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Trump's Impeachment Trial To Begin In The Senate Next Week


The House of Representatives will today hold a long-awaited vote to send two articles of impeachment against President Trump to the U.S. Senate. And those articles move to the Senate not on their own; they will be escorted in a carefully choreographed procession through the Capitol Rotunda, the kind of event not seen since President Clinton's impeachment trial. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has confirmed that President Trump's Senate trial will begin next Tuesday.

Meanwhile, House Democrats have released a new set of evidence. Among other things, there is a message handwritten on a piece of hotel stationery from Austria that says, quote, "get Zelenskiy to announce that the Biden case will be investigated." This evidence comes from Lev Parnas, who was working with Rudy Giuliani to advance President Trump's personal political fortunes by using the country of Ukraine.

What effect, if any, might these documents have on the Senate trial? We've got Democratic Senator Chris Coons with us this morning. He represents the state of Delaware. Thanks so much for being with us, Senator.

CHRIS COONS: Thanks, Rachel. It's great to be on with you again.

MARTIN: So included in these texts and emails that have come out from the House Intelligence Committee is more information about the pressure campaign against the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch - this pressure campaign led by Rudy Giuliani. Have you had a chance to look at all these documents that have come from Lev Parnas? And if so, what do you make of them?

COONS: I've seen some of them - the scribbled note on hotel stationery you just referenced and some of the emails. What's striking, Rachel, is that even in the weeks after the House voted out two articles of impeachment, that even more evidence continues to be developed. There's been press reports about President Trump having personally ordered for this - excuse me - $400 million in aid to Ukraine to be held up. And there's been reporting such as the one you were just talking about - this detail about Lev Parnas and his role in Rudy Giuliani's sort of side foreign policy efforts, his scheme to try and extract some sort of evidence on behalf of President Trump and his reelection campaign, to benefit them.

The larger point is that it raises the question more pointedly and in a more timely way - why would we have a trial in the Senate and not allow witnesses, not allow evidence? The two previous impeachment trials in American history, President Clinton and President Johnson, both featured witnesses and trials. So that's an issue that we're going to be debating and we should be voting on at the very beginning of the formal trial, likely Tuesday of next week.

MARTIN: Although, it sounds like McConnell would entertain the idea of having witnesses after the case is presented. Is that of use at all?

COONS: Well, the challenge is then the case will have been fully presented. So the way a typical trial works is that all the pretrial motions are resolved, and the prosecutor and the defense know what evidence they've got to marshal and to present to the jury, and they are able to craft their opening and then their argument around that evidence. Here, essentially, what McConnell is saying is, we ought to have the case in chief presented and then argue whether we need any additional witnesses. What that's really pointing to is that virtually all of the Republicans in the Senate have indicated they've made up their mind, and they're going to vote to acquit, regardless of what evidence is presented.

I'll remind your listeners, Rachel, that the second article of impeachment is obstruction of Congress. President Trump, unlike President Clinton, unlike even President Nixon, directed his senior advisers, his Cabinet not to testify, not to cooperate. Those who appeared did so in defiance of orders from the president. If the president really wants a fair trial in the Senate, if he wants to claim exoneration, he should allow those who were in the room, who were on the email chain, like John Bolton or Secretary Pompeo, to testify.

MARTIN: Well, then let me ask...

COONS: Witnesses...

MARTIN: Go - finish your thought.

COONS: Trials have witnesses; cover-ups don't.

MARTIN: So let me ask you, then - if Democrats are able and allowed to call former national security adviser John Bolton, should Republicans get to call Joe or Hunter Biden?

COONS: That's a question I've been asked a lot in the last few days. Here's the critical difference - relevance. We know that John Bolton was in the room with the president, argued against withholding aid from Ukraine, was involved in the decision and involved in the communication about it. We also know that Joe and Hunter Biden were not. They're not directly relevant.

This is an attempt to bring in outside issues and to, frankly, help President Trump accomplish his political objective, what we now also know to be Vladimir Putin's political objective, of choosing who might be or not be the Democratic nominee, rather than presenting relevant evidence and testimony.

MARTIN: I want to move on because it is a - it's a busy day on the Hill and for you. In addition to the House vote moving the articles of impeachment, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on which you sit is going to have this hearing on Iran. The House tried to do this as well, but the main stakeholders - primarily Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper - didn't show up. So who are you going to ask any questions? And are you going to, really, get the information you need?

COONS: Well, Rachel, I actually - if I'm not mistaken, that just got moved. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee briefing on Iran that was going to be this morning, I think I got a notice late last night that it's been rescheduled, thus to emphasize your point, and that may well have been because we didn't have the witnesses we were expecting to come and testify.

MARTIN: Let me...

COONS: The larger...

MARTIN: Yeah. Go ahead.

COONS: The larger point here, Rachel, really, was that in the classified briefing that we got about the killing of General Qassem Soleimani last week, where the entire Senate was present, we could not get a clear answer from the most senior members of this administration to the question, under what circumstances do you, the Trump administration, believe you have to get authorization from Congress before moving us into a war with Iran?

They wouldn't commit to consulting with or seeking authorization from Congress, even in the fact pattern where, you know, a months-long campaign of preparation is required to launch a major conflict with Iran. To me, that was gravely concerning. It also caused Senator Mike Lee and Senator Rand Paul to change their position.

MARTIN: Right.

COONS: There are now 51 votes for a war powers resolution, led by Senator Kaine, which I believe we will take up imminently, that would demonstrate will on the part of the Senate to try and restrain President Trump's war-making powers.

MARTIN: Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. Senator, we appreciate you coming on, as always. Thank you so much for your time.

COONS: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.