As the Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump gets underway, senators are establishing ground rules for the proceeding. As we’ve reported before, it now seems likely that the Senate will hear witnesses and at least one Democratic senator is agreeable to the idea that Hunter Biden could be called to testify. At the same time, Republicans are floating the idea of a way to rapidly end the trial with a dismissal vote if things get out of hand.
On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said yesterday that he thought it would be “fine” if Hunter Biden was called to testify before the Senate. The son of Joe Biden, Hunter’s association with Ukrainian energy company Burisma has been called unethical by Republicans and is at the root of President Trump’s decision to freeze military aid to Ukraine.
"We take the position that we want to hear from the witnesses. I don't know what Hunter Biden has to do with the phone call the President made," Senator Brown said. "The point is we need witnesses, we need to know who they are with the right to call witnesses, additional witnesses later. But I don't understand how you come to the American public, make the case that this is a real trial, if there are no witnesses and there is no new evidence."
On Fox News, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said that the Senate guidelines would include reciprocity of witnesses.
“What does that mean?” Cruz asked rhetorically. “It means if the prosecution gets a witness, the defense gets a witness. If the prosecution gets two, the defense gets two. That means if the prosecution gets to call John Bolton, then the president gets to call Hunter Biden.”
There is so far no evidence of any wrongdoing on the part of either Hunter or Joe Biden, but Republicans were critical of the House decision not to allow the Bidens to be called as witnesses during impeachment hearings in the lower body.
In other impeachment news, Fox reports that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is close to finalizing a rule that would implement a “kill switch” for the impeachment proceedings. The provision would act as a “safety valve” to prevent the trial from dragging on into the primary election season.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) told Axios that the resolution would “give the president's team the option to either move to judgment or to move to dismiss at a meaningful time..." Hawley said that he would be "very, very surprised” if the organizing resolution for the trial did not include such a provision.
The difficulty for Republicans is that even if the rules for the trial allow the president’s supporters to move for a summary dismissal, so far there is not enough support among Republican senators for such a vote to pass. As Resurgent detailed last week, the Republican leadership has acknowledged that there are currently not enough votes to dismiss the matter without a full hearing.
The Senate is expected to pass an organizing resolution on Tuesday. The text of the resolution has not been released but CNN reports that it is expected to delay the issue of whether witnesses will be called until after opening arguments have been made. At a later point, senators will have an opportunity to vote on whether witnesses should be called. Polling has indicated broad support for calling more witnesses during the Senate trial.
The two Republican initiatives seem at odds with each other. The threat to call extraneous witnesses such as Hunter Biden would prolong the trial without offering insight into what Rudy Giuliani’s introductory letter to President Zelensky referred to as a private mission rather than one that involved Donald Trump’s role as president.
Republicans could accomplish their stated goal of keeping the trail brief by limiting witnesses to people who are material to the charges against President Trump, people who were involved with the phone call and the subsequent aid freeze. In that vein, one would expect Trump’s defense team to call witnesses who could exonerate the president on the charges of abuse of power and obstruction such as Mick Mulvaney, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, and Mike Pence.
I wonder why they won’t.
Originally published on The Resurgent