Impeachment trial: Republicans decry lack of new evidence while blocking it

As Democratic impeachment managers made the case against President Donald Trump on Wednesday and Thursday, Republican senators rolled out a rationale for their future vote to acquit: that the trial is a waste of time because Democrats aren’t presenting new evidence.

“So far what [head impeachment manager Adam Schiff] has said we’ve heard before,” said Mike Braun (IN) on Wednesday. “I didn’t hear anything new today. We’ll see,” added Pat Toomey (PA). Rick Scott (FL), alluding to the lack of new evidence, repeatedly characterized the trial as “boring” during TV interviews.

But on Tuesday night, every Republican senator took vote after vote to block impeachment managers from gathering new documents and compelling witness testimony. So Republicans are complaining about Democrats not doing something they’re preventing them from doing.

This point was made succinctly by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (NY) during a news conference held just before Wednesday’s hearing.

“What are the Republicans saying? Well, they’re saying they heard nothing new. But these Republicans voted nine times on Tuesday against amendments to ensure new witnesses and new documents,” he said. “The same Republicans saying they heard nothing new just voted nine times to hear nothing new.”

Kamala Harris (CA) made the point as well.

This is apparent to anyone who has been following the trial. But the fact that Republicans are pushing the “no new evidence” talking point illustrates the extent to which their strategy to defend Trump rests on deflection and dodges instead of an actual case.

Senators took an oath to be impartial jurors, but they want to acquit without a full accounting of the evidence

More than a half dozen Senate Republicans have used the “nothing new” talking point to dismiss the impeachment trial this week.

“Six hours of testimony so far today since I didn’t hear anything new, at all,” said John Barrasso (WY) on Wednesday. “So this overwhelming evidence that’s going to be presented to the Senate, I guess they did it yesterday because I’ve seen, heard nothing new whatsoever,” added Tim Scott (SC).

It has also gotten a lot of play on Fox News, which Schumer described during his news conference as an outlet where “at best things are left out, and at worst terribly distorted.” Josh Hawley (MO) joined Tucker Carlson’s show on Wednesday evening and lamented that Democrats are “not even trying to put on evidence. They don’t even have any evidence.”

It was also showcased during a Fox & Friends discussion on Thursday featuring former congressman Jason Chaffetz.

The GOP position might be defensible if there was no evidence to present. But a number of key figures didn’t testify during the House impeachment inquiry (John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney arguably foremost among them), and Schiff pointed out on Wednesday that investigators haven’t been able to get their hands on key documents because of Trump administration stonewalling.

“Would you like me to read that to you right now?” Trump said, referring to an unusual first-person cable former acting US ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in which he expressed concerns about the Trump administration’s hold-up of military aid to the country. “I would like to read it to you right now, except I don’t have it, because the State Department wouldn’t provide it. But if you’d like me to read it to you, we can do something about that. We can insist on getting that from the State Department … it’s just for the asking, and a document called a subpoena.”

You don’t have to take it from Schiff, however. Ironically, comments made by staunch Trump defender Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) perhaps best illustrate the absurdity of the GOP’s position that a fair trial can be conducted without all the evidence.

“I think most if not all senators are hearing the case by the prosecution and the case by the defense for the first time,” Kennedy said during a break on Wednesday evening. “If you polled in the United States Senate, nine out of 10 senators will tell you they have not read the transcript of the proceedings in the House and the tenth senator who says he has or she has is lying.”

Kennedy, in short, is acknowledging that Republican senators largely aren’t familiar with the evidence that’s already available, let alone testimony and documents the Trump administration has blocked. So on the assumption that the jurors intend to follow through on their oath to “do impartial justice” and render a verdict based on the facts, you’d think they’d want to see all the relevant evidence first.

But as the votes on Tuesday indicated, Republicans seemingly resolved to acquit Trump before the proceedings even began. And many of them apparently can’t even be bothered to come up with a non-circular rationale for doing so.

Weak talking points in Trump’s defense might be sufficient for Fox News, which went to drastic lengths to spin the first day of the trial. But Schumer warned at the end of his news conference on Thursday that he doesn’t think it’ll be good enough for voters.

“I will say this to my Republican friends: If the American people believe this is not a fair trial, which right now they seem to believe because there are no witnesses and documents, acquittal will have zero value to the president or the Republicans,” he said.

The news moves fast. To stay updated, follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter, and read more of Vox’s policy and politics coverage.

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