennessey said, summing up the development. “Democrats wanted a deal up front. But the big issues are still open.”

Impeachment attorney and professor of political investigations at Tulane Law School Ross Garber said the announcement was expected given the Senate’s Republican majority, but noted that the real surprise could come from moderate Democrats.

 

“That McConnell has the votes to implement the Clinton rules is not a surprise. (Rs have the majority and the rules wouldn’t preclude witnesses, just defers the decision until after opening arguments). But how will some moderate Ds vote?” Garber wrote, specifically mentioning Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Elie Honig suggested that Democrats should appeal McConnell’s decision to Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts, who’s tasked with overseeing the impeachment trial.

“Democrats should take this to Chief Justice Roberts. Under the Constitution, he ‘shall preside,’” Honig wrote Tuesday. “Internal Senate rules allowing majority to overrule Chief Justice are fine and dandy but the Constitution trumps (so to speak) the Senate’s internal rules.”

Tuesday’s announcement increases the pressure on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate. Pelosi has been delaying transmitting the articles and electing impeachment managers until she was assured the Senate would conduct a fair impeachment trial that included witness testimony.

However, even members of her own party have begun to oppose the maneuver. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) on Tuesday said the “time has passed” for Pelosi to transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate.

[image via Mark Wilson/Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.