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Why Utah Rep. Chris Stewart says an impeachment trial in the Senate is ‘good news’

Amid damaging public testimony and warnings of Russian election interference in 2020, Utah Republicans turned their attention to the Senate trial that will ensue if President Donald Trump is impeached by the House.

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Former White House national security aide Fiona Hill returns from a break to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump’s efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents.

J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — On another day of damaging public testimony in the impeachment hearings, Republicans regrouped, turning their attention to the trial that will be held in the Senate if President Donald Trump is impeached.

Resigned to that outcome, Congressman Chris Stewart called a trial in the Senate “good news” for the president, who would find more support in the Republican-controlled chamber than in the Democrat-controlled House.

“These proceedings have been anything but fair. The Senate has an opportunity to fix that,” the Utah Republican told the House Intelligence Committee Thursday. “I am confident they will. And I look forward to them completing the job that we could have done here.”

Hours before, Utah’s two GOP senators attended White House meetings where impeachment loomed large.

Sen. Mitt Romney joined other Republican senators, including Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, for lunch with Trump, who according to Politico has been courting the support of GOP senators since the inquiry began. Romney and Collins are the president’s most vocal Republican critics in the Senate, having rebuked him for asking China to investigate Joe Biden.

“He made some initial comments that related to the impeachment process, but it’s nothing that I haven’t heard on TV from him. So there was no, you know, inside story or some argument that he was providing for us,” Romney told reporters after the meeting.

Asked if Trump sought their loyalty on impeachment, Romney said, the president said “nothing of that nature.”

“I didn’t get that sense,” Collins told reporters.

Lee and a separate group of senators met with White House counsel Pat Cipollone to discuss impeachment strategy, according to Lee spokesman Conn Carroll. He declined to elaborate. Senate Republicans consider Cipollone as the chief impeachment strategist at the White House.

Lee, who didn’t vote for Trump in 2016, signed on last week as co-chairman of the president’s reelection campaign in Utah.

Near the end of three days of testimony from nine witnesses, Stewart joined most Republicans on the House committee conducting the inquiry in giving brief speeches blasting Democrats instead of using their allotted time to question witnesses.

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David Holmes, a U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump’s efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents.

Andrew Harnik, Associated Press

Thursday continued a trend of explosive testimony as two more witnesses reinforced allegations that the president withheld military aid to Ukraine and an oval office visit in return for politically motivated investigations.

Fiona Hill, a former National Security Council adviser, and David Holmes, a State Department adviser in Kyiv, both said it was well known among Ukrainian officials that Trump’s request to investigate the Burisma energy company was code for investigating political rival Joe Biden.

And Hill gave lawmakers a stern warning that continuing to promote a “fictional narrative” that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 presidential election to hurt Trump takes the focus of Russia’s ongoing efforts to interfere in U.S. elections in ways that advance that country’s interests.

“Right now, Russia’s security services and their proxies have geared up to repeat their interference in the 2020 election. We are running out of time to stop them,” she said in her opening remarks.

Hill and Holmes separately described a diplomacy toward Ukraine that was chaotic and frustrating at times to officials working in established foreign policy channels and Trump’s allies.

They confirmed that Ambassador Gordon Sondland had told them the president had put him in charge of Ukraine, which upset Hill because no one had communicated that to the NSC.

But she eventually realized why Sondland was working outside of established interagency processes for Ukraine.

“He was being involved in a domestic political errand, and we were being involved in national security foreign policy,” she testified, “and those two things had just diverged.”

Holmes was brought into the inquiry just last week when his boss, acting Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor, surprised House investigators with information that one of his aides had overheard a conversation Sondland had with the president about Ukraine.

Under questioning by Democrats, Holmes said the call took place on an outside terrace of a restaurant in Kyiv, when Sondland called the president to update him on the investigations the day after the July 25 call.

Holmes said he could hear the conversation because the president was talking so loudly that Sondland held the phone away from his ear as Trump asked if Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was going to the investigations and Sondland replied, “Oh yeah, he’s going to do it. He’ll do anything you ask.”

Asked why he remembered the call so vividly, Holmes said seeing and hearing someone call the president of the United States on a cell phone from a restaurant was “a very distinctive experience. I’ve never seen it in my foreign service career.”

After the call, Sondland told Holmes the president doesn’t care about Ukraine “only big stuff.”

“I said we have big stuff going on here like a war with Russia and (Sondland) said, ‘Big stuff like the Biden investigation that Mr. Giuliani is pushing,” Holmes testified.

Investigating the 2016 election and Joe Biden, whose son was on the board of Burisma when Biden was vice president, were a “favor” Trump asked of Zelenskiy in exchange for a White House visit and the release of military aid in a July 25 phone call between the leaders that is central to the impeachment inquiry.

Thursday’s testimony may have wrapped up the committee’s public hearing phase of the inquiry. The Washington Post reported that the panel is writing a report of its findings for the House Judiciary Committee, which will may hold additional hearings before drafting specific articles of impeachment. The Judiciary Committee would forward those articles to the House for an impeachment vote.

If Trump is impeached, the Senate would hold a trial to decide if he is removed from office, The GOP-controlled Senate is unlikely to convict the president — something that has never happened.