Trump impeachment defense team gains several new members: Report

President Donald Trump will face trial in the Senate, but it’s still the House that’s stirring up the drama.

In a surprise move, the White House conscripted eight Trump defenders from the House of Representatives to help beat back an effort from Democrats to remove the president from power, Fox News reported. Meanwhile, 100 Senators were forced to watch in silence, with no cell phones allowed, hours of back-and-forth debate between Trump’s lawyers and House Democrats Tuesday, including Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Jerry Nadler (D-NY), who are still playing important roles as impeachment managers.

Lawmakers join impeachment team

The Republican recruits include familiar heavyweights like Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) and Mark Meadows (R-NC), as well as rising stars like Elise Stefanik (R-NY), all of whom enlarged their profiles while defending Trump against impeachment last year. The lawmakers will not defend Trump on the floor, but will likely advise the defense team and advocate Trump’s innocence on television.

Still, the continued relevance of some of Trump’s star defenders shows that the White House is eager to fight back, especially amid signs of wavering in the Senate. While Trump received unanimous support in the House, the backing of each and every Republican senator is less certain, especially with moderates like Susan Collins (R-ME) and Mitt Romney (R-UT) — an outright Trump nemesis — saying they’re open to hearing from more witnesses.

A Trump official said that the lawmakers were picked for their experience defending the president during the House phase. They all played notable roles battling Schiff throughout months of partisan wrangling, first through private, closed-door sessions in the Capitol basement and then in public hearings.

“We are not planning for them to present statements on the Senate floor,” a senior administration official told Fox News. “The group will continue to give critical guidance on the case because of their strong familiarity with the facts and evidence.”

Partisan shadow over proceedings

Although the Senate trial has finally begun, prominent House lawmakers are still in play as an intense prelude to the trial plays out over ground rules and trial witnesses. Rank partisans like Schiff and Nadler were selected by Democrats to prosecute their case in the upper chamber, where 100 lawmakers must do their best impression of judging the facts impartially — and silently — before voting on Trump’s innocence or guilt.

Reps. Meadows and Zeldin watched quietly from the back rows Tuesday evening as hours of fighting between impeachment managers and Trump’s lawyers over trial rules plodded onward. Democrats notched a small victory when it was revealed at the start of debate that Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), under pressure from Collins, changed the text of his party’s rules resolution to allow an additional day for both sides to make their cases.

“Republican senators felt the heat and went to McConnell and said ‘you’ve got to change it’ shows that they can make other changes. And that we can get documents and witnesses,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said. “In other words, this idea that Mitch McConnell, whatever he does every one of them will go along with, doesn’t seem to be happening on two important issues.”

Democrats had argued that McConnell’s plan, which allotted 24 hours for arguments over the course of two days, would drag the trial out into the early morning when Americans are asleep (assuming they didn’t fall asleep already from watching impeachment.) Meanwhile, Schumer failed in multiple attempts to pass amendments that would require certain witnesses, including John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney, to testify.

Trial gets underway

The question of witnesses is very much up in the air as some Republicans senators, unlike their colleagues in the House, show signs of defecting to join Democrats in calling for more witnesses — although even those in support of such a move have insisted that the vote be taken after opening arguments. Exactly when the vote is actually held and the result it yields may ultimately  matter little in a few weeks when the trial ends, almost certainly in Trump’s favor.

Despite the supposed “reverence” afforded the trial process by the Senate, the depressingly partisan spectacle that dominated the last several months is still very much on display.

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