Voters were encouraged this week to pressure their senators to hold a fair impeachment trial following Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's announcement Tuesday he had enough votes to avoid calling new witnesses, as Democrats had demanded.
The Kentucky Republican, who said last month the trial would happen in "total coordination" with the White House, has been accused of plotting a cover-up for President Donald Trump. The House impeached the president Dec. 18 for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress following testimony from diplomats and other government officials on Trump's attempt to bribe the Ukrainian government to announce an investigation into Hunter Biden, son of former Vice President Joe Biden, one of Trump's rivals in the 2020 presidential race.
The impeachment trial cannot begin until the House sends over the articles of impeachment to the upper chamber; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has held onto the articles in a bid to pressure the Senate to commit to a transparent process.
Demands for transparency and allowance of new witnesses increased Monday after Trump's former national security advisor John Bolton announced he would testify before the Senate if issued a subpoena. Greg Sargent opined at The Washington Post Tuesday that there "is a reasonable possibility that Bolton has a level of direct knowledge of Trump's thinking and motives in freezing military aid to Ukraine—one of the most corrupt acts at the core of this whole scandal—that exceeds that of any other living human being."
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) expressed frustration Wednesday with the Republicans' apparent efforts to bar potentially damning testimony.
"The cover-up that Senator McConnell is engineering here has to be broken at some point and my colleagues will be put on record whether they are going to be part of aiding and abetting the Trump-McConnell cover-up," Blumenthal told reporters.
Politico reported Tuesday:
It took just a few hours for McConnell and Senate GOP leaders to clinch a final whip count in support of moving forward with a trial framework that ignores Democratic requests. And all 53 Republicans—even moderates such as Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Mitt Romney of Utah—have agreed to the majority leader's proposal, according to senators involved in the process. [...]
Under the tentative rules package, which is the same as those used in President Bill Clinton's 1999 Senate trial, the House will be allowed to present its case against Trump and then the president's defense team will respond. At that point, McConnell or any GOP senator could move to end the trial and call for a final vote on the charges against Trump. Or Democrats could try to seek witness testimony or the introduction of new documentary evidence. It will be up to a majority of the Senate to decide.
"We have the votes," McConnell told reporters, "once the impeachment trial has begun, to pass a resolution essentially the same, very similar to the 100 to nothing vote in the Clinton trial which sets up, as you may recall, what could best be described maybe as a Phase One."
McConnell's behavior has prompted critics of the president to wonder just what it is that the GOP is trying to suppress.
"Even if Senate Republicans successfully head off witnesses and rush through an acquittal," Sargent added, "the whole affair will be forever stained by the indelible fact that they could only exonerate Trump by refusing to permit a full reckoning—and refusing to hear the very sort of testimony they themselves claimed to want for months."
In the wake McConnell's announcement, progressive group Indivisible and high profile voices including television writer and producer Danny Zuker took to social media Wednesday to suggest voters pile pressure on lawmakers to commit to a transparent trial.
Progressive advocacy group Common Cause, in a statement Tuesday, added on another demand: that senators return any campaign funds Trump raised for them or not take part in the impeachment trial.
"The American people deserve a fair trial from the Senate in the wake of President Trump's impeachment. That means a trial with witnesses from the administration, and it means a trial with a jury untainted from accepting campaign funds raised by the defendant," said Common Cause president Karen Hobert Flynn.
"If Donald Trump's Republican defenders in the Senate truly believe that the president has done nothing wrong, then they should welcome the opportunity to hear public testimony from Trump administration officials who witnessed firsthand the events in question," Flynn continued. "History will not look kindly on any senator who continues to put party before country and denies the American people the truth."