Why Block Impeachment Witnesses? Republicans Have Many Reasons

WASHINGTON — In trying to fend off Democratic demands for new witnesses in the impeachment trial of President Trump, Senate Republicans have offered an array of reasons for rejecting them. Democrats have just as vigorously contested the Republican arguments.

The debate will play out on the Senate floor on Friday as House Democratic prosecutors and the president’s defense team make their respective cases on the pivotal question of whether to subpoena new witnesses and documents in what could be the climactic moment of the trial.

A vote to summon witnesses for the Senate trial could prolong the proceeding and inject an element of uncertainty, while the defeat of the effort would pave the way for the quick acquittal eagerly awaited by Mr. Trump and his allies in Congress.

Nearly all Senate Republicans are expected to oppose hearing from new witnesses such as John R. Bolton, the former White House national security adviser who has said he is willing to testify about his knowledge of Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. If the Democratic demand for additional testimony falls short, Republicans intend to move to swiftly conclude the trial.

Here is a look at some of the chief Republican claims and Democratic counterclaims surrounding the witness issue.

Republicans say the Senate’s role is simply to make a judgment based on the case developed by multiple House committees, not to undertake its own fact-finding inquiry. Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, has repeatedly criticized the Democratic-led House for conducting what he calls a “slapdash” partisan investigation and then expecting the Senate to do the House’s “homework” by filling in gaps in the House case.

“The House chose this road,” Mr. McConnell said in December. “It is their duty to investigate.”

Democrats respond that the Constitution in no way limits the Senate’s power to perform its own inquiry, and that the articles of impeachment are similar to a grand jury indictment that is, in criminal law, followed by a trial complete with testimony. They note that the Trump administration refused to cooperate with the House, and argue that the Republican-led Senate should now use its authority to compel appearances by current and former administration officials.

They also point out that the Senate has called witnesses in every previous impeachment trial, including those of Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. In refusing new witnesses, they say, Senate Republicans are shirking their duty and aiding in a cover-up instigated by Mr. Trump.

“To blame the House for not having all the witnesses and documents when it was Donald Trump who stopped them and with the snap of his finger can have them all is the ultimate hypocrisy,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader.

Fearing a prolonged legal fight, House Democrats chose not to pursue the testimony of Mr. Bolton in court after he initially declined to cooperate voluntarily at the direction of the White House.

Republicans say that the House, as in most previous clashes over appearances by executive branch officials, should have sued to compel his testimony and exhausted its legal options to do so before moving ahead with articles of impeachment against Mr. Trump. In not doing so, they say, Democrats made a crucial error that they should not expect the Senate to correct.

But since the House approved the articles of impeachment, Mr. Bolton has indicated that he would testify if subpoenaed. Disclosures from a draft of his forthcoming book suggest that he has firsthand knowledge that would contradict Mr. Trump’s claim that he did nothing improper in withholding military aid from Ukraine.

Democrats say that for Republicans to willfully refuse to hear from Mr. Bolton after his change of heart amounts to an attempt to conceal Mr. Trump’s misconduct, particularly after complaining that the House’s charges against the president are built mainly on testimony from those without direct interaction with Mr. Trump.

Republicans like to point out that the House impeachment managers, led by Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California, have repeatedly bragged that they developed an “ironclad” case against Mr. Trump, and compiled more than enough evidence to justify removing him from office for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. If their case is so strong, Republicans argue, there should be no need to hear from witnesses.

Democrats do believe that their case is strong and that the reconstructed transcript of Mr. Trump’s July 25 phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, in which he asked for a “favor” of investigating the Biden family, is evidence enough. But witnesses could bolster their case and remove any lingering uncertainties about the president’s intentions. They also say the American public deserves a full account of the president’s conduct.

With the expectation that the White House would resist Senate efforts to call reluctant witnesses such as Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, Republicans say an agreement to depose witnesses could extend the trial for months — an unhappy prospect for most Republicans — without changing the ultimate outcome.

They also say they fear that a legal battle could end up defining separation of power issues and executive privilege in ways detrimental to Congress, and they would rather avoid that outcome if witnesses will make no difference in the trial.

Democrats say that Republican claims of a prolonged trial are exaggerated. They say having Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. sign and issue any subpoenas should limit any court review since lower courts will defer to him.

“We could get the whole thing done in a week or two,” Mr. Schumer said. The Senate could also potentially recess the trial to await testimony as it did in the Clinton case.

A growing number of Republicans argue that putting a major effort behind investigating what they see as flawed and thin accusations against the president will encourage future leaders of the House to pursue impeachment not only to unseat the president, but to paralyze the Senate as well.

Mr. McConnell raised the possibility of the House weaponizing impeachment against the Senate from the moment the articles were delivered. Other leading Republicans such as Senators Roy Blunt of Missouri and John Cornyn of Texas have begun emphasizing it, saying it is a real institutional concern.

Senate rules require that if the House approves articles of impeachment, the Senate must convene as a court of impeachment, meeting every afternoon — six days a week — until the trial is completed, crowding out legislative business.

“This is shutting the Senate down,” Senator David Perdue, Republican of Georgia and a close Trump ally, said on Fox News.

Democrats scoff at the idea that members of the House would routinely send impeachment articles across the Rotunda to torment the Senate.

Mr. Schumer has also noted that the Senate can do its regular business during the morning hours and that committees were continuing to meet this week. Besides, he noted wryly, the Senate was doing very little legislative business at any hour of the day even before the trial began, because Mr. McConnell has brought very few major pieces of legislation to the floor.

In an argument that thoroughly irritates Democrats, Republicans say that House prosecutors have produced no new information crying out for corroboration by witnesses and that the Senate should move on as a result.

Democrats consider this line of defense ridiculous, saying there is no new information because the White House blocked testimony and Republicans are refusing to call any witnesses who could provide crucial facts.

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