Democrats declined to wait for courts to weigh in on the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump because they wanted to impeach him before the 2020 election, Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on Wednesday.
“They would have the United States Senate create an impeachment process where the president would not be allowed to go to Article III courts to argue privileges that have been argued in every other impeachment trial and have been argued by presidents since George Washington. That would destroy the institution of the presidency as we know it,” Graham said at a press conference in Washington.
“What would it do? It would allow a handful in a 300-plus million country, people, along partisan lines to impeach a president without independent judicial review.”
Graham dismissed Senate Democrat calls to subpoena witnesses, echoing other GOP members who say House Democrats should have subpoenaed the witnesses and built a stronger case for impeachment instead of pushing it off to the Senate.
“They did not pursue these witnesses, because they knew the president would seek judicial redress, and it would literally stop them from impeaching him before the election,” he said.
The House withdrew a subpoena for Charles Kupperman, a former aide to ex-National Security Adviser John Bolton, before voting to impeach Trump, arguing they actually didn’t need him to testify. Kupperman had filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge whether he should comply with the White House’s instruction to ignore the subpoena, or comply with the House and testify.
Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow made similar arguments to Graham on Tuesday, telling senators, “We’re acting as if the courts are an improper venue to determine constitutional issues of this magnitude. That is why we have the courts, that is why we have a federal judiciary.”
House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the lead House impeachment manager, said the House couldn’t wait for judges to make decisions before moving forward.
“If the House were compelled to exhaust all legal remedies before impeaching the president, it would interpose the courts or the decision of a single judge between the House and the power to impeach,” Schiff said Tuesday. “Moreover, it would invite the president to prevent his own impeachment by endlessly litigating the matter in court.”
Graham referred to Schiff’s comments at the press conference, saying the remarks struck him as essentially saying “we couldn’t impeach him before the election” if the courts were involved.
He also said proposals by Democrats on the opening day of the trial would “destroy the institution of the presidency as we know it, make it naked when it comes to the partisan impeachment, not have a venue to go to court and litigate privileges that have been exercised by prior presidents.”
“When it comes to Donald Trump, they’re willing to destroy the institution of the office in the name of getting him.”
Other Republicans also said the House impeachment case wasn’t well done.
“When I went to high school in Bozeman, Montana, if I turned in a term paper that’s half-complete, my teacher would toss it back to me, say, ‘You didn’t get it done,'” Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) added.
“That’s how I felt last night. They have not done the complete homework.”
“Should the United States Senate decide the 2020 election, and overturn the 2016 election, by removing him from office? I put the trust in the voters of this country: they should have that say, not the United States Senate,” Daines said.
Trump was impeached by House Democrats last month on charges of abuse of office and obstruction of Congress. Zero Republicans voted in favor of the articles and a handful of Democrats broke with their party on the vote.
An impeachment inquiry was triggered by a complaint filed against the president over a July 2019 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. During the call, Trump asked his counterpart to “look into” corruption allegations against former Vice President Joe Biden and Biden’s son Hunter Biden.
Democrats say Trump was asking a foreign country to interfere in the 2020 election because Joe Biden is running for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Trump has denied wrongdoing, as have the Bidens, who are under investigation by multiple Senate committees.
Senate Democrats are pushing to call at least four witnesses: Bolton, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Mulvaney aide Robert Blair, and White House Office of Management and Budget official Michael Duffey.
A supermajority of 67 votes is required to convict Trump, or remove him from office, in the Senate, which the GOP holds with a 53-47 majority after gaining two seats in the 2018 election.