Merkley: Impeachment trial a 'travesty' without witnesses, documents
U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley says the current impeachment trial of President Donald Trump could result in a "travesty" if a majority in the Republican-controlled Senate continues to block access to witnesses and documents.
The Oregon Democrat spoke Thursday, Jan. 23, in a conference call with Oregon reporters before the trial resumed for a second full day of arguments.
"The Senate really is on trial. If it fails to access documents and witnesses, this does not work anything like a full and fair trial," Merkley said.
"Think of it this way: If a foreman of a jury was working with the defendant to block witnesses and documents from ever being presented, that is what you expect in a trial perhaps in Russia or China — but not in the United States of America. Yet this is exactly what is happening in this setting."
His reference was to a remark by Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that McConnell was coordinating closely with the president and the White House's legal defense team for a speedy trial.
Merkley's comments about witnesses and documents were echoed by his Democratic colleague, Ron Wyden, during recent town hall meetings before the trial started.
Later in his remarks, Merkley said he is concerned that Republicans will sidestep the question of witnesses and documents in arguing that enough information will emerge from the lengthy presentations by the House impeachment managers and the president's legal teams.
He said it would amount to a "cover-up."
"The only way that does not happen is if you have courageous members on both sides of the aisle who combine to say that we absolutely will stand by our constitutional responsibility for the Senate to hold a full and fair trial.
"The stage is set for this trial to become a travesty. I'm really hope that doesn't happen."
On party-line votes Tuesday — there are 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two others who vote with Democrats — the Senate rejected several Democratic attempts to allow for the introduction of documents and witnesses. The question could resurface next week after the completion of opening arguments by the House impeachment managers — all Democrats — and the president's team.
Although some Republican senators have hinted they would like to hear from witnesses, including some who did not testify at the House impeachment hearings, Merkley said he is uncertain whether there are at least four Republicans willing to join Democrats.
"There are Republican colleagues who are wrestling with their core understanding that a full and fair trial means witnesses and documents — and they would like to see witnesses and documents," Merkley said. "Then you have this pressure orchestrated by McConnell to say we are going to shut this thing down as fast as we can, certainly in time for the president's State of the Union speech," now scheduled for Feb. 4.
"The answer to whether that happens or not is uncertain."
It is extremely rare when the Senate chamber draws all members at once, let alone seated at their desks for hours.
Merkley offered his observations.
"As the hours proceed, you have folks standing up in the back of the room to stretch or having to exit briefly for a bathroom break. I do not believe that if you were observing from the gallery, you could detect much difference between the Democratic side and the Republican side. Everyone seems pretty attentive… but it is a long time for people to sit."
Merkley said many senators, including himself, are taking copious notes. But he also said there is not much interchange between senators, who will be able to ask questions of the House's and president's managers only in writing. The Senate, under the trial rules, can also close its sessions to the public in specified circumstances.
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