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The Senate impeachment trial moves into a new phase on Wednesday, as senators present questions to Chief Justice John Roberts to be read before the House impeachment managers and President Trump’s legal team.
The question of whether witnesses will testify in the trial is still very much up in the air. The Senate has deposed witnesses in every impeachment trial in history. Three witnesses testified in the Clinton impeachment trial — Monica Lewinsky, Clinton confidant Vernon Jordan and White House aide Sidney Blumenthal.
Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois and the Senate minority whip, says the rules of a criminal trial and the political action of impeachment differ slightly, but both call for the presentation of evidence.
“There is a glimmer of hope that this might just turn out to be a trial. So far, it’s not even close,” he says. “What we’ve seen so far, four or five days of presentation, actually would be an opening statement at a trial. No evidence has been presented.”
The Constitution calls for the admittance of evidence in an impeachment trial, which Durbin says, could sway some Republican senators when the time comes to vote on witnesses and documents.
“Evidence would clearly be documents and witnesses, and I think that’s started to weigh heavily on the minds of some Republican senators,” he says. “How will they explain that for the first time in the history of the use of the impeachment clause in the Constitution there was a so-called trial, but no witnesses showed up?”
On what questions Durbin plans to ask in the new phase of the trial
“I have a question prepared that's based on my work on the [Defense Subcommittee on Appropriations] and the fact that the administration was notified by the Department of Defense in August that if they did not release the funds for Ukraine's defense, that there was possible violation of law. And secondly, it wouldn't have been possible to release all the funds within the fiscal year. My question, obviously, to the president's team is once the president was notified that the money was going to be diminished and there may be a violation of law, why didn't he release it then?”
On what the answer to that question might be
“I'm not sure. Because they've suggested that the president just spontaneously decided to release the funds, that it had nothing to do with the phone call with President Zelensky and that he was determined to help Ukraine. My question raises the point within his own administration where they were warned that further delay in releasing them would diminish the funds that could actually be sent to Ukraine.”
On his opposition to a “witness trade” regarding John Bolton and Hunter Biden
“This isn’t a trading opportunity for members of the Senate and the House. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a serious matter, the most serious matter under our Constitution. What we’re asking for on the Democratic side are witnesses who actually work for this president or did work for this president — people on his staff. We’re not sure what they’re going to say. They have not been deposed. We’re ready to accept whatever it may be as long as they’re under oath and tell the truth. This idea, well let’s bring in Hunter Biden, see if he’ll spice this up politically. Get down to reality here. The reality is, did that conversation with the president breach his authority in office and should it result in an impeachment?”
On whether he’d accept a trade if absolutely necessary
“I don’t think it’s reached that point. It’s been suggested by one senator … and let me add, there are 53 Republican senators. The way this trial is constructed, the majority of the Senate can basically make a decision on bringing a witness before us in the procedure that is followed. So if it is the intent of the Republicans to bring any members of the Biden family before this Senate, they have the votes to do it.”
On reading Bolton's book in the Sensitive Compartmentalized Information Facility — or SCIF
“What a hoot. The notion that this is somehow classified information? In just a few weeks, John Bolton is gonna be sitting there with pen in hand autographing these books for the world to read. But we have to read them in a classified setting? What is that all about? If this manuscript is out and about — and apparently it is — then it ought to be presented to the Senate for us to review it and then call Mr. Bolton and challenge him as a witness under oath as to the truth of the statements in his book.”
This segment aired on January 29, 2020.
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