Senators speak to importance of witnesses in Trump's trial

CRANSTON, R.I. (AP) — It's imperative for all relevant witnesses and facts to be heard during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump in their chamber, Rhode Island's two U.S. senators, both Democrats, said Friday.

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The transgressions alleged in the articles of impeachment are “very significant” because they relate to elections, national security and the fact that no one is above the law, Sen. Jack Reed said. The Senate must conduct a “fair, full and expeditious trial” to pursue all of the facts and the truth, above all else, Reed said in his Cranston, Rhode Island, office.

“Hearing from just a limited number of witnesses, limited access, is not what Americans believe a trial should be,” said Reed, who also served in the Senate during former President Bill Clinton's impeachment proceedings.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has signaled skepticism about hearing from witnesses, though he hasn't ruled it out.

Reed was joined in his office to discuss the trial by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a former federal prosecutor. Blocking known evidence from the view of senators — the finders of fact — is a “novel aberration in the history of American jurisprudence," Whitehouse said.

“It has no precedent in any impeachment, and it is in violation of the basic rules of administrative proceedings, criminal trials and civil trials," Whitehouse said. “So, we are not off to a great start, and I'm hoping very much that Leader McConnell will rise to the occasion.”

Both Whitehouse and Reed said that at a minimum, they would like to hear from four witnesses requested by Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, including former national security adviser John Bolton. The House managers chosen to prosecute the impeachment case could decide which witnesses to call, they said.

The Senate opened the trial on Thursday, and senators were sworn in as jurors.

“Ultimately we are all accountable to the American people,” Whitehouse said. “And if this trial is botched, the American people will have their say.”

Trump faces two charges after the House voted to impeach him last month. One, that he abused his presidential power by pressuring Ukraine to investigate Democratic campaign rival Joe Biden, using military aid to the country as leverage. Trump is also charged with obstructing Congress’ ensuing probe. The president insists he did nothing wrong,

“The impeachment process provides the president the opportunity to mount a strong defense and affords the House the opportunity to expound on its case,” Reed said, noting that senators took an oath to consider the matter impartially and based on the laws of the U.S. Constitution.

Trump is adding retired law professor Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr, the independent counsel who investigated Clinton, to his legal defense team. Whitehouse said Starr was the obsessed prosecutor of the Clinton era, similar to the character of Inspector Javert in “Les Misérables.”

“It's going to be really interesting to see if he can, with a straight face, criticize the House of Representatives for having been unfair to President Trump in the wake of his own record,” Whitehouse said.

The trial resumes Tuesday. It's only the third such undertaking in American history.