Sen. Chris Coons: “When you're guilty, the last thing you want is a long trial…because inevitably your defense falls apart.”
Sen. Chris Coons, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, joined CNN’s Alisyn Camerota to discuss the impeachment inquiry and possible Senate trial.
“I think a full-blown defense that says this is a hoax and that there is absolutely nothing to it will be difficult for them to sustain. When you’re guilty, the last thing you want is a long trial with lots of witnesses because inevitably your defense falls apart,” said Coons.
“I think it is ridiculous that [Republican senators] are suggesting calling the former Vice President, who is the leading opponent of President Trump for the 2020 presidential election, in order to grill him about his alleged role in Ukraine,” continued Coons. “I suspect Republicans would quickly come to regret giving him the opportunity to speak up about President Trump’s role in interfering with Ukraine in such an unprecedented way.”
Have you heard any rumblings about what Speaker Pelosi is going to say at 9 a.m.?
Coons: I don’t know what Speaker Pelosi is going to say this morning, but I must say I have been impressed over the last few months as she has handled this very difficult, challenging issue of impeachment and how to continue passing meaningful bills that actually speak to the real issues facing Americans month in and month out. After President Trump was revealed by a whistleblower to have demonstrably interfered in our upcoming elections by asking a vulnerable ally, Ukraine, to do him a favor, I believe Speaker Pelosi did the right thing in opening an impeachment inquiry and I think following the conclusion of the House Intelligence Committee hearings over the last couple of weeks – it has now been referred to House Judiciary – I strongly suspect Speaker Pelosi will announce a timeline for an impeachment vote by the end of the year, but I think we will all have to stay tuned for the 9 a.m. announcement.
What are your GOP colleagues planning for the Senate impeachment trial? Will there be live witnesses?
Coons: Well, I think there is a vigorous debate going on within the Republican caucus between those who think they should simply allow the House managers to come over and make their case and a representative for the President to briefly make his case and then simply vote to dismiss it, which would take all of a week, perhaps. Or those who agree with the President that he should engage in a full on, vigorous defense on the floor of the Senate that could take weeks and would involve calling a series of live witnesses. I think it is ridiculous that they are suggesting calling the former Vice President, who is the leading opponent of President Trump for the 2020 presidential election, in order to grill him about his alleged role in Ukraine. There has been no evidence offered by any person who testified in the House or by any credible news source that there be a reason to call the former Vice President, and I suspect Republicans would quickly come to regret giving him the opportunity to speak up about President Trump’s role in interfering with Ukraine in such an unprecedented way.
What happens if they do call Joe Biden?
Coons: Well bluntly, because the Republicans have the majority in the Senate and they ultimately could set the rules for this impeachment trial by a bare majority, there is very little Democrats in the Senate could do to stop them. We will be relying on a small number of Republicans who are pushing back against this idea and who recognize that impeachment is a serious, significant, constitutional moment. There are, I believe, a few Republicans who recognize that what President Trump did here was demonstrably impeachable, but who are very concerned about the political consequences for them and their party. Those of us who were watching just heard Charlie Dent, former House Republican member, former Chairman of the House Ethics Committee, who is a well-regarded, long-serving, centrist Republican say that it is obvious that President Trump did something seriously wrong here, and so I think a full-blown defense that says this is a hoax and that there is absolutely nothing to it will be difficult for them to sustain. When you’re guilty, the last thing you want is a long trial with lots of witnesses because inevitably your defense falls apart.
How are Democrats preparing for Republicans’ strategy?
Coons: Well first, we continue to legislate. Later this morning, a bipartisan group of six senators is coming to the floor, I believe we are going to be passing a significant bill for higher education, for funding Historically Black Colleges and fixing the federal aid for student assistance, the FAFSA form. This is something that will be significant for thousands of Americans and I am joining with a bipartisan group in calling for an inspector general inquiry into how the Department of Education is failing in their mission to provide student loan relief for hundreds of thousands of Americans, who are totally and permanently disabled, something I’ve worked with Senator Portman on now for several years. So frankly, we are continuing to do work to get bills passed and we are having conversations about how we’ll respond, but there hasn’t been a serious beginning of negotiations between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate about what the rules will be. I’ll remind you that during the Clinton impeachment, ultimately, the rules for proceeding were adopted unanimously after a meeting in the old Senate chamber of the entire Senate. It is my hope that after this morning’s announcement by Speaker Pelosi, if it’s clear that the trial is likely to be moving forward, that we will see prompt negotiations between Majority Leader McConnell and Minority Leader Schumer, but we should be setting fair and serious ground rules for us to conduct this important, constitutional role for the Senate.