House Democrats crafting an impeachment trial strategy are planning to make extensive use of video evidence — from witness testimony to public remarks by President Donald Trump himself — according to key lawmakers and aides.
But first they’ll need an assist from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
That’s because video equipment isn’t allowed on the floor without a special resolution approved by the Senate.
The Senate adopted just such a resolution for President Bill Clinton’s 1999 trial, allowing House impeachment managers access to “equipment as may be required to permit the display of video, or audio evidence, including video monitors and microphones.”
McConnell has repeatedly said he’ll structure Trump’s trial in a similar fashion as Clinton’s — when Republicans relied on video evidence 16 times during opening arguments — but his office declined to say whether that includes the provision of video equipment.
Some Republicans are already indicating the Senate may not look favorably on that aspect of the Clinton-era rules.
“I’m not really into video evidence in this case. Video of what?” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who was one of 13 House GOP impeachment managers in the Clinton trial. Told of Democrats’ intention to broadcast Trump’s own comments, Graham replied, “They can read them to us.”
If McConnell chooses not to follow the Clinton model on this question, it will fuel a new, critical fight over the impeachment process. Democrats already fear being hamstrung as they lay out their case that Trump should be removed from office for pressuring Ukraine to investigate his Democratic rivals.
“While we’re talking about the Clinton precedent, one of the biggest precedents is that impeachment managers were able to show video during the trial,” said a senior Democratic aide. “Senators should see and hear the critical witness testimony, documents, and additional evidence that the House collected before they make their decision.”
Democrats are particularly interested in playing the clip of Trump on the White House lawn urging Ukraine and China to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, as well as acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney’s combative press conference in which he said Trump withheld military aid to bend Ukraine to his will, before later walking it back.
“It’s certainly better for the Senate jurors and the American people to hear the president directly soliciting foreign interference in an election and Mick Mulvaney saying, ‘that’s just the way things work’ than to hear members of the House recounting it,” said Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee.
Democrats are also considering using their time to play the most impactful clips from the dozens of hours of witness testimony they collected during the House’s public hearings in November and December, some of which featured explosive allegations of misconduct by Trump. And with no guarantee that the GOP-controlled Senate will agree to Democratic demands to call new witnesses, House Democrats see the option to replay footage from previous witnesses as crucial.
“In the face of the president’s refusal to allow anyone to testify or to produce any documents, it is pretty important to actually see what people have said publicly, the chief of staff probably being at the top of that ladder,” said Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi will announce her picks for impeachment managers on Wednesday, and she’s expected to draw from the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, which led the Ukraine inquiry.
Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had pushed McConnell to agree at the outset of the trial to calling witnesses like Mulvaney, former national security adviser John Bolton and others who refused to testify in the House. McConnell rebuffed them by saying the Senate should follow the Clinton model, when arguments were heard from both sides and then the question of witnesses was considered.
Democrats have already previewed how they might use video clips in the trial.
During the House Judiciary Committee’s hearings last month, they excerpted powerful moments from witness testimony, as well as the clips of Trump and Mulvaney, to punctuate their argument that the president’s conduct toward Ukraine was impeachable and warranted removal from office.
They also used video monitors to display text message and email exchanges between significant witnesses that supported their case.
In 1999, Republican impeachment managers frequently used video clips to heighten the drama of the case they presented.
“Every trial must have a beginning and this trial begins on a cold day in January 1993,” said then-Rep. Ed Bryant, before he played footage of Clinton taking the oath of office, the first of a dozen clips played on the first day of the House’s arguments.
The clips also included Clinton being sworn in for his grand jury testimony before Independent Counsel Ken Starr and his public denial of having sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. Several excerpts of Clinton’s grand jury testimony were also featured.
Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), one of the House’s 13 impeachment managers in 1999, said using those “audio/visual tools has become commonplace in courtrooms and that lawyers typically think it’s more persuasive to jurors.”
Asked if he viewed the deployment of video as effective against Clinton, Chabot noted that half of the Senate supported removing Clinton for obstruction of justice, short of the two-thirds needed.
“To about 50 senators,” he said with a laugh.
Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.