Democrats say they are not planning to call witnesses at former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial this week, creating a stark contrast to Trump’s first impeachment trial, where Republicans and Democrats jostled over issuing witness subpoenas for days ahead of proceedings.
Instead, Politico reports, Democrats say they’re going to rely on the “lived experience” of individuals in Congress who were at the United States Capitol building the day rioters breached the doorways and threatened lawmakers voting on whether to certify the results of the Electoral College.
“Senate Democrats are making it clear they’re taking a different approach than they did for Trump’s infamous Ukraine call. Now, they say their experience as witnesses to the Jan. 6 insurrection is enough,” the outlet reported Monday.
“This is based on a public crime,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) told Politico. “His intent was unhidden and so I think there’s a danger as there always is for a trial lawyer and prosecutor to over-try, to add more witnesses that prove the obvious.”
Other Democrats seemed to believe the issue is enough of an open-and-shut case that witnesses were not necessary to prove Trump’s intent, even though it’s not entirely clear Trump demanded his supporters march to the Capitol and disrupt legislative proceedings, particularly given that the FBI seems to be operating on the theory that the attack on the Capitol was planned in advance.
The only witness Democrats have reportedly discussed bringing to the floor is Trump himself. The House impeachment managers submitted a letter to the former president’s legal team last week demanding he appear at his impeachment trial and threatening to cast his refusal to testify as evidence of his guilt.
“If you decline this invitation, we reserve any and all rights, including the right to establish at trial that your refusal to testify supports a strong adverse inference regarding your actions (and inaction) on January 6, 2021,” the group said in a letter.
The president’s attorneys responded by indicating that Trump would not testify because the proceedings are “unconstitutional.”
As last time, the question of whether to call witnesses is double-edged. If the plaintiffs are allowed to call witnesses, the door opens to witnesses for the defense, and with Democrats demanding a swift trial so that they can return to the business of passing President Joe Biden’s agenda, it’s unlikely they’ll agree to a prolonged proceeding.
It’s also likely that Democrats lack the votes to bring witnesses, just like last time.
“The witness debate last year consumed Trump’s first impeachment trial, which lasted nearly three weeks. Senate Republicans chose to punt the question of whether to bring in witnesses to the end of the trial. In the end, only two Republicans — Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine — joined Democrats in voting to allow officials like John Bolton to testify, leaving Democrats short of the 51 votes needed,” Politico reported.
The president’s trial begins this week, once both Republicans and Democrats have settled on how the Senate will conduct business.