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Despite the Senate impeachment trial beginning next Tuesday, there has still never been a decision regarding witnesses and whether they will be allowed. Bu this is no longer a war of Democrats vs. Republicans — now it's a fight within the GOP. Moderates have been warned that if they side with Democrats on the issue, no one is off the table.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has been preaching throughout that he wanted to hold a quick trial. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) pitched allowing witnesses before opening arguments, but that was a no-go with McConnell. The best deal the Democrats could walk away with was for there to be a possibility for them to call witnesses after the opening arguments, a precedent that was set during former Bill Clinton's impeachment trial in 1999.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said if his fellow GOP senators support calling witnesses "who are unhappy about being fired," which appears to be a smear aimed at former national security adviser John Bolton, "then I think the president should get to call his [witnesses], and we should have votes on those."
"The president gets to call anybody he thinks would be good for his defense, the prosecution can call who they want, but I don't think we should selectively call witnesses that don't like the president," he added.
While pointing out that he hasn't made a decision yet on witnesses, Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) said, "I assume that if we're going to be fair — that if we get into having witnesses and evidence that both the prosecution and the defense will be able to weigh in as well.
"I feel pretty confident, though I don't know it for a fact, that the defense team is going to want to call its witnesses, including but not limited to the Bidens, and as a fact witness the whistleblower," said Kennedy.
Republicans who are against bringing in witnesses are hoping that the threat of bringing in the Bidens and the whistleblower will have Democrats and modern Republicans veering away from subpoenaing Bolton or other witnesses on the wishlist.
Schumer didn't voice his opinion on Thursday regarding a possible trade, such as Bolton for Hunter Biden, but did say, "I'm not going to negotiate out here," adding, "They haven't made any offer about any witnesses or any documents."
"If they are going to bring witnesses in, we're not going to do what the House did of a one-sided show trial, and I think it should be at a bare minimum one-for-one," he told Sean Hannity on Fox News. "So if the prosecution brings ... John Bolton, then President Trump can bring a witness. He can bring Hunter Biden."
This idea has now picked up momentum in conservative media. Hannity told him he "loved" his proposal and that he is hoping Democrats want four witnesses so "I get the four I want," with those four being 2020 Democratic candidate Joe Biden, Hunter Biden, the whistleblower, and House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA), though it's unclear why Hannity thinks he gets a vote in the Senate trial with regard to witnesses.
Also commenting on Cruz's idea is Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) who said, "I suspect we'll have one witness at a time that we'll vote on. And Ted, of course, has floated the idea of witness reciprocity. Whether it's one-for-one, or two-for-two, or four-for-four." He added, "I guess I would be surprised if there weren't witnesses," while admitting his preference will be for no witnesses.
Throughout all this, McConnell is trying to keep his caucus united, with closed-door meetings with moderates, including Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and taking in pitches from Paul and Cruz.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) is crediting the majority leader with getting Republicans together with the same strategy. "I think he's done a good job listening and trying to understand that everybody has their own unique set of considerations here as to how they move forward," he said, adding, "By doing that, [he] has all of us in the same place on the rules that we'll vote on next Tuesday. That's a good way to start."
According to those who have seen it, the rules resolution, as it has been laid out, includes a vote after opening arguments and questions from senators on whether there will be additional witnesses or documents. The moderates fought for that.
Murkowski recognizes that if they open it up to witnesses, it can become "unstructured" and "somewhat chaotic," yet it would help give it a "solid structure."
"I understand that this process will set that up for later on, and that's why I think it's so important that we have some structure. That we have given the courtesy for both sides to present their case, that we have allowed the senators to ask questions ... before we go into this back-and-forth," she said.
Only Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) has indicated he wants to see Bolton testify, though a small group does want to have the door open to make a decision after the opening arguments. Collins said on Thursday she is "likely" to support calling witnesses but let it be known she has not made up her mind on any one person.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who is retiring and close with McConnell, said he is open to additional witnesses and wanted to guarantee the right to vote if more "evidence" is needed. "Evidence could be witnesses. It could be documents," he said.
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