By Jaisal Noor
Democrats are just one Republican vote short of allowing new witnesses into Donald Trump’s impeachment trial–and new evidence might sway them.
The impeachment trial of President Donald Trump begins next week. House Democrats introduced charges on Thursday, Jan.16 that Trump abused his powers and obstructed a congressional inquiry into his effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
Also on Thursday, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) said the White House broke the law when it blocked congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine last summer, delivering a blow to the president just as his impeachment trial gets underway. The watchdog, which has no enforcement mechanism, said a temporary hold on $391 million of assistance placed by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget was “not permitted,” writing, “faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law.”
Democratic presidential candidates Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) will be required to participate in the trial, sidelining them in the weeks ahead of the first primary contests of 2020. Some polls are showing Sanders and Warren as the leading candidates in the upcoming Iowa caucuses.
Democrats want to hear from witnesses who could have firsthand knowledge of Trump’s actions, including his former national security adviser John Bolton, who has offered to testify if subpoenaed. Three Republican senators, Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (AK), and Mitt Romney (R-UT), have indicated they may support allowing new witnesses in the Senate trial. One more vote would still be needed to pass the motion, defying Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-AL).
Democrats hope new evidence of alleged impeachable crimes can sway Republicans into voting with them. That includes phone records and other documents provided by Florida businessman Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani says Parnas helped him investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
The Ukraine-born Parnas has pleaded not guilty to federal campaign finance violations in a separate criminal case. Democrats said Parnas’ phone included a screenshot of a previously undisclosed letter from Giuliani to then President-elect Volodymyr Zelensky, where the former New York mayor writes, “In my capacity as personal counsel to President Trump and with his knowledge and consent, I request a meeting with you.”
Parnas appeared on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow show Wednesday and detailed the pressure campaign on Ukraine to announce a public investigation into the Bidens, on the instruction of Giuliani.
“It wasn’t just military aid. It was all aid,” Parnas tells @maddow. “Basically the relationships would be sour. We would stop giving them any kind of aid, unless… there were several demands at the point — the most important one was the announcement of the Biden investigation.” pic.twitter.com/DYwDUofVnl
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) January 16, 2020
But others remain skeptical of Parnas’s recent statements. On CNN, Foreign Minister of Ukraine Vadym Prystaiko rebutted his testimony, saying, “Frankly, I have not spoken with [Lev Parnas], and again, frankly, I don’t trust any word he is now saying.”
Vadym Prystaiko, Foreign Minister of Ukraine: “Frankly, I have not spoken with [Lev Parnas], and again, frankly, I don’t trust any word he is now saying.” pic.twitter.com/bRUm3mleqN
— The Hill (@thehill) January 16, 2020
The Senate is expected to acquit Trump, keeping him in office, given that none of its 53 Republicans has voiced support for removing him, a step that under the U.S. Constitution would require a two-thirds majority.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will preside over the trial. Trump is just the third president to face an impeachment trial in U.S. history. The previous trials of Presidents Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1999 both ended in acquittal.
Reuters contributed to this report.