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McConnell proposes delaying impeachment trial until February so Trump
team can prepare
By Manu Raju, Lauren Fox and Jeremy Herb, CNNUpdated: Fri, 22 Jan 2021
02:55:43 GMTSource: CNN
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is proposing that the Senate
give former President Donald Trump's legal team two weeks to
prepare for the upcoming impeachment trial once the Senate receives the
article and delay its start until mid-February.
McConnell's proposal to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer
throws the timing of the trial further into doubt, though it remains to
be seen if Democrats would go along with the plan. House Democrats
could still send the impeachment article over to the Senate and start
the trial the next day.
Asked if he had heard a response from Senate Majority Leader Chuck
Schumer, McConnell told CNN Wednesday, "Not yet but we continue to
talk about it."
Negotiations between Schumer and McConnell over the impeachment trial
are directly tied to the efforts to get President Joe Biden's
nominees confirmed and the Senate's power-sharing agreement
finalized, per sources with knowledge of the matter.
Schumer and Democrats haven't ruled out the idea of delaying the
trial as long as they try to get a deal to lock in votes on Cabinet
nominees and finalize a deal on the power-sharing agreement that would
allow Senate committees to organize.
Without a deal on the power-sharing resolution, the GOP will still
control the committees under the rules of the last Congress, when the
GOP maintained a majority in the chamber -- something that gives
McConnell leverage in the talks.
In a statement, McConnell said he wants to structure the trial so that
the ceremonial functions, like the formal reading of the impeachment
article, would occur next week on Thursday, January 28. Trump would
have another week under McConnell's plan to answer the article by
February 4, and the following week Trump's team would submit a
pre-trial brief, before the trial would begin. The House would also
submit briefs over those two weeks before the trial gets underway in
McConnell told Republicans on a conference call Thursday he's in
no rush to begin the trial. The Republican leader's point was the
House moved quickly on impeachment but the Senate needs time to prepare
for a full trial, according to sources on the call.
"At this time of strong political passions, Senate Republicans
believe it is absolutely imperative that we do not allow a half-baked
process to short-circuit the due process that former President Trump
deserves or damage the Senate or the presidency," McConnell said
in a statement.
While the decision on when to start the trial is up to Democrats, there
are reasons congressional Democrats -- and the Biden White House -- may
be amenable to a delay in the trial, as it would give the Senate a
chance to confirm more of Biden's Cabinet nominees.
"I think Democrats will be open to considering a delay that allows
former President Trump time to assemble his legal team and his defense
for the impeachment trial, if we are making progress on
confirming" Biden's nominees, Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware
Democrat, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on "The Situation
Schumer spokesman Justin Goodman said Thursday, "We received
Leader McConnell's proposal that only deals with pre-trial motions
late this afternoon. We will review it and discuss it with him."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at a news conference Thursday that the
House was "ready" to begin the trial but would wait until the
Senate was prepared before formally transmitting the impeachment
article, the step that would trigger the start of the trial the
"They have now informed us they are ready to receive, the question
is other questions about how a trial will proceed, but we are
ready," Pelosi said of the Senate.
Asked about a delay to the trial, White House communications director
Kate Bedingfield reiterated that the White House will "leave
timing mechanics to Senate leadership."
She noted that Biden has spoken previously with both Schumer and
McConnell, and it is his hope that Congress can "focus on a Covid
"The articles could be walked over Friday," one source told
House Democrats were in discussions to send over the article of
impeachment to the Senate as early as Friday, two sources say, though
one complicating factor was that Trump's legal team remained a
question mark on Thursday morning.
But it appears Trump now has at least one lawyer for the trial. Sen.
Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and ally of the former
President, said in a conference call with Senate Republicans Thursday
that South Carolina lawyer Butch Bowers will represent Trump at his
impeachment trial, according to a person on the call.
Trump's campaign spokesman, Jason Miller, confirmed on Twitter
that Bowers would represent Trump for the trial. CNN has reached out to
Bowers for comment.
Graham told reporters that he would urge Trump's legal team to
"focus on the unconstitutional argument" that a former
president cannot be convicted by the Senate.
"They didn't present any evidence in the House, so I
don't know if you can present evidence in the Senate that you
didn't present -- I guess you could -- but we'll make our own
decisions about did the President go too far, was this incitement under
the law, what's the right outcome there? So it should be a quick
trial really, quite frankly," Graham said.
Republicans have urged Democrats to abandon the Senate impeachment
trial of Trump, arguing both that it's unconstitutional and that
it directly undercuts Biden's inauguration message of unity in the
first days of his presidency.
Pelosi rejected those calls on Thursday.
"No, I'm not worried about that," she said. "The
fact is, the President of the United States committed an act of
incitement of insurrection. I don't think it's very unifying
to say, oh, let's just forget it and move on. That's not how
you unify. ... You don't say to a president 'Do whatever you
want in the last months of your administration, you're going to
get a get-out-of-jail card free.'"
Senate Democratic leaders say they don't know when the trial will
begin, though Schumer pledged there would be a vote on whether to
convict Trump on the House's charge of "incitement of
"Leader McConnell and I are trying to come up with a bipartisan
agreement on how to conduct the trial," Schumer said Thursday.
"But make no mistake about it. There will be a trial, there will
be a vote up or down on whether to convict the president. I believe he
should be convicted. And we'll have to wait to see when she sends
the articles over to figure out how to do all that."
Asked when the articles might be sent, Senate Democratic Whip Dick
Durbin said it was still unresolved.
"Whether or not it's going to be a full blown trial with
evidence and witnesses, or 'expedited' -- whatever that means
-- that final decision isn't even close," Durbin added.
During Trump's 2020 impeachment trial, House impeachment managers
focused much of their case on the need to have witnesses in the trial
to corroborate their charges that Trump sought Ukraine's help to
undermine Biden ahead of the 2020 campaign. That push ultimately
failed, as Republicans voted against hearing witnesses before Trump was
This time around, Democrats are eyeing a quick trial, given the fact
that the Senate is likely to be stalled while the trial is ongoing --
meaning Biden's Cabinet nominees would be delayed in getting
Democrats have yet to say whether they will seek witnesses for this
trial, but Pelosi hinted Thursday they might not need to do so, saying
the decision would be up to the managers.
"I do see a big difference between something we all witnessed
versus information you might need to substantiate an article of
impeachment based in large part on a call the President made and
described as perfect," Pelosi said. "This year, the whole
world bore witness to the President's incitement, to the execution
of his call to action and the violence that was used."
House impeachment managers are meeting and preparing to make their case
to the Senate, and Democrats remain hopeful they can convince 17
Republican to convict Trump, especially given the fact that McConnell
has indicated he is keeping an open mind and will listen to the
A faction of Senate Republicans, however, are warning McConnell that
his backing will quickly wane in the Senate GOP conference if he votes
to convict Trump.
This story and headline have been updated with additional developments
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