Politico: Could the Senate trial be over by the State of the Union speech?


Sure, but … in which year? I kid, I kid. Thanks to Mitch McConnell’s new rules and schedule — and perhaps sheer exhaustion — Donald Trump might address Congress on February 4th as an acquitted president. That depends on whether McConnell can keep the Senate on track, and whether any Republicans cross over to subpoena witnesses, Politico notes in its newsletter:

MCCONNELL has orchestrated the Senate trial of President DONALD TRUMP thusly: The president’s attorneys and the House impeachment managers each have 24 hours to use over the course of two calendar days to present their case, condensing the meat of the trial into what could be as short as four days in total. These rules will likely have the Senate in session all night and into the wee hours of the morning, as it tries TRUMP for high crimes and misdemeanors. Another highlight: Evidence gathered in the House investigation must be admitted by vote — nothing is automatic. MCCONNELL announced that he had the support of all Republican senators for his rule package weeks ago, essentially ensuring its passage.

THINK OF IT THIS WAY: This could be all over by sometime next week — ahead of the State of the Union on Feb. 4.

In a deeper dive, Politico reported last night that the White House wants a speedy trial now, too, rather than an extensive rebuttal to the House impeachment. With few minds open to change at this point, Trump’s team sees a quick trial and acquittal vote as the best potential outcome. However, no one’s talking about dismissal, at least not directly:

“We are gratified that the draft resolution protects the [president’s] rights to a fair trial, and look forward to presenting a vigorous defense on the facts and the process as quickly as possible, and seeking an acquittal as swiftly as possible,” said Eric Ueland, the White House legislative affairs director.

There is no explicit reference to a motion to dismiss the trial in the resolution. The Senate is expected to vote on the measure on Tuesday, with Republicans set to vote along party lines and ignore Democrats’ demands to lock in witnesses and new documentary evidence before the trial’s arguments begin later this week.

However, a dismissal motion would be in order anyway under standing rules for all impeachments. McConnell doesn’t need to add it to these rules for Senate Republicans to use that as a quick exit ramp, although they will have to wait for the presentment and questioning first. At that point, though, what will a dismissal gain Trump? An acquittal vote works better for him, and for Senate Republicans looking to rebuke House Democrats over their cooked process in delivering the articles in the first place.

Nor do today’s changes to the McConnell rules package really change the trajectory much, either. If the Senate doesn’t call any witnesses, they can still easily get through an acquittal vote before the evening of February 4th. Any witnesses, and it will be almost impossible to accomplish.

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Alan Dershowitz may be the only player in the drama still talking about dismissal. This case is tailor-made for that option, he told Laura Ingraham last night, but the politics surrounding it won’t allow for it:

“This is a motion-to-dismiss case, in which, if it were a criminal case and a person were charged with dishonesty … the first thing you do is make a motion to dismiss because dishonesty isn’t a crime,” he told Fox News’s Laura Ingraham.

The problem with that, however, is how quickly it would wrap up the impeachment trial, which may not be something the American public wants, he said.

“Obstruction of Congress is not an impeachable offense. Abuse of power is not an impeachable offense. A motion to dismiss in a perfect world would be ideal,” he explained, “but do the American public want to see an end to the trial so quickly? I think that becomes a political issue.”

The issue may not be length as much as it is a definitive stand on Trump. Dismissal simply waves the case away; voters on both sides of the partisan/Trumpian divide want senators to make a choice rather than take a technicality off-ramp. Are ye fer him or agin’ him? That is, the vote can take place after the presentment and questioning, but it had better be on removal or acquittal.

Can it take place at within a time frame that frees Trump by the scheduled SOTU speech, though? Not if the Senate calls witnesses, it can’t. The White House has made clear that it will invoke executive privilege if John Bolton or Mick Mulvaney gets called to testify, and it will seek to apply privilege to document demands as well. Those may or may not succeed if taken to court, but it will take weeks at a minimum to settle those questions, and possibly months. Even if the courts expedite such a dispute to the Supreme Court, we’re probably looking at no sooner than May or June for a resolution to the fight — which will leave the Senate locked in limbo for months. That’s why the House needed to pursue these witnesses, where a legal fight in court could take in parallel to their normal business instead of freezing the Senate in trial mode for an indefinite period.

If it comes to that, expect this reality to be the way McConnell gets his caucus behind opposition to subpoenas. It’s just easier and more efficient to get to the final vote on acquittal, especially since everyone knows that’s exactly what will happen anyway. For the moment, McConnell will leave that question to the end of the presentment, but he’s not going to allow the Senate to get tied up just because Adam Schiff couldn’t be bothered to do a proper job.

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