McConnell Says Trump Impeachment Trial Should Start in February

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told fellow Republicans that he favors delaying the start of Donald Trump’s impeachment trial until next month to give the former president time to mount a defense.

Texas Senator John Cornyn, one of McConnell’s closest advisers, said “there was a discussion generally about giving the president due process” in a closed call with Republican senators Thursday. The start of the trial is in limbo until Speaker Nancy Pelosi sends the House’s single impeachment charge to the Senate.

“I heard Nancy Pelosi said, ‘Well we don’t need any evidence, we all saw it on TV, and we lived through it,”’ Cornyn later told reporters. “To me, that’s indicative of the haste with which they’re proceeding and I think, in fairness to anybody who’s accused of impeachable offenses there needs to be some fair process.”

Pelosi said Thursday that the article of impeachment against former president will be sent to the Senate soon, triggering the start of his trial, but she refused to specify when. She said the House impeachment managers — the prosecutors who will present the case against Trump — are in contact with the Senate about the timing.

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The article accuses Trump of inciting insurrection for stoking a crowd of his supporters on Jan. 6 who then stormed the Capitol in a riot that left five people dead. Sending the article to the Senate would require an almost immediate start for the trial, inevitably drawing attention away from President Joe Biden’s first days in office and potentially slowing confirmation of his cabinet picks.

Trump’s legal team began to take shape on Thursday. Trump adviser Jason Miller said on Twitter that the former president has hired Butch Bowers, a lawyer in Columbia, South Carolina, as part of his legal team. His firm specializes in representing elected officials, government agencies and political campaigns, according to its website.

The details of the trial procedures are part of the discussion between McConnell and now-Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Democrats won back the Senate on Wednesday after six years in the minority after two new Georgia senators elected Jan. 5 were sworn in, which means the two leaders must work out how to organize the Senate that is split 50-50.

“Make no mistake about it, there will be a trial,” Schumer said Thursday. “There will be a vote up or down on whether we should convict the president. I believe we should convict the president.”

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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday it’s up to Congress to conduct the trial. Biden is “going to leave it to them to determine what the path forward should be, on the pace, on the steps, on the mechanics,” she told MSNBC. “He’s going to focus on delivering what he feels he promised to deliver on when he was running for office.”

After Trump’s first impeachment on abuse of power and obstruction of Congress on Dec. 18, 2019, the House didn’t transmit the articles until Jan. 15, 2020. That trial concluded Feb. 5 with Trump’s acquittal.

The House speaker dismissed the criticism from some Republicans that proceeding with the trial of Trump, who is no longer in office, would undermine the message of unity that Biden emphasized at his inauguration.

“I think we need to speak as soon as possible with as much unity as possible that a second impeachment of President Trump is bad for the country and we’re gonna fight that,” South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who had been a close ally of the outgoing president, said Wednesday.

Pelosi said the former president must be held accountable for his role inciting the mob.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, speaking to reporters later Thursday, said he didn’t blame Trump for the actions of his followers on Jan. 6.

“I don’t believe he provoked it if you listen to what he said at the rally,” said McCarthy, who voted with other Republicans to object to certifying electoral votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania after the riot by Trump supporters seeking to overturn the election results. He said last week that Trump “bears responsibility” for the attack on Congress.

At least 17 Republican Senators would have to join all 50 Democrats to convict Trump. The Senate could then vote to bar him from ever holding public office again with a separate vote by a simple majority.

— With assistance by Steven T. Dennis

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