WASHINGTON — Democrats say that President Donald Trump’s defense team raised key questions that only witnesses and documents can resolve.
White House lawyers spent about two hours Saturday beginning their defense in Trump’s impeachment trial. Their arguments included that no one has testified they heard Trump directly demand a political quid pro quo from Ukraine or say explicitly that foreign aid was held up to benefit himself.
They accused House impeachment managers of leaving out key information and presenting a skewed narrative. Leaving the trial, several Democratic senators said the obvious way to solve this dispute is to subpoena new witnesses and documents.
“The thing that most irks me — I mean, really irks me — is that we’re having this conversation when there are literally people who could confirm directly — like [Trump’s acting chief of staff] Mick Mulvaney or [former national security adviser John] Bolton — they could confirm so much of this one way or the other,” said Sen. Cory Booker.
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White House lawyers have opposed issuing new subpoenas. But Sen. Tim Kaine noted that one of their main objections to the impeachment process was that Trump’s lawyers were not allowed to cross-examine witnesses during their initial, closed-door depositions.
“They’re going to stand there and tell us cross-examination is the greatest engine for discovery of truth, but, 'Oh, by the way, we don’t want you to cross-examine witnesses,'” said Kaine. “They made the case this morning for why documents and witnesses are absolutely necessary to resolve this.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a lawyer, said trials have shown the best way to resolve factual disputes between two legal teams is to call in witnesses and lawyers.
While the removal of President Trump from office is overwhelmingly unlikely, Democrats have pushed Republicans to at least call for more evidence. At the beginning of the trial, they put forward eight proposals to subpoena various witnesses or documents the administration has refused to turn over. All were voted down along party lines. However, another vote on subpoenas will take place next week.
But several Republicans said Saturday they are more convinced than ever that it is not necessary to issue new subpoenas. Sen. Ron Johnson said he saw no need whatsoever to call witnesses.
“The sooner that we can conclude this the better,” he said. “But then we’ll continue. The House will continue their oversight efforts; the Senate will continue ours. That’s the better venue for answering these questions, not a completely partisan impeachment trial that does a lot of damage to our democracy.”
Even if the Senate votes to call witnesses, they would then be faced with the question of who specifically to call. Some Republicans have insisted that if House Democrats are allowed to issue subpoenas, the White House defense team must be able to as well. The names most frequently tossed around as possible White House subpoenas are presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
But Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham is urging his colleagues to wrap up the trial quickly rather than get wrapped up in thorny questions of congressional power and executive privilege.
“I am more intent on ending this thing now with my vote,” he said. “I really don’t want to turn the trial into a circus. There’s a way to look at Hunter and Joe Biden outside impeachment.”