The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

After Republican senators block new impeachment evidence, Trump boasts about what he’s withholding

President Trump leaves a news conference at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 22, 2020. (Simon Dawson/Bloomberg News)

By late in the evening Tuesday, the Democrats in the Senate had made their point. Perhaps Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) would like to package his remaining amendment proposals into one final vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) suggested, a hint of hopefulness creeping into his otherwise even-timbered voice. No dice. Schumer kept producing new proposals until well past midnight.

In total, the Senate took 11 votes on amendments to the rules aimed at broadening the evidence that would be included in the impeachment trial of President Trump. They were, in order:

  1. A subpoena to get documents from the White House.
  2. A subpoena to get documents from the State Department.
  3. A subpoena to get documents from the Office of Management and Budget.
  4. A subpoena for testimony from Mick Mulvaney, former OMB director and acting White House chief of staff.
  5. A subpoena to get documents from the Defense Department.
  6. A subpoena to get testimony from Robert Blair, an aide to Mulvaney, and Michael Duffey, a political appointee at OMB.
  7. A proposal to mandate that inclusion of testimony excerpted from materials would necessitate the release to both sides of the material in its entirety.
  8. A subpoena for testimony from former national security adviser John Bolton.
  9. A proposal to eliminate a mandated vote before the Senate could vote on calling witnesses.
  10. A proposal to allow additional time for responding to motions.
  11. A proposal allowing Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who is presiding over the trial, to determine whether witnesses or evidence should be included.

In each case but one, the proposed amendments were tabled on a 47-to-53 vote. The lone exception was the 10th amendment, for which Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) joined the Democratic caucus in support of the proposal — but it, too, was tabled when a majority of senators, all Republicans, voted in opposition to it.

Save Collins’s post-midnight defection, it was another example of the remarkable unanimity with which congressional Republicans have approached the impeachment effort. While Trump and his allies have excoriated the process as being a manifestation of Democratic partisanship, it’s certainly the case that Trump has benefited enormously from his own party’s lockstep voting. In the House, that agreement — setting aside party defector Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.), who supported impeachment — allowed Trump and others to make the case about a partisan impeachment in the first place. In the Senate, it meant that McConnell’s proposed rules for proceeding through the trial would not be immediately overhauled with the inclusion of things that might be problematic for the president’s case.

The Senate impeachment trial of President Trump on Jan. 21 with a day of debate over the rules that will govern proceedings. (Video: The Washington Post)

Democrats hammered at the significance of rejecting the proposals: Were Senate Republicans saying that they were disinterested in knowing the truth about what happened? Republicans, for their part, had a pat response: Didn’t you think you had enough evidence to make your case when the impeachment articles were addressed in the House?

Trump wasn’t in Washington for any of this. As the votes unfolded, he was in Switzerland, having given an address at the World Economic Forum’s annual event in Davos. On Wednesday, though, he offered his thoughts during a news conference at the event.

“So here’s the story: Did nothing wrong,” Trump said of the impeachment push.

“The best lawyers in the world have looked at it. The Department of Justice has looked at it, given it a sign-off. There was nothing wrong,” he said.

The president walked through his now-familiar complaints about the evidence and then confirmed that he had seen some of the debate.

“I got to watch enough. I thought our team did a very good job,” he said. “But honestly, we have all the material. They don’t have the material.”

President Trump’s personal attorney Jay Sekulow on Jan. 21 slammed House impeachment managers for purportedly complaining about “lawyer lawsuits.” (Video: U.S. Senate)

That quote, in that context, in that moment, is potentially problematic. Trump appears to be saying that he has material reinforcing how his position of innocence is warranted — material that “they,” presumably Democrats, can’t see.

Which, of course, was largely Schumer’s point. There is a lot of evidence that has been withheld by Trump and his administration, including things as seemingly mundane as personal calendars for State Department staffers. On several occasions during the impeachment testimony in the House, witnesses lamented that they couldn’t answer questions with specificity because they didn’t have access to material that the State Department wasn’t releasing.

Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), also a House impeachment manager, quickly seized upon Trump’s comment as evidence that he was retaining pertinent material.

Trump has argued repeatedly that if witnesses such as Mulvaney were to testify, they would reinforce his arguments about the case. He has also, as the impeachment process has moved forward, been increasingly less likely to forcefully advocate for the inclusion of such testimony. (Asked during his Davos news conference whether he wanted to see witnesses in the Senate trial, Trump replied that he would “leave that to the Senate.”)

His comments Wednesday, though, go further, seemingly hinting that there might even be an advantage for the White House in keeping material out of the hands of Democrats, that his team was better informed, or that, at least, there was pertinent material that he and his team were simply keeping to themselves.

It’s not that this isn’t known to be the case. There is obviously documentary and witness evidence that the White House has sought to keep out of the Democrats’ hands — an effort bolstered by McConnell’s caucus Tuesday. It’s just not obviously useful for Trump in this moment to reinforce that this is what he is doing.

McConnell’s twin goals in the impeachment process are to protect Trump and protect vulnerable swing-state GOP senators. The former effort seemingly necessitates limiting the evidence presented at trial; the latter, ensuring that voters see the trial as fair and thorough. The Senate majority leader worked late into the night to line up 11 victories on the first point — only to see Trump himself undercut the second point from Switzerland a few hours later.