GOP Debate on Impeachment Witnesses Intensifies as Senate Trial Draws Near

GOP Debate on Impeachment Witnesses Intensifies as Senate Trial Draws Near

The impeachment trial of President Trump is anticipated to proceed this week, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to send the two articles of impeachment to the Senate as early as Wednesday. The House impeached Trump in December for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress related to Trump’s effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rival Joe Biden. A growing number of Republican senators are pushing for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to hold a vote on whether to allow witnesses to speak at the Senate trial. The timing of the Senate impeachment trial could impact the 2020 presidential race. Three Democratic candidates — Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar — will have to leave the campaign trail for the trial, which could begin this week. On Monday, Senator Cory Booker dropped out of the race in part because of the time demands of the impeachment trial. We speak with Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor at Slate.com, where she is their senior legal correspondent and Supreme Court reporter. Dahlia also hosts the podcast “Amicus.”

TRANSCRIPT

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today’s show looking at the upcoming impeachment trial of President Trump. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to send the two articles of impeachment to the Senate as early as Wednesday. The House impeached Trump in December for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress related to Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rival Joe Biden.

Three Republican senators — Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine — have said they want the Senate to call former national security adviser John Bolton as a witness during the Senate impeachment trial. Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee has said he may also vote to hear witnesses. He told Politico, quote, “It’s important to have a vote on whether we have witnesses or not.”

AMY GOODMAN: The timing of the Senate impeachment trial could also impact the 2020 presidential race. Three Democratic candidates — Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar — will have to leave the campaign trail for the trial, which could begin this week. On Monday, Senator Cory Booker dropped out of the race in part because of the time demands of the impeachment trial.

Meanwhile, The New York Times is reporting a security firm has uncovered evidence that Russian military hackers have attempted to attack the Ukrainian gas company where Hunter Biden once served on the board of directors.

To talk more about the upcoming impeachment trial, we’re joined by Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor at Slate.com, where she’s senior legal correspondent and Supreme Court reporter.

So, what are we going to see today, Dahlia?

DAHLIA LITHWICK: I think we’re going to see everybody pedaling as fast as they can to own the narrative here. I think that Nancy Pelosi is feeling at least a little bit better about the fact that there are going to be witnesses. It looks as though there are enough Republican senators saying we at least want to vote on whether there are going to be witnesses, which is, I think, what her endgame was, to have some kind of fair process. At the same time, we see Mitch McConnell doing the touchdown dance yesterday, saying, “Everything she did was pointless, I won everything, and I’m going to have it my way.”

So I think, as today plays out, we’re going to see a decision on whether to convey the articles today, tomorrow. We’re hearing there’s going to be opening statements as soon as next Tuesday. So this thing is going to start and hit the ground running, and I think very quickly we’re going to have to see whether there’s a process that allows for witness testimony.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what about the issue of John Bolton’s potential testimony? How important is that? And do you feel — is your sense is that the votes are there to call for him to come and testify?

DAHLIA LITHWICK: Well, we’re certainly hearing that Romney is interested. I think that Murkowski and Collins, as you all said, are very, very interested in at least knowing that they have made the gesture at “We want to know what he has to say.” And I think they’re really being pincered by an electorate that wants to hear from witnesses. What Bolton has to say is unbelievably consequential.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But yet the president has indicated that he might invoke executive privilege. He told Fox News that he might do that to prevent Bolton from testifying in the impeachment trial. Fox News host Laura Ingraham interviewed him on Friday.

LAURA INGRAHAM: Why not call Bolton? Why not allow him to testify? This thing is bogus. Why not allow Bolton to testify?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I would have no problem, other than one thing. You can’t be in the White House as president — future, I’m talking about future, many future presidents — and have a security adviser, anybody having to do with security, and legal and other things, but —

LAURA INGRAHAM: Are you going to invoke executive privilege?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: — especially — well, I think you have to for the sake of the office.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And speaking to reporters last Tuesday, Trump said Bolton wouldn’t know anything about the impeachment charges.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He would know nothing about what we’re talking about, because, if you know, the Ukrainian government came out with a very strong statement, no pressure, no anything, and that’s from the boss. That’s from the president of Ukraine.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: What’s your sense about that?

DAHLIA LITHWICK: Well, at least with respect to the latter question, we know Bolton knows a lot, because we’ve already heard testimony in the House that he said, “I want nothing to do with this drug deal that’s being cooked up with Giuliani.” So we know Bolton has actually taken a strong position against what was happening in Ukraine.

As to the question of privilege, executive privilege does not mean that Bolton cannot testify. It means he can sit there and testify as to those things that are not privileged and invoke the privilege where it applies. It doesn’t mean there’s an all-out bar on his showing up.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that the assassination of Soleimani could be Trump throwing out a bone to Bolton because he’s so concerned about what he might testify? And as soon as he did the assassination, Bolton said, tweeted, you know, “We’ve been working on this for a long time.”

DAHLIA LITHWICK: I think there is some signaling going on between Bolton and the president that none of us fully understands. I think the fact that Bolton has said, “I have material evidence, and I would like to present it,” suggests he didn’t get everything he wants from this Soleimani assassination.

But I think the larger point for Bolton is, he’s trying, at every turn, to do — right after he has the opportunity to do the big thing, he says he’s going to do it, when it’s too late. This looks like it’s of a piece with that. He’s been saying, pretty consistently, “I have things to say. I wish I could say them.”

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And Chief Justice John Roberts will be presiding over the trial. What’s your sense of what his role will be?

DAHLIA LITHWICK: That’s the most interesting question to me as a John Roberts watcher, is that there’s two models. There’s the Salmon Chase model from the Andrew Johnson impeachment, and then there’s the William Rehnquist model from the Clinton impeachment. Chase was unbelievably involved, let himself be the tiebreaker, was absolutely aggressively involved in rulings in the Johnson impeachment. Rehnquist famously, after the Clinton impeachment, said, “I did nothing, and I did it very well.” I think John Roberts is much more apt to be what we saw in the Rehnquist model, to do nothing and do it very elegantly.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to 2016. This is Trump calling Chief Justice Roberts a “disaster.”

DONALD TRUMP: Justice Roberts turned out to be an absolute disaster. He turned out to be an absolute disaster because he gave us Obamacare.

AMY GOODMAN: So, your response, Dahlia Lithwick?

DAHLIA LITHWICK: So interesting that Trump never went after Anthony Kennedy, who also gave so many things that Trump purports to hate. But he didn’t go after Kennedy; he went after Roberts. And Roberts and he have been involved in a very, very low-level slap fight about whether Trump can go after judges. John Roberts famously said last year, “There’s no such thing as ‘Trump judges’ and ‘Obama judges.’ All judges are the same.” Those are fighting words from John Roberts. Do I think it means that John Roberts is in the tank for impeachment? No, I don’t. I think John Roberts is in the tank for the judiciary and the integrity and the dignity of the judiciary.

AMY GOODMAN: And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, he has said he can’t be an impartial juror. He just went to the White House to meet with President Trump about the impeachment trial. Could he somehow declare that the bar was not met for high crimes and misdemeanors? How does this work?

DAHLIA LITHWICK: Well, I think that Donald Trump yesterday started signaling, “We should just acquit me before anything happens. We shouldn’t even have a trial.” It’s clear McConnell does not have the votes to do that. And so I think that cannot happen.

It’s important to realize everything that has to happen procedurally requires 51 votes. That seems like an easy jump when you have 53, but it’s pretty clear that these processes are going to be set on the backs of people like Collins and Murkowski and other senators who are really, really worried about their re-election bids. So, I don’t think it’s as simple as McConnell doing things by fiat and the entire party falling in line on every issue.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And finally, the Democrats are meeting today, caucusing, and Nancy Pelosi is expected to name the prosecutors. What’s the importance of the prosecutors from the House in this trial?

DAHLIA LITHWICK: The formal word is “managers.” They become the impeachment managers. And they essentially become, as you say, the prosecuting attorneys. There’s some conversation about whether Justin Amash might be one of them. He’s the independent who broke off from the Republican Party. And again, that’s some interesting signaling if she does that. But they will probably come from the Intelligence Committee and the committees that oversaw the House processes, and they will essentially present their best case. Donald Trump’s attorneys for his part will be Jay Sekulow and Pat Cipollone. And they are going to —

AMY GOODMAN: And Giuliani is trying to get into there.

DAHLIA LITHWICK: And Giuliani, who desperately wants to be at that table, I think that’s not going to happen. But that’s going to be the prosecutors and the defense.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we hope you will keep us posted. And, of course, we will turn back to you. Dahlia Lithwick is senior editor at Slate.com, where she is their senior legal correspondent and Supreme Court reporter. She also hosts the podcast that you call…

DAHLIA LITHWICK: Amicus.

AMY GOODMAN: Amicus.

When we come back, Moms 4 Housing. A group of mothers in Oakland are fighting homelessness by occupying a vacant house. They are threatened with eviction. Hundreds of people turned out last night to protect them. Stay with us.