After the first full day of the Senate’s impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson lamented the House’s investigation of the president as damaging to democracy and signaled he’d vote for Trump’s acquittal.
Johnson’s comments come as Republicans in the Senate ended their Tuesday session at 2 a.m. Wednesday by scrapping plans to complete opening arguments in two days and rejecting for now Democratic calls for more witnesses to expose Trump’s alleged offenses.
In a phone call with reporters Wednesday, the Oshkosh Republican didn’t rule out calling witnesses, but said senators will make such a determination at a later point in the trial, which could wrap up as early as next week. Johnson expressed skepticism toward more witnesses, however, arguing Democrats in the House of Representatives should have heard such witnesses during a more thorough investigation, and that they want the Senate to complete the job for them.
“The House was in a rush to do this impeachment,” Johnson said, calling it “a pretty sloppy job.”
Johnson’s Democratic counterpart, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, slammed the trial in the Senate as lacking the necessary information for senators to make a determination on whether to remove Trump from office.
“Mitch McConnell’s rules don’t guarantee that we will have critical documents and relevant witnesses with firsthand knowledge about the president’s actions abusing his power and obstructing Congress,” Baldwin said on Twitter.
Trump on Wednesday said he wants his top aides to testify, but suggested there were “national security” concerns to allowing their testimony.
Trump is the subject of an impeachment inquiry from House Democrats alleging he withheld military aid and a much sought-after White House meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky unless Zelensky announced an investigation into Trump’s political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter, and a debunked theory that Ukraine, not Russia, was behind the hacking of Democratic computer servers in 2016.
The Republican-controlled U.S. Senate is now set to determine whether Trump should be removed from office for abuse of power for pressuring Ukraine to investigate the Bidens as Trump withheld military aid to the country, and for obstructing the House investigation.
“What I’ve seen from the House managers is that the current impeachment seems to be pretty thin gruel,” Johnson told reporters Wednesday. “When you talk about treason and bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors, it really implies there has to be some kind of crime based on current law. That’s not what the House managers are alleging whatsoever. They are putting the worst possible construction on what the president did.”
Johnson said he wants the Senate to vote on whether to remove or convict the president rather than vote to quickly dismiss the trial. Republicans have said they don’t have the votes for such a move.
Johnson became embroiled in Trump’s impeachment saga early on. This fall, Johnson admitted he had learned of a possible quid pro quo involving Trump from a top U.S. official but that the president had denied it to him.
On Tuesday, Johnson reiterated that Trump’s denial of a quid pro quo was “believable.” Johnson defended the president, arguing that Trump’s withholding military aid to Ukraine was rooted in his concerns over corruption in the eastern European country and the lack of military support from Ukraine’s neighbors.
Despite Johnson’s contact with the president and his aides regarding Ukraine, he waived off concerns that he wouldn’t be an impartial juror during the impeachment trial.
“My firsthand knowledge makes me even more qualified to pass judgement on this,” Johnson said. “I have a completely different perspective on this.”
Johnson said he is committed to being impartial in the partisan impeachment process.
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