It appears likely that the U.S. Senate will start 2020 with an impeachment trial. In the absence of a full understanding of the Trump administration’s engagement with Ukrainian officials, Republican leaders in that chamber would be misguided to forgo calling any witnesses as part of their own process.
According to several reports this week, unfortunately, this is exactly what Senate Republicans are considering.
That is the wrong approach for the Senate, the wrong approach for the White House and most importantly, the wrong approach for the American people.
This impeachment process has not exactly been a proud chapter in American democracy (apologies for the understatement). But no matter the ultimate conclusion, it shouldn’t end without the fullest possible picture of the facts.
There are still several potential witnesses not yet called or unwilling to cooperate in the House proceedings that the Senate should at least try to engage.
Unless something wildly unexpected and fast-moving materializes in the House, that chamber’s impeachment investigation will end without hearing from several critical voices that can shed more light on whether President Donald Trump used his office for his own political gain by pressing for investigations in Ukraine related to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
While the White House and many Republican allies have been casting existing testimony — which was given under oath — as hearsay, top aides who could provide definitively first-hand testimony and documents — such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and former National Security Advisor John Bolton — have resisted efforts to have them testify or produce related documents.
The Republican minority in the House was also stymied in its ability to call witnesses, including Hunter Biden, Rep. Adam Schiff and the whistleblower whose anonymous complaint jump started the investigation.
All of these people should be fair game as witnesses in a Senate trial and can add to a fuller picture of the truth — though the Senate would need to take care to use a process that protects the whistleblower’s identity.
If the Senate fails to even try to add those missing pieces to the case before voting, they will be falling short in responsibly carrying out their constitutional role to consider the facts and render judgment in matters of impeachment.
The BDN asked the offices of Maine’s two senators if they would like to see additional information or witness testimony, should impeachment move to a trial in the Senate.
Sen. Angus King’s office pointed to a recent OpEd he penned for USA Today suggesting that several top Trump administration officials should testify in the impeachment probe. A spokesperson said that if those officials don’t testify in the House (and it appears almost certain they won’t), King would welcome their testimony before the Senate.
In a written statement, Sen. Susan Collins emphasized her role “as a judge and juror” in a potential Senate trial, saying that is why she has “refrained from commenting on the House’s proceedings or prejudging the evidence that may be presented to the Senate.”
“Assuming that the articles are indeed sent to the Senate, it will be up to the two Senate leaders to negotiate who participates in the trial, just as Senators Trent Lott and Tom Daschle did during the impeachment trial of President Clinton,” Collins continued.
If given the chance, Collins and King should both seek more information, and vote to call witnesses in the Senate. All senators should want as much information as possible as they make their decision on impeachment, and that includes attempting to fill gaps left by the House investigation.
On Dec. 2, as the White House was resisting participation in the House impeachment proceedings, Kellyanne Conway told reporters that she would testify on behalf of the White House if Schiff were to testify. Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee Chairman, has been a lightning rod for criticism — some of it deserved, some of it over the top — for his role leading the investigation and his office’s initial contact with the whistleblower.
“He’s a fact witness,” Conway, who serves as counsel to the president, said at the time. “If Adam Schiff testifies, I’ll show up on behalf of the White House.”
Conway may not be the specific official who should testify on the Ukraine situation, but any involvement from senior White House staff would be an improvement from where the process stands now.
The White House refused to participate in what it called an “ irretrievably broken process” in the House. That reasoning does not hold up in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Some top level officials from the administration and some of the Republican witnessed not allowed by Democratic committee leaders in the House should be part of the Senate process. If Senate Republicans care about having the fullest set of facts before passing judgment on impeachment, they must strive to hear from these voices.