Schumer Floor Remarks Calling For Fair Senate Impeachment Trial With Witnesses And DocumentsJanuary 3, 2020
Washington D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer
today on the Senate floor called for a fair and honest impeachment trial
of President Trump including witnesses and documents. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:
The Senate begins this new session of Congress preparing to do something that has happened only twice before in American history: serving as a Court of impeachment in a trial of the President of the United States.
President Donald Trump stands accused by the House of Representatives of committing one of the offenses the founding fathers most feared when it came to the stability of the Republic: abusing the powers of his office for personal gain, soliciting the interference of a foreign power in our elections to benefit himself. The House has also charged the president with obstructing Congress in the investigation into those matters, the consequence of an unprecedented blockade of relevant witnesses and documents—flatly denying the legislative branch’s constitutional authority to provide oversight of the executive.
As all eyes turn to the Senate, the question before us is—will we fulfill our duty to conduct a fair impeachment trial of the President of the United States, or will we not?
That is the most pressing question facing the Senate at the outset of this Second Session of the 116th Congress: will we conduct a fair trial that examines all the facts, or not?
The country just saw Senator McConnell’s answer to that question. His answer is no. Instead of trying to find the truth, he is still using the same feeble talking points that he was using last December. The country just saw how the Republican Leader views his responsibility at this pivotal moment in our nation’s history. The Republican leader prefers finger-pointing and name-calling to avoid answering the looming question: why shouldn’t the Senate call witnesses? The Republican leader hasn’t given one good reason why there shouldn’t be relevant witnesses or relevant documents. We did not hear one from Leader McConnell today, or any day.
Once again, Leader McConnell tried to bury his audience under an avalanche of partisan recriminations and misleading references to precedent. There is only one precedent that matters here: that never, never in the history of our country, has there been an impeachment trial of the president in which the Senate was denied the ability to hear from witnesses. Let me repeat that. That is the salient fact here. There is only one precedent that matters: there has never, never in the history of our country been an impeachment trial of the president in which the Senate was denied the ability to hear from witnesses.
Yet the Republican leader seems intent on violating that precedent and denying critical evidence to this body and to the American people.
Leader McConnell has been clear and vocal that he has no intention to be impartial in this process. Leader McConnell reminds us, today and in previous days, that rather than acting like a judge and a juror, he intends to act as the executioner of a fair trial.
Thankfully, the rules of the impeachment trial will be determined by the majority of Senators in this chamber, not by the Republican leader alone.
The crux of the issue—still—is whether the Senate will hear testimony from witnesses and receive documentary evidence directly relevant to the charges against the president. Since Congress recessed for the holidays, there have been several, several events that have significantly bolstered my argument for four specific witnesses and specific categories of documents. Nothing in that time, has bolstered Leader McConnell’s argument that there shouldn’t be relevant witnesses or documents.
On December 21st, the Center for Public Integrity obtained emails through a Freedom of Information Act request that showed that Michael Duffey—a top OMB official and one of the four witnesses I’ve requested—asked the Defense Department to “hold off” on sending military aid to Ukraine ninety one minutes after President Trump’s July phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky.
On December 29th, the New York Times report included several revelations about the extent of Chief of Staff Mulvaney’s involvement in the delayed military assistance; about the effort by lawyers at OMB, Justice, and the White House to create legal justifications for the delay in assistance; and about the depth of opposition to—and indeed alarm about—the delay in military assistance from parts of the administration, particularly the Pentagon.
Then, just yesterday, there was a new report about a trove of newly-unredacted emails that further exposed the serious concerns raised by Trump administration officials about the propriety and legality of the president’s decision to delay military assistance to Ukraine.
One of those emails released yesterday was from Michael Duffey, one of the witnesses we’ve requested, to the Pentagon comptroller, and it read: “Clear direction from POTUS [the president] to continue the hold.” Clear direction from the president to continue the hold is what Duffey wrote.
What constituted that “clear direction?” Did Michael Duffey get an order from the president, or did someone like Mr. Mulvaney get an order from the president that was passed on to Mr. Duffey? Were there discussions by administration officials about covering up the reasons for the president directing the delay in military assistance?
These are questions that can only be answered by examination of the documentary evidence and by the testimony of key Trump administration officials, under oath, in a Senate trial.
These developments are a devastating blow to Leader McConnell’s push to have a trial without the documents and witnesses we’ve requested.
Each new revelation mounts additional pressure on members of this chamber to seek the whole truth. With these new emails, we’re getting certain portions of the truth. We need the whole truth.
For example, much of the evidence that was obtained by the recent FOIA requests has been heavily redacted.
Here is an email chain between officials at the Pentagon regarding the Politico article that first revealed the Trump administration was delaying military assistance to Ukraine. It is completely redacted. Every word crossed out. Not available. Can’t be seen.
Here is another email with the subject line “apportionment,” between officials at OMB and the Pentagon. Completely redacted. None of the words can be seen at all.
We know now what some of those redactions covered up, but only some of it. Why did they redact the sections they redacted? Who ordered the redactions? Why are they covering it up? What are they hiding?
These questions must be asked. When you are accused of something, you don’t suppress evidence that will exonerate you. The fact that the administration is going to such lengths to prevent these emails from coming out is extraordinarily telling. It seems like they themselves feel that they are guilty.
Getting the full documentary record would undoubtedly shed light on the issues at hand. These were senior Trump officials discussing the delay in military assistance to Ukraine, who ordered it, why it was ordered, whether or not it was legal, and how it was connected to the effort to pressure Ukraine into announcing investigations regarding a political rival of the president. And these emails represent just a sliver of the documentary evidence that exists in this case.
There was an exceedingly strong case to call witnesses and request documents before the Senate went out of session for the Christmas break. In the short time since, that case has gotten stronger, and remarkably so.
We are not asking for critics of the president to serve as witnesses in the trial. We are asking only that the president’s men, his top advisers, tell their side of the story.
And Leader McConnell, once again, has been unable to make one argument—one single argument—as to why these witnesses and these documents should not be part of a trial.
Now, I want to respond to one suggestion by Leader McConnell—that we follow the 1999 example of beginning the impeachment trial first and then deciding on witnesses and documents at a later date.
First, to hear Leader McConnell say no witnesses now but maybe some later is just another indication that he has no argument against witnesses and documents on the merits. Will Leader McConnell commit to witnesses and documents now, and discuss timing later?
Second, Leader McConnell’s comparisons to 1999 are hopelessly flawed and inaccurate. There were witnesses in 1999, Leader McConnell. You want the precedent of 1999: there were witnesses, as there were in every single impeachment trial of a president in history. It would be a break in precedent for there not to be witnesses.
Third, there is an even greater rationale for witnesses than in the Clinton trial. In 1999, the witnesses in question had already testified—they had already testified under oath extensively—and there were also bipartisan concerns about the suitability of the subject matter for the floor of the Senate
There is no analogy to today’s situation. The witnesses we’ve requested have never testified under oath, and the documents we’ve requested have not been produced.
Fourth, we have a tradition in America of “a fair and speedy trial.” That’s why we’ve requested only the relevant information, up front, so that the trial can truly be “speedy and fair.” It makes no sense, and in fact it is a ruse, to suggest that the Senate wait until the end of the trial to settle the hardest question, when it might take time for witnesses to prepare testimony and for the Senate to review new documentary evidence. We can and should begin that process now, and ensure that the trial is informed by the facts, and does not suffer unnecessary delays.
Fifth, and finally, when Leader McConnell suggests we have both sides present their arguments and then deal with witnesses, he is essentially proposing to conduct the whole trial, and then once the trial is basically over, consider the question of evidence. That makes no sense. That’s Alice-in-Wonderland logic. The trial must be informed by the evidence, not the other way around. The House managers should be allowed to present all of the evidence to make their case, not make their case and then afterward ask for evidence we know is out there.
So if we don’t get a commitment, up front, that the House managers will be able to call witnesses as part of their case, the Senate will act as little more than a nationally televised meeting of the mock trial club.
If we leave the question of witnesses and documents until after all the presentations are complete, Leader McConnell will argue that the Senate has heard enough, and we shouldn’t prolong the trial any longer. At that point, you can be sure he’ll label anyone who wants to subpoena evidence as a partisan who wants to drag the whole affair out.
I know this because he has already told us what his position will be. This is not a mystery. “After we’ve heard the arguments,” Leader McConnell said on Fox News Radio, “we ought to vote and move on.” Does that sound like someone who, in good faith, intends to have the Senate reasonably consider witnesses at a later date? No, it does not.
Leader McConnell’s proposal to vote on witnesses and documents later is nothing more than a poorly disguised trap. “After we’ve heard the arguments,” Leader McConnell said, “we ought to vote and move on.” All of my fellow Senators—Democrat and Republican—should take stock of the Leader’s words and remember the commitment he made on national television to take his cues from the White House.
It may feel like we are no closer to establishing the rules for a Senate trial than when we last met. But the question, the vital question, of whether or not we have a fair trial ultimately rests with a majority of the Senators in this chamber.
The president faces gravely serious charges—abuse of power, abuse of his public trust, soliciting the interference of a foreign power in our elections, unprecedented obstruction of Congress—and, if convicted, the president faces the most severe punishment our Constitution imagines. The framers gave us—this chamber, the United States Senate—the sole power to discharge this most difficult and somber duty.
Will the Senate rise to the occasion?