Mitch McConnell has made it clear that he doesn’t want any fireworks at Donald Trump’s impeachment trial: no witnesses who could further incriminate Trump. The Senate Majority Leader wants Trump cleared, quick and easy, without anything that damages the president or vulnerable members of his party more than the proceedings already have.
The biggest threat to that plan is Trump himself—the King Midas of chaos, who by nature turns everything he’s involved in into a colossal shit show. Beyond repeating that his phone call with Volodymyr Zelensky was “perfect” and that Democrats are being unfair to him, the president has offered little in the way of material defense against the allegations that led to his impeachment. That will change as the Senate trial gets fully underway next week, when his legal team will have to enter actual arguments for his innocence, and explain the supposed “procedural deficiencies” that led to Trump being charged in the House. “I think they have to make a choice when the lawyers show up to the Senate, so that’s kind of a fulcrum moment,” Sen. Chris Murphy told the Washington Post on Thursday. “Do they put on evidence of massive Ukrainian corruption and why President Trump withheld aid until that corruption was cleaned, or do they claim that it is all hearsay?”
During the House hearings, Trump failed to give Republicans a clear blueprint, resulting in an often confused defense led by the likes of Doug Collins, Devin Nunes, and Jim Jordan. He further complicated their efforts by commenting on the hearings as they unfolded, and engaging in some witness tampering on Twitter. Some Republicans feel more at ease now that his team will present a coherent strategy. “He hasn’t had a chance to make his case,” Republican Senator Roy Blunt told reporters this week. “He’ll have that chance in the Senate.”
So far, the substance of that case is unclear. Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and Mick Mulvaney have already admitted to the conduct that got him impeached, and the evidence against him is growing by the day. Though it almost certainly won’t matter to Republican senators, it’s hard to imagine his legal team, which on Friday added Alan Dershowitz, Ken Starr, and Pam Bondi, making a compelling case for his innocence based on actual facts. That could mean some more out-of-the-box arguments from Team Trump, or as-yet-unpredicted dramatics of a different sort. That could be unpleasant for McConnell who, the Post noted, “does not want the Senate trial to come off looking anything like the partisan brawl in the House or a typical Trumpian event.”