Trump’s trial ‘should be like Clinton’s’
US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Monday (local time) that he was not ruling out calling witnesses in Donald Trump's impeachment trial - but indicated he was in no hurry to seek new testimony either - as politicians remain at an impasse over the form of the trial by the Republican-controlled Senate.
The House voted last Wednesday to impeach Mr Trump, who became only the third president in US history to be formally charged with "high crimes and misdemeanours."
But the Senate trial may be held up until politicians can agree on how to proceed.
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is demanding trial witnesses who refused to appear during House committee hearings, including acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton.
Mr McConnell, who has all-but-promised a swift acquittal of the president, has resisted making any guarantees, and has cautioned Mr Trump against seeking the testimony of witnesses he desires for fear of elongating the trial.
Instead, he appears to have secured Republican support for his plans to impose a framework drawn from the 1999 impeachment trial of former President Bill Clinton.
"We haven't ruled out witnesses," Mr McConnell said during an appearance on Fox News in the US.
"We've said let's handle this case just like we did with President Clinton. Fair is fair."
That trial featured a 100-0 vote on arrangements that established two weeks of presentations and argument before a partisan tally in which then-minority Republicans called a limited number of witnesses. But Democrats now would need Republican votes to secure witness testimony - and Republicans believe they have the votes to eventually block those requests.
In a letter on Monday to all Senators, Mr Schumer argued that the circumstances in the Trump trial are different from that of Mr Clinton, who was impeached after a lengthy independent counsel investigation in which witnesses had already testified numerous times under oath.
Mr Schumer rejected the Clinton model, saying waiting until after the presentations to decide on witnesses would "foreclose the possibility of obtaining such evidence because it will be too late."
Mr Schumer also demanded that the Senate, in addition to receiving testimony, also compel the Trump administration to turn over documents and emails relevant to the case, including the decision to withhold military assistance from Ukraine.
PELOSI HOLDS FIRM
Meanwhile, the White House is projecting confidence that it will prevail in a constitutional spat with Democrats.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has delayed sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate in hopes of giving Mr Schumer more leverage in talks with Mr McConnell.
But the White House believes Mrs Pelosi won't be able to hold out much longer.
"She will yield. There's no way she can hold this position," Marc Short, the chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, said. "We think her case is going nowhere."
The impasse between the Senate leaders leaves open the possibility of a protracted delay until the articles are delivered.
Mr Schumer told reporters in New York on Sunday that "the Senate is yearning to give President Mr Trump due process, which means that documents and witnesses should come forward. What is a trial with no witnesses and no documents. It's a sham trial."
Mr Trump has called the holdup "unfair" and claimed that Democrats were violating the Constitution, as the delay threatened to prolong the pain of impeachment and cast uncertainty on the timing of the vote Mr Trump is set to claim as vindication.
"Pelosi gives us the most unfair trial in the history of the US Congress, and now she is crying for fairness in the Senate, and breaking all rules while doing so," Mr Trump tweeted on Monday from his private club in Palm Beach, Florida, where he is on a more than two-week holiday vacation.
"She lost Congress once, she will do it again!"
Mr Short called Pelosi's delay unacceptable, saying she's "trampling" Mr Trump's rights to "rush this through, and now we're going to hold it up to demand a longer process in the Senate with more witnesses."
"If her case is so airtight … why does she need more witnesses to make her case?" Mr Short said.
White House officials have also taken to highlighting Democrats' arguments that removing Mr essure on Ms Pelosi to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate.
A close Trump ally, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S. C., said Ms Pelosi would fail in her quest "to get Mitch McConnell to bend to her will to shape the trial."
Mr Graham is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and was a House manager, comparable to a prosecutor, during the Senate's impeachment trial of Mr Clinton. "She'll eventually send the articles because public opinion will crush the Democrats," said Mr Graham.
Asked whether he expected witnesses in the Senate, he replied: "No, I don't."
At one point, Mr Trump had demanded the testimony of witnesses of his own, like Democrats Joe Biden and his son Hunter, and the intelligence community whistleblower whose summer complaint sparked the impeachment probe. But he has since relented after concerted lobbying by McConnell and other Senate Republicans who pushed him to accept the swift acquittal from the Senate and not to risk injecting uncertainty into the process by calling witnesses.