Trump Impeachment Defense Starts to Take Shape But Gaps Remain
(Bloomberg) -- The White House has started to map out its plan for defending Donald Trump in an impeachment trial likely to happen early next year, but differences between the president and Senate leader Mitch McConnell over the proceedings has so far cut the strategy short.
One key decision has already been made: top White House lawyer Pat Cipollone will represent the president in the Senate trial. His selection, which a person familiar with the matter said was made Thursday, was among the first strategic decisions for the defense.
Other decisions will depend on the format -- a point of disagreement between Trump and McConnell. While the president has said he wants a forceful and complete defense, McConnell prefers a short, controlled proceeding.
“I’ll do whatever they want to do, it doesn’t matter,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday. “I wouldn’t mind a long process, because I’d like to see the whistle-blower, who’s a fraud.”
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The White House and Senate Republicans have been in frequent contact about a trial plan, with top officials meeting Thursday on Capitol Hill. The House is expected to vote on articles of impeachment next week and the Senate plans to kick off a trial in January.
Clashes With Mulvaney
Cipollone has positioned himself as a leader of the impeachment response inside the West Wing, often clashing over strategy with other top officials such as Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. It’s not clear whether Cipollone will act as sole counsel or as part of a group of lawyers.
Pam Bondi, a special adviser to the White House’s impeachment defense team, called news of Cipollone’s selection “premature” but praised him as a “genius” whose team has been “working non-stop” on impeachment.
“He and his team have been on this, and you know what, if they want to start this next week, we are ready to go,” Bondi said on Fox News.
Even though Trump is almost certain to be acquitted in the GOP-controlled Senate, how the trial unfolds could have a ripple effect on the 2020 elections.
Trump has said he wants the trial to include witnesses who could be questioned about his allegations of corruption and wrongdoing involving Democrats. The president said he wants to hear from former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter as well as House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff.
“It’s up to the Senate to decide how they move forward with some of this, but the president has also been clear: He wants witnesses out there because he wants his side of the story told,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said Thursday on Fox News. “They didn’t allow us to do this on the House side.”
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Nonetheless, the White House will likely go along with McConnell’s decision, according to a person familiar with the matter. Trump and McConnell have clashed in the past, but their relationship has grown closer over wins on judicial nominations and the 2017 tax cuts.
No final decisions on trial format have been made, but there is a general agreement that House impeachment managers will present their argument followed by Trump lawyers, according to another person familiar with the matter. Both White House and Senate officials are expected to confer after that stage about next steps.
Republicans are looking to avoid a circus-like atmosphere that could backfire politically on senators seeking re-election in battleground states.
“I’m going to take my cues from the president’s lawyers,” McConnell said on Thursday night on Fox News. “That might be what the president’s lawyers would prefer, and you can certainly make the case for making it shorter rather than longer since it’s such a weak case.”
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