Schumer wants evidentiary trial, testimony from Bolton, Mulvaney

Sen. Chuck Schumer and members of the Democratic caucus file out of a strategy session at the Capitol in Washington on Nov. 18, 2014. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Sen. Chuck Schumer and members of the Democratic caucus file out of a strategy session at the Capitol in Washington on Nov. 18, 2014.

Republican officials appear largely united on the end result of the presidential impeachment process: GOP officials will ignore Donald Trump's misdeeds and shield him from accountability. There are some intra-party divisions, however, on how best to go from the starting line to the finish line.

The first group of Republicans, which includes Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), wants an expedited process. The president's impeachment trial, under their approach, would barely go through the motions before asking members to vote up or down on the articles. The point would be to get the whole thing over with as quickly as procedurally possible.

The rival GOP contingent, which includes the president, sees value in using the impeachment trial to put on a show. This Republican faction believes that a longer process, with more witnesses and arguments, could pay political dividends for the party.

As that GOP conversation unfolds, Democrats are not exactly neutral observers. NBC News reported overnight:

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer proposed calling former national security adviser John Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney as witnesses at an impeachment trial for President Donald Trump in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Sunday.The offer is intended as a signal that Democrats are seeking an evidentiary trial, not intending to simply rely on the House investigation.Schumer, D-N.Y., proposed that the Senate subpoena four people who are close to the president or are expected to know about the delay of about $400 million in military aid to Ukraine: Mulvaney; Bolton; Robert Blair, senior adviser to Mulvaney; and Michael Duffey, associate director for national security at the Office of Management and Budget.

The Senate Democratic leader's full letter, which is a little over two pages, is online here (pdf). Schumer's opening pitch calls for setting aside 24 hours for each side to present opening arguments and rebuttals, and an additional 16 hours for senators from each party to ask questions. Witnesses would be subject to four hours of testimony and examinations, followed by an additional 24 hours of deliberations ahead of final votes.

In addition to subpoenaing witnesses, the New York Democrat also envisions a process in which the Senate issues subpoenas for "a specific, limited list of documents that will shed additional light on the administration's decision making regarding the delay in security assistance funding to Ukraine and its requests for certain investigations to be announced by the government of Ukraine."

Schumer's letter notes, "These provisions are modeled directly on the language of the two resolutions that set forth the 1999 trial rules." Left unsaid is the fact that Mitch McConnell, like every other Republican in the chamber at the time, voted for those rules 20 years ago.

If recent history is any guide, GOP leaders will probably not be too eager to embrace Schumer's recommended course, but let's not lose sight of the larger context. When pushing back against the House Democrats' impeachment proceedings, more than a few Republicans have characterized the effort as critically incomplete. Dems issued subpoenas, for example, to Bolton, Mulvaney, and others, and administration officials ignored them.

For some in the GOP, this has served as the basis for a convenient talking point: without testimony from these witnesses, House members have an incomplete record, which makes the votes on articles of impeachment premature.

No serious person could believe the argument has been offered in good faith. The point, obviously, is to create court challenges -- which may or may not force Bolton and Mulvaney to testify -- that would take many months to resolve. The talking point is a delaying tactic that would make impeachment a practical impossibility.

But to a degree, Schumer is now calling their bluff, effectively telling Republicans, "If their testimony is necessary, and the GOP wants a more complete record, then by all means, let's include folks like Bolton and Mulvaney as witnesses at trial."

To be sure, as House Democrats persuasively argued, the mountain of uncontested evidence makes the president's guilt quite obvious. But if Republicans' rhetoric about an incomplete record is sincere, shouldn't they embrace Schumer's approach with great enthusiasm?