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Sen. Mike Lee ‘agnostic’ on need for witnesses, more evidence in Trump trial

McConnell says he has votes to start impeachment trial in Senate

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President Donald Trump speaks during an “Evangelicals for Trump Coalition Launch” at King Jesus International Ministry, Friday, Jan. 3, 2020, in Miami.

Evan Vucci, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Sen. Mike Lee expects articles of impeachment to land in the Senate any day now but says it’s too early to consider calling witnesses before the trial of President Donald Trump begins.

Lee wouldn’t say whether he wants to hear from former national security adviser John Bolton, who said Monday he is prepared to testify if subpoenaed, or anyone else or whether more evidence is necessary.

Sen. Mike Lee speaks during a news conference, while Sen. Mitt Romney speaks to reporters.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, left, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018, while Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, right, speaks to reporters in Washington on Saturday, May 21, 2019, in this composite image.

Susan Walsh, left, and Patrick Semansky, right, Associated Press

“I’m agnostic on that point,” the Republican senator told the Deseret News on Tuesday.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, though, said Monday he’d like to hear from Bolton to find out “what he knows” about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. He said he doesn’t know what the process is to make that happen.

Democrats and Republicans have been at an impasse over rules that will govern the Senate proceedings, namely whether witnesses will be called and when that would take place. But Lee said those decisions rest with the prosecution — Democratic House managers — and Trump’s defense team led by White House counsel Pat Cipollone.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., have taken an “odd posture” regarding witnesses, Lee said. Their statements, he said, reflect a “lack of awareness” of how an impeachment trial works.

“We need to see where the prosecution is going with this and what arguments they are making in order to decide whether and to what extent additional witnesses are necessary.” — Sen. Mike Lee

“I found it kind of amusing that based on some of the things Speaker Pelosi and Sen. Schumer have said that you would think that this is all about (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell arbitrarily deciding whether to call witnesses,” he said. “It’s not the Senate’s call and it’s not his call within the Senate.”

McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday he has secured the Republican votes needed to start the impeachment trial and postpone a decision on witnesses or documents that Democrats want. He is expected to launch the trial as soon as Pelosi sends the articles of impeachment to the Senate.

That framework would mirror the contours of President Bill Clinton’s trial and ignore Schumer’s demands for witnesses and new evidence. In that trial, the Senate heard arguments from prosecution and the defense before tackling the issue of how evidence was to come in.

“I think that’s what needs to happen here,” Lee said.

Lee has been working behind the scenes with Cipollone on Trump’s defense strategy. He has advised against deciding whether to call witnesses or which witnesses to call in advance of the trial.

President Donald J. Trump waves to the assembled crowd as he and Sen. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee arrive in Salt Lake City in 2017. Lee is playing a critical role behind the scenes to get Trump acquitted in his upcoming impeachment trial.

President Donald J. Trump waves to the assembled crowd as he and Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee arrive in Salt Lake City in 2017.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

“We need to see where the prosecution is going with this and what arguments they are making in order to decide whether and to what extent additional witnesses are necessary,” Lee said.

“I’ve encouraged them from the outset not to be wedded to any tactic in advance of the outset of the trial,” he said. “We don’t know what angle they’re going to take.”

There is also “something very odd” about Pelosi refusing to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate on the basis that she has not received assurance from McConnell about what witnesses would be called, Lee said.

Lee said he’s hearing privately to expect the articles in the Senate any day.

“I think Speaker Pelosi recognizes that her bargaining power here is not significant and that what she’s doing is not sustainable in the long haul,” he said.