WASHINGTON — Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, on Tuesday rejected demands by Democrats to call four White House officials as witnesses during President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate.
On the eve of a House vote Wednesday that is all but certain to result in Trump’s impeachment on two charges, McConnell said he would not agree to call the witnesses — all of whom have firsthand knowledge of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine — including Mick Mulvaney, the White House chief of staff, and John Bolton, the former national security adviser. The White House blocked them from appearing during the House impeachment inquiry.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the minority leader, had insisted in a letter to McConnell that they must be heard from.
But in remarks on the Senate floor Tuesday morning, McConnell said there was no reason for the Senate to immediately agree to take testimony from officials who might bolster Democrats’ case against the president.
McConnell called Schumer’s demand for witnesses “a strange request at this juncture,” leaving open the possibility that the Senate could decide to call witnesses after a trial is underway. But McConnell made it clear that making that decision before the trial started was premature.
“If House Democrats’ case is this deficient, this thin, the answer is not for the judge and jury to cure it here in the Senate,” he added. “The answer is that the House should not impeach on this basis in the first place.”
Schumer responded moments later, saying that holding a trial without witnesses “would be an aberration” and vowing to demand votes by senators on whether to call witnesses and subpoena documents during the trial.
McConnell’s comments came as the most politically vulnerable House Democrats in moderate districts continued to announce their support for the impeachment charges, signaling that the House vote expected Wednesday is likely to be almost entirely along party lines.
The charges against Trump stem from his bid to pressure Ukraine to open investigations into his political rivals while withholding $391 million in military assistance from the country and delaying a White House meeting with its president. Democrats argue the conduct amounted to a corrupt attempt by the president to use the powers of his office to enlist a foreign power to interfere on his behalf in the 2020 election, while Republicans assert there was nothing inappropriate in his actions.