McConnell proposes postponing impeachment trial until February
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) proposed on a call with Republican senators Thursday that former President Trump’s impeachment trial be delayed until February to give him enough time to mount a defense.
McConnell told colleagues that Trump should have at least as much time as the president had in previous trials, which means he would like to postpone the proceeding until the second week of February, according to Republican senators on the call.
“It would have been the 10th or 11th [of February] or somewhere in there,” said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), who said McConnell wants to give Trump the same amount of time he had to prepare for the first impeachment trial and that former President Clinton had to prepare for his 1999 impeachment trial.
Braun said McConnell’s timeline “was geared to be similar to that.”
Senators on the call also said that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of Trump’s closest allies, announced that the former president had hired Butch Bowers, an attorney from South Carolina, to defend him at the Senate trial.
McConnell said Thursday that he shared his proposed timeline with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
“Given the unprecedented speed of the House’s process, our proposed timeline for the initial phases includes a modest and reasonable amount of additional time for both sides to assemble their arguments before the Senate would begin to hear them,” he said in a statement.
“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,” he said.
A spokesman for Schumer said, “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.”
McConnell has pointed out to GOP colleagues previously that under the Senate’s impeachment rules, a trial is required to begin the day after the House managers present the articles of impeachment to the upper chamber.
The rules also require the Senate sit in trial every day except Sundays until it delivers a verdict.
But McConnell has leverage with Democrats because they are eager to begin work immediately on confirming President Biden’s Cabinet nominees and on a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief proposal.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a close Biden ally, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Thursday that he would agree to postpone the start of Trump’s impeachment trial by a couple weeks if Republicans would agree to quickly process 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 the very talented, seasoned and diverse team that President Joe Biden has nominated to serve in his Cabinet,” he said.
Some Democrats have called for a trial that lasts only a few days, but this would require cooperation from Republicans to keep the trial short and prevent a lengthy delay of Biden’s agenda.
Graham told reporters after the call that he and McConnell worked on the proposed timeline during a meeting earlier in the day after reviewing historical precedents.
“I think it makes sense. Once the Senate gets the impeachment articles — if we do — there’s a process in place that requires 51 senators to agree to move forward. The president was shut out in the House so his team needs some time to prepare,” he said. “I’m very supportive of the proposal made by Sen. McConnell.”
Graham said McConnell reviewed historical precedents before suggesting a February start date for the trial.
“He called the legal team and we looked at historically pre-trial periods,” Graham said of his meeting and the GOP leader’s interaction with Trump’s lawyer.
Graham said a key consideration was that Trump didn’t have a chance to mount a legal defense during the House impeachment process.
“The difference is there was really no input [from the president’s lawyers] in the House,” he said. “There was no lawyer.”
Graham said McConnell’s proposal “is very much in line with what we’ve done in the past.”
He also praised Bowers, Trump’s new lawyer, as a solid “anchor” for the defense, praising him as a “solid guy.”
“Over time they’ll put the [defense] team together but you got to remember that there was no process in the House to participate in,” Graham added. “A couple weeks I think would be necessary for the president’s people to make their argument most effectively.”
Graham said Bowers has experience with “very complex litigation.”
McConnell is proposing the House impeachment managers wait until Jan. 28 to exhibit their article of impeachment to the Senate.
As soon as they do, senators would be sworn in as members of a court of impeachment and Trump would receive a summons to present a defense.
McConnell wants to give Trump one week to respond to the article of impeachment, which would also give the House managers time to craft their pre-trial brief.
He wants to give Trump’s legal team another week to submit their own pre-trial brief on Feb. 11. That would give Trump a total of 14 days from when the Senate issues its summons to put together an initial legal defense.
The House impeachment managers would have two additional days to submit their rebuttal brief on Feb. 13.