“We don’t want a quick technical acquittal but complete exoneration,” said an outside adviser who speaks to the president.
Trump’s desire to fight — a constant inclination — is at odds with Senate Republican leaders, who are working to convince him that a quick trial with no witnesses will suffice. Even some White House aides have been trying to explain the benefits of a speedy, no-frills process. In interviews, though, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell insists he is working in lockstep with the White House on shaping the impeachment trial.
“There’s a family feud under the water between what Trump and McConnell think is the best strategy,” said Dan Eberhart, a major Republican donor and CEO of the drilling services company Canary, LLC.
The Senate will likely take up Trump’s impeachment trial in January, though the House has postponed sending over the articles until after the new year. Trump on Thursday night lashed out at the postponement, incidentally revealing in the process his simmering yearning for eye-catching witnesses.
“The reason the Democrats don’t want to submit the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate is that they don’t want corrupt politician Adam Shifty Schiff to testify under oath, nor do they want the Whistleblower, the missing second Whistleblower, the informer, the Bidens, to testify!” he tweeted.
The House on Wednesday night approved two articles of impeachment in a mostly party-line vote, charging Trump with abuse of power for soliciting foreign interference in the 2020 presidential election and obstruction of Congress for blocking the House’s efforts to investigate.
Democrats say Trump conditioned a much-desired White House meeting for Ukraine’s leader, as well as millions in military aid, on Kyiv launching an investigation into Biden, a potential 2020 rival, and his son Hunter. Trump and his allies counter that the desired probe was part of a broader effort to eradicate corruption and uncover foreign wrongdoing in the 2016 presidential race.
The Senate has not yet set rules for its trial, which is likely to take place in January, after lawmakers return from their holiday recess. It takes only a simple majority of senators to approve a rules package, which would determine whether witnesses will be called.
With 53 Republicans senators, McConnell can get his preferred rules package through if he avoids too many GOP defections. To this point, most Republican leaders, including those close to Trump, have expressed a desire to move the Senate trial along swiftly.
“I hope the White House agrees with us on bringing this thing to a conclusion, not dragging it out,” said Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.).
It would take a two-thirds vote in the Senate to remove Trump from office, a remote prospect.
Trump declined to participate in the impeachment proceedings in the Democratic-controlled House, where his legal and political aides advised that his involvement would only legitimize the process. But he and his aides have been talking for weeks about what Trump wants in a Senate trial, including witnesses and a role for his staunchest House allies.
Trump is eager for Americans to hear evidence that he believes will show the Bidens are corrupt, the House Democrats rigged the impeachment investigation and that he never pressured Ukraine, according to the people who have spoken with him.
Trump has obsessed over the whistleblower both on Twitter and to confidants. He blames the individual for drawing undue attention to the July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which Trump pressed Zelensky to investigate the Bidens.
“I wouldn’t mind the long process, because I’d like to see the whistleblower, who’s a fraud,” Trump told reporters recently, when asked about the Senate trial.
“For many Trump allies, the whistleblower is really priority one, two and three,” said Jason Miller, a senior adviser on Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Trump and his allies think there’s another benefit to a prolonged trial — it could hurt Democrats running for election 2020.
They are targeting 30 House Democrats who represent districts that voted for Trump in 2016. And there’s five Senate Democrats running for president — Michael Bennet, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — who will have to remain in D.C. for the impeachment trial, depriving them of campaign time just before the all-important Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.
Still, McConnell has said he is opposed to having witnesses, arguing that Democrats would use the opening to turn the trial into “a kind of mutual assured destruction.”
“The president’s not going to be removed from office,” he said during a radio interview on The Brian Kilmeade Show. “The only issue is how long do we want to take to get the final decision. I think that we’ve heard enough. We’re going to listen to arguments, but my view is it’s time to vote and move on.”
McConnell already dismissed Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s request for four administration witnesses to testify during the Senate trial: acting White House staff chief Mick Mulvaney, his deputy, Robert Blair, former national security adviser John Bolton and Office of Management and Budget official Michael Duffey, who apparently had a role overseeing the Ukraine aid.
It’s a stance shared by other GOP senators, including key Trump allies.
“I am not going to support witnesses being called for by the president,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and is close to the president. “I am not going to support witnesses being called for by Sen. Schumer. We’re going to vote on the same product the House used.”
Trump hasn’t openly contradicted McConnell and Senate Republicans.
“We did nothing wrong. So, I’ll do long, or short. I’ll do whatever they want to do. It doesn’t matter,” Trump told reporters last week.
“The Senate is very very capable. We have great senators, Republican senators,” he reiterated on Thursday. “I’m going to let them decide what to do.”
But he has continued to discuss witnesses behind closed doors. After emerging from a Senate GOP lunch with Trump aides Eric Ueland and Kellyanne Conway Wednesday, Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) said he was hopeful Trump was reconsidering that position.
“I think there’s been a transformation over time, simply because now I think there’s a realization that witnesses are a double-edged sword and adds to the time,” Braun said. “Somewhere there’s been a rethinking of that.”
Some Trump allies predict Trump will eventually go along with McConnell because the president has come to respect his command of the Senate’s rules after watching him push through the president’s legislative priorities, including a tax overhaul bill and a record number of judge confirmations.