The latest on President Trump's impeachment
The White House is urging Senate Republicans to preserve the option of moving to swiftly dismiss the charges against President Trump after opening arguments in his impeachment trial, as GOP leaders and Trump's team look for a quick end to the proceedings, according to sources familiar with the discussions.
Republicans are debating including in the Senate resolution, which would govern the rules of the trial, a provision to dismiss the charges, something that would require 51 votes and would stop the trial in its tracks.
But moving ahead with a dismissal vote could put Republicans up for reelection in a tough spot if they are seen as moving too quickly to dismiss the case. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could not afford to lose more than two votes — and GOP sources say the Kentucky Republican currently does not have enough votes to simply dismiss the case.
McConnell has made clear to his colleagues that he wants Trump to emerge victorious in the trial and is not willing to hold a vote that could fail, sources said. He’s also keenly aware of what a vote to dismiss would look like politically, according to Republican senators, and has shepherded his conference away from the idea for several weeks.
The White House wants to keep the motion to dismiss in play because “there’s no reason to take options off the table at the beginning of the whole process,” one source familiar with the discussions said.
No final decisions have been made yet about whether close House allies of the President’s will be a part of Trump’s defense team on the floor of the Senate, according to an official familiar.
But, behind the scenes, many in leadership have made the case that including firebrands like Reps. Mark Meadows, Jim Jordan or Doug Collins may not work in the President’s favor when trying to appeal to moderate Republicans to acquit him.
“My personal recommendation would be not to include the House members. The House has its role. The Senate has its role, and I think the President will be well-represented by Mr. Cipollone and Mr. Sekulow,” one GOP senator, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss internal GOP thinking, told CNN Monday. “The impetus for my view is we don’t want to have a continuation of the circus in the House. We would like to try and do our job with what dignity we have left.”
More on this: The decision the President's defense team is struggling with is its audience. The argument against including the firebrand House members in the impeachment trial is that it could alienate the moderate Republicans they need on their side in order to wrap the trial up quickly. But the argument for including the President's most ardent defenders lies in what he considers the most important: vindicating him in the nation's eyes
Trump has pushed for his fiercest protectors to be included because he believes they will be the best at arguing against the two charges against him.
Attorney Stephen Castor and Rep. Jim Jordan are going to the White House today to meet with the President’s lawyers about the upcoming impeachment trial, a person familiar said.
Castor — House Republicans’ counsel during the impeachment inquiry — has been briefing President Trump’s lawyers about the details of the case and met with them last week at the White House as well. The trial prep meeting comes as Trump’s legal team is finalizing the substance of its defense, with aides expecting the trial to begin next week.
Trump is not expected to participate directly in today’s meeting but the person familiar said it is always possible the President could summon Jordan once he knows his friend is at the White House today.
Several senators, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said they would not exactly be impartial jurors ahead of Trump's looming impeachment trial. McConnell said back in December he had met with White House attorneys to coordinate on the trial.
Is it required for senators to be impartial? This is, after all, a political exercise.
Actually, yes. Article II of the Constitution leaves a lot of the details of an impeachment trial up to the Senate, but it does make clear that no impeached president can be removed unless two-thirds of senators — usually 67 — agree and also that when sitting for an impeachment trial, "they shall be on Oath or Affirmation."
What's the oath senators will take?
The oath, which senators must take before trying an impeachment case, is spelled out in Rule XXV of the Senate's rules on impeachment and specifically mentions impartiality:
"I solemnly swear (or affirm, as the case may be) that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of (the person on trial), now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws; So help me God."
Keep in mind: There is some wiggle room here, maybe, since McConnell says he won't be "an impartial juror," not that he won't be doing "impartial justice according to the Constitution," which he will presumably swear to do.
As we wait for the House to formally transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate, President Trump is traveling to New Orleans to attend the College Football Playoff National Championship.
Trump and the first lady will leave the White House just after 4 p.m. ET for the 8 p.m. ET game, between Clemson and Louisiana State.
Senator Lindsey Graham will travel with Trump on Air Force One later, according to a tweet from Graham's communications director:
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, told CNN there are "certainly" senators who have expressed misgivings about the trial becoming a "sham or a charade because the President will dictate the rules of his own trial."
Blumenthal was reacting to Sen. Susan Collins' remark last week that she was working with a "small group" of GOP senators on a possible agreement to call witnesses in a Senate trial
Remember: In order for witnesses to be called at the trial, a majority of senators will have to vote in favor of doing that. That means Democrats need at least 51 votes. So far, three GOP senators — Sens. Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney — have said they could be open to witnesses being called.
The House, which approved two articles of impeachment against President Trump last month, has yet to send the articles to the Senate.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has signaled she will send the articles to the Senate this week, but exact timing on the next steps is still unclear.
Here's what we're expecting this week, according to CNN's senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju:
- Tomorrow: Pelosi will meet with House Democrats. She's expected to discuss the next steps with them.
- Mid-week: The House is expected to name impeachment managers — or the Democrats who will prosecute the case on behalf of the House in the Senate trial.
- After that: The managers will walk over to the Senate and read the articles of impeachment out loud.
- Then, in the Senate: Formal impeachment trial proceedings will begin. Members of the Senate will be sworn into office, and they will swear in the chief justice, John Roberts, who presides over the proceedings.
But remember: The actual arguments themselves are still days away, Raju says. "We're expecting probably by early next week when each side will present its arguments," he explained.
Many House Democrats hoping to be impeachment managers in the Senate trial still have not heard from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi yet on who has been selected for the job.
In interviews with half a dozen aides to members and members themselves vying to be impeachment managers, CNN has learned that Pelosi has not tipped her hand yet about who the managers will be. According to one aide who spoke with CNN on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss the mood of the caucus, “everyone is going crazy” as they wait.
While some members have actively campaigned for the job, others have taken a more “wait and see” approach. And, Pelosi’s lack of announcement is yet another example of how tightly the speaker has kept her circle on each decision she has made throughout this process.
The House could send the articles of impeachment to the Senate this week, meaning a trial to decide if President Trump should be removed from office could start soon.
Here's one of the key questions about the looming trial: Will Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell allow witnesses?
He does not want to even though Trump has said as recently as Thursday he'd like to see both the whistleblower and Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden testify as well. (It was Hunter Biden's appointment to the board of the Ukrainian company Burisma that Trump said should be investigated by the Ukrainians. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden.)
On Friday, Trump suggested he would block former White House national security adviser John Bolton's testimony as a matter of executive privilege.
Here's what happened in past trials: The two previous presidential impeachment trials — for Bill Clinton in 1999 and Andrew Johnson in 1868 — both featured witnesses.
The Clinton witnesses — three of them, including Monica Lewinsky — were interviewed behind closed doors and then video of the testimony was shown. For Johnson, the witness interviews were conducted in the Senate.
So why doesn't McConnell want witnesses? He wants to get this process over with and move on. He has so far punted on the issue and Republicans are following him. They have a majority in the Senate and he says he has the votes to make the trial a three-stage process. House managers would present their case and Trump's defenders, we don't yet know who the President will pick, will rebut them. And then, after those arguments, senators could ask questions through Chief Justice John Roberts, who will preside.
The third phase, according to McConnell, would be for senators to vote on whether to call witnesses. Several Republicans, including people like Maine's Susan Collins and Utah's Mitt Romney have expressed interest in hearing from witnesses. But they won't have to make a final decision for some time under this format. McConnell argues this is the model used for the Clinton impeachment. Pelosi disagrees.